How to turn a high concept idea into an actual story

In this article, Charlie Jane Anders sets out the basic steps for turning a cool idea into a workable story. She outlines the importance of sketching out your basic plot, and taking a hard look at choosing your main character.

There is a basic checklist that Charlie Jane advises that you keep in mind while turning that concept into a real story:

…make sure your idea is fleshed out into a series of events, which include some twists and some rising action. Make sure you’re picking a main character who brings some juiceboxes to the party. And ensure they have their own agenda. And try to hang onto why this particular idea grabbed hold of you.

This checklist basically breaks down into three important rules:

  • Outline: Though you may be entranced with your idea, don’t forget the basics. Do the boring bits first and draft a story structure including important plot points; that way you have a guideline to follow when the plot gets messy.
  • Draft a main character: A main character is not necessarily the most powerful or thematically interesting character within the plot. Make sure that the character is fleshed out enough that they have their own agency within the plot. Don’t just make them reactive. 
  • Watch the horizon: Keep a copy of your core concept. Stories tend to evolve as they are written, keep a copy of what first inspired you: a one-liner, a flash prompt, an interesting graphic. Refer to the original concept so you can either see how your story has progressed or to use it to keep on track. 

How to turn a high concept idea into an actual story