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Be Honest, Writers – Do You REALLY Have A Story?

Gotta Be Honest

Bang2write is known for being honest in its feedback. Note that doesn’t mean brutal, vitriolic or cavalier. Writing is tough and writers have to make all kinds of sacrifices to get words on the page. Nothing winds me up more than readers and feedback-givers who don’t exercise due care. Every piece of work is an expression of someone’s hopes and dreams. I take this very seriously.

But I do have to be honest. I would be failing in my remit as a script editor if I do not put honest notes at the very heart of what I do. So, realise what I say next is said with honesty, but also love …

The majority of stories I read are not really stories at all.

What This Means

But what do I mean by this? Well, when I read speculative drafts or short pitches aka loglines, they are often what I call ‘non-stories’. These can be broken down like this …

  • We don’t know who we are rooting for in terms of characters, or why
  • The conflict (ie. problem or issue) is not clear
  • We don’t know what the story is in terms of genre, tone or type
  • It might be too ‘writerly’ – interesting to the writer, but no one else
  • It might be too samey – we’ve seen this type of story, this way ‘too many times’
  • The writer has placed too much on an *issue*, so it seems too educational
  • A combo or all of the above

In other words, the concept just doesn’t sell itself ‘off the page’ to me. As I’ve said multiple times on this blog, if you don’t have a great concept, you’ve got nothing. What’s more, knowing your concept from the offset can help you write, since it creates a powerful baseline to work from.

Concept is really important and one of the key elements writers underestimate … Not only in terms of writing screenplays and books, but in terms of getting agents’, producers’ and publishers’ interest.

What Is Concept?

By concept, I mean what happens in your story at grass roots level. The premise, the controlling idea, the seed of the story if you like. So when someone says, ‘What is your story about?’ you can tell them.

I know this sounds obvious (and it is). Yet lots of writers start writing without working out what their story is *really about* this out in advance. Then they get stuck writing the draft … Or they can’t get anyone’s interest like agents, filmmakers and publishers because it feels too unclear/muddled.

Yet, if these writers had created a baseline to work from at concept level, all of their troubles could have been avoided. Honest guv!

How To Avoid Screwing Up Your Concept

I always recommend Bang2writers ‘break story’. I use ‘The 5 Ws’, which I borrow from the world of journalism. These are WHO-WHAT-WHERE-WHEN-WHY, like this:

Too many writers only look at their concepts at surface level. In contrast, these 5 questions will enable you to dig as deep as you need to really ‘break open’ your concept.

You don’t have to adhere to them slavishly. As you get more experienced, you will get a knack for it. These questions are my #1 go-tos now.

  • Who is my protagonist?
  • What is my genre/story-type?
  • What does my protagonist want or need?
  • Which types of obstacles are in my protagonist’s way (including the antagonist)?
  • What could happen if my protagonist is not successful?
  • Other stories that are LIKE mine?

Here’s an example using one of my books, Do No Harm

Lily, a young single mum with a six year old son from her previous marriage

Crime fiction, domestic-noir style (set in the home, not police procedural)

She wants to be happy with her new husband Sebastian, who is a much better match for her

Her ex-husband Maxwell and her son’s father, who will get in the way of her new relationship with Sebastian because he is an obsessive stalker

Lily’s relationship with Sebastian could fall apart; even worse, maybe Maxwell will take her child away from her

Modern books about stalkers like The Wife Between Us; Paper Dolls; You. Also classic movies like Fatal Attraction and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle


I know all this stuff might seem like procrastination. It is not. The writers who know what their stories are truly about are the ones that …

  • … FINISH their drafts instead of tying themselves in knots and
  • … CONNECT with their target audience

Most writers totally underestimate the importance of concept and breaking story hugely. You can do yourself a HUGE favour by doing this research and creating a baseline for your project. It will help you write AND help you get industry interest in the long term. What’s not to like?? MORE: Top 5 Concept Mistakes Writers Make

Good Luck!

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4 thoughts on “Be Honest, Writers – Do You REALLY Have A Story?”

  1. Gotta Be Honest, it’s lack of an interesting story.
    And to be fair, I’m fussy. What interests me is a compelling opening. Sadly, this means that most stories I pick up – are put downable within ten pages.
    The sooner I get through the trash the sooner I find my next great read. And it’s the proliferation of trash that makes finding the diamonds so much harder.
    I suggest writers turn up the ‘trash dial’ on their personal reading then apply it to their writing.
    Good luck with finding a novel story.

    1. Gotta Be Honest, it’s lack of an interesting story you said that right? Whst if I told I could provide you a true story that you would probably take on for free because it would make you known to the entire world don’t believe me what’s just 3 minutes of your time to find out?

  2. Your teachings, oh Sensei, awesome! Much respect. I am a new grasshopper to screenwriting at age 72. What is this I here about avoid using words that end in ly, ing? Shows up in lots of movies, TV productions. Dang — if the word suites the character, scene — Hey man — why not? Example: the word “Really!” is a great expression. Also you teach that the beginning of the screenplay, novel, catches the reader. That is fun and I get it but I get all jumbled up with the middle and write too much or the story takes on a life of its own and can be quite out of control. help oh sensei. Help me stop going epic. Many thanks, Grasshopper 72.

    1. Glad you like the site and find it useful! Sounds like finding more about plotting/ structure will help you Mr Grasshopper. You can START HERE. As for adverbs, just use them sparingly, no one minds. Hope this helps.

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