Concept Vs. Premise, My Takeaway from a Workshop by Story Coach Larry Brooks

“Voice is like air: the best air is crisp and clean.”—Story coach, Larry Brooks

we Never Stop Learning

Books on the craft of writing line my desk like dominos. Openings, character development, scene execution, theme, it’s all there. But those that examine structure are my favorite.

Every story needs a strong foundation. Beautiful sentences fill us with wonder, and well-developed characters are a must, but no matter the genre, higher stakes and escalating tension keep readers turning the pages.

Of course there are exceptions, notably some literary fiction, but in general our stories are stronger when certain plot elements are in place.

Larry Brooks Writing Craft Books

Click image to visit Brooks’s Amazon page

My most dog-eared and marked-up books on structure are those by Larry Brooks, so you can imagine my excitement a few weeks back when I attended his live workshop in Columbus, Ohio. His insights and humor made the day fly by. Some of the topics he covered were: the four parts of story, the six core components of storytelling, and the six realms of story physics.

He also elaborated on the difference between concept and premise, an issue few others address. Per Brooks, concept is a subset of premise. “It’s the rocket fuel that will make your premise soar.” If your concept is weak then your premise will be too.

Larry Brooks, Concept Vs. Premise

So what’s the difference? A concept is more general, a framework if you will. It can lead to many different premises. The premise, on the other hand, is the specifics of your story. It’s what makes your book different from those with similar concepts. According to Brooks, it should include certain elements, starting with who the character is and ending with how he or she resolves his or her conflict.

For example, in Eating Bull the concept might be stated as:

An overweight teenager sues the food industry for contributing to his obesity.

The premise, however, takes this concept further and individualizes it (note, I purposely kept the last part of this vague to avoid spoilers):

When an overweight teenager gets recruited by a headstrong public health nurse to sue the food industry, he becomes the poster boy of fat, drawing the attention of trolls and bullies and worse: an obsessive-compulsive, fitness-crazed killer who takes it upon himself to rid the world of overweight people. As the murders escalate and move closer to home, the self-doubting teenager must overcome lifelong insecurities and find the courage to take down the killer in order to protect himself and his loved ones.

Premise definition, Larry Brooks, Storyfix .com

Why is nailing down our premise before we start writing so important?

Because per Brooks, “the purpose of premise is to identify the dramatic arc.”

Our story’s dramatic arc is what draws our readers in and keeps them reading. Bonus? The better fleshed out our premise, the better our first draft. Second bonus? The better our first draft, the less painful the revision.

For the key components of premise and other craft elements, I encourage you to check out Brooks’s books. If you get the chance to take one of his workshops, do it. In the meantime you can visit his website and find invaluable content for free.

Authors Larry Brooks and Carrie Rubin. Central Ohio Writers Workshop

Larry Brooks and me in the highly sought-after vacation land of Columbus, Ohio.

An update on my newest book

My latest manuscript is with my publisher, ScienceThrillers Media. Hopefully the ARC will be ready soon, with a publication date in the first half of 2018.

In The Bone Curse, Western medicine meets Haitian Vodou when a skeptical med student must enter the occult world after a vengeful priest unleashes a centuries-old curse upon him, one that causes him to spread a deadly infection to his loved ones and can only be cured with Vodou.

Think Robin Cook meets Preston & Child.


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standing color cropped tiny for blog postsCarrie Rubin is a medical thriller author with a background in medicine and public health. Her novels include Eating Bull and The Seneca Scourge. For full bio, click here.

149 Responses to “Concept Vs. Premise, My Takeaway from a Workshop by Story Coach Larry Brooks”

  1. curvyroads

    Your new book sounds exciting Carrie! I am so impressed that you keep producing great books while having a full-time career! Although it seems that I wrote more on the blog when I was still working, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andrea Stephenson

    Ooh I love the sound of your new book – I love Preston Child, have most of their books. Interesting takeaways, I’m not sure I know the difference between the concept / premise of my books, I’ll have to think about this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. I never used to differentiate concept from premise either. In fact, I also considered premise similar to the pitch. I now know they’re all different, and from now on with each novel I’ll make sure my concept is as strong as it can be before I start to expand on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sheila

    Exciting news! The Bone Curse sounds like another great one. That must have been fun to research voodoo. I’ll look forward to reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! I did a lot of research on Haitian Vodou for the book, what I could find anyway. I didn’t want to simply carry on the stereotype of Hollywood’s version of voodoo.


