The Core Concept is the first thing to establish when you set to work on your story, because it lays the groundwork for every other idea you might have for it. I’m not saying you need to make a Core Concept – if you have even a basic idea of a story then your Core Concept likely already exists. The important thing is to identify it. If you don’t know what your Core Concept is then you run the risk of making decisions that don’t fit the foundation of your whole idea – or worse – you run the risk of throwing out the Core Concept in order to make room for what should be lower priorities, not realizing that you’ve tossed out the very foundation of your entire story, and then you may wonder why nothing looks like what you had originally set out to do.
The thing to ask yourself is: why do you want to write this story? Why is it the one to come to your mind when you think of a story that you want everyone to experience? If you dig deep, there is usually a reason. Something you personally are passionate about.
Your Core Concept may be a particular character, in which case the story would very likely revolve around them. It may be a particular kind of world, dealing with certain laws of government or laws of physics. A particular kind of plot twist that you think no one will see coming. For me, it is usually an emotion – a particular thing I want the reader to feel at some point in the story and I can only think of so many ways to take the reader to that place, which gives me my foundation and my direction for how to tell the story.
Once you know what your Core Concept is, try to look at it as the foundation on which all the rest of the story is built. Every time you have an idea of something to add to the story or something to change about it, ask yourself: “Does this help my Core Concept, or work against it?” This principle of Core Concepts applies to individual elements like characters as well. Is your character shy? Then don’t have them opening up to complete strangers, even if that’s needed in order to make something else work. Is your planet fertile? Then don’t position it too far from or too close to the sun. Is your character a highly trained swordsman? Then don’t give them a background where they’ve had no time to train. Even if it feels necessary in order to make some other aspect of the story work – if it interferes with the Core Concept, with the very foundation on which everything else is built, then it’s not that important.
If you’re not sure what your foundation is for certain characters, events, locations or any other aspect of the story, and so you’re not sure if an idea is contradicting a foundation or not, a good question to ask is: “How do I want people to feel when they think of this character/event/location?” And then when considering new ideas, ask yourself: “Would this help or hurt the way that I want people to feel when they think about this character/event/location?” If you want people to think of a particular character as pure-hearted, then don’t have them thinking or saying lewd things. If you want people to feel regret when looking back on a particular event, then don’t have things result from that event that make people happy and that could only possibly have happened because of that event. If you want people to associate a particular location with peace and joy, then don’t have a tragic event unfold there. Asking the simple question of “How do I want people to feel about this?” is an important habit to get into.
As great as the recent Star Trek reboot films have been, there is a nagging problem I have with them. None of the films are really about exploring the stars – which had been the whole point of Star Trek since its beginning in 1966. The recent films have very little to do with exploring new territories. They’re boldly going where people have already been. They dropped the Core Concept.
For more on these and other writing topics, The Storyteller’s Handbook is available for purchase now.