  4. roughwighting

    Whoohee. Another Rubin book coming to us in the not too distant future. The PREMISE of the book sounds enticing. Can’t wait to read it! This is a post I needed to read RIGHT NOW as I’m working on my third novel. I realize that I have two major characters, not one, and I know the premise for one of the characters, but not the other. Thanks for this. And thanks to Larry Brooks.


  5. painterwrite

    First off…yay! I can’t wait to see your next book! Second, it’s funny you wrote this because I just recently listened to a podcast where they were discussing something similar. Basically, a premise is going to let you write a short story, but a concept will get you through a novel. And congrats on meeting one of your “heroes.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jacqui Murray

    I can’t wait to read your next book, Carrie. It sounds amazing! I will stalk you until I see it’s out.

    And Larry sounds excellent. Hopefully he’ll visit California one of these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! I don’t mind that kind of stalking. 😉 My publisher will put it on Net Galley, so maybe you can get it there. I still don’t really know how that works, but I know you’re a big Net Galley user and reviewer.


  7. Barb Knowles

    So exciting, not only for you, but for your readers as well! When will the new book be available for pre-order? I’m working on the dreaded deadline for my book, which isn’t finished yet. But I’m learning a lot about the process. Seems to be hurry up and wait. Congratulations and the photo is great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! Not sure when it will be ready for pre-order, but hopefully the advanced reader copies will be ready soon to send to reviewers and such. It’s definitely hurry up and wait, isn’t it? Very exciting about your book. Did you get an agent? Or are these publisher’s deadlines you’re facing?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. aFrankAngle

    I like your differentiation between concept and premise. All disciplines have concepts, but working premise into all disciplines isn’t as easy.

    We both know that Columbus is more than just a vacation hotspot. Glad you were able to meet that challenge.

    Good luck on #3!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. I do indeed like Columbus, and I certainly can’t complain about the weather we had that day. Almost 70 and perfectly sunny.

      Am watching my DWTS right now (I record it). Len’s a bit grumpy tonight. 😄

      Liked by 1 person

        • Carrie Rubin

          Jordan was amazing tonight. I watched both of his dances twice. So good. But I think the wrong person went home. Terell was better than the swimmer and the tall gangly guy. In my opinion, anyway. 😬

          Liked by 1 person

          • aFrankAngle

            It comes down to fan bases, and Property Brothers has a huge following. In terms of dancing, those three are close, but TO has improved tons the past few weeks. … and yes – Jordan continues to be awesome!

            Liked by 2 people

  9. Carol Balawyder

    The workshop sounds like it was both a lot of fun and very informative. How exciting for you to have another book out soon. The Bone Curse sounds very intriguing. Good luck with the process of getting it out there! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Kelly Huntson

    Everything you post is always so helpful, whether it’s related to writing or health. Thank you for sharing your disciplined approach in both fields. And if I haven’t told you lately, you greatly inspire me.😊
    Wish you all the very best with your new book and beyond. You’ve got this, Carrie. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Aw, thank you, Kelly. So nice of you to say. You inspire me as well. 🙂 I noticed last week you started using your full name on social media. Does that mean you’ll be publishing something of your own in the future? (Aside from your lovely blog posts, that is.)

      And thank you for the Twitter share too. Much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kelly Huntson

        You’re very welcome. And yes, it’s a pen name, thought the change was way overdue. I haven’t posted anything on health in quite some time, because honestly, I need a break from it!
        It will be a long time before I’m ready to publish, but I sure am enjoying the writing journey.
        Thank you, Carrie.


  11. D. Wallace Peach

    Excellent, Carrie. I like the differentiation and your examples from Eating Bull are perfect. Good luck on the next book! The premise sounds like a good one and 2018 is right around the corner.


  12. Jennifer Kelland Perry

    “The better our first draft, the less painful the revision.” That is the key to good writing, IMHO.
    Great post, Carrie. Thanks for sharing, and congrats on your new book getting closer to the ‘published’ finish line!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. jmmcdowell

    Brooks’s books (say that 10 times fast!) have been a great help to me, and I’m eternally grateful to you for bringing them to my attention. 🙂 I’m also really looking forward to reading The Bone Curse. That first chapter I saw had me hooked!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Book Club Mom

    Wow – I could really benefit from these books by Larry Brooks. And before I make a serious try at writing a book, I will! I’ve always been weak on plot and structure, so learning concept and premise will be excellent preparation for me. Congratulations on the progress of your latest book, Carrie – sounds exciting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! And thank you for the Twitter share. Much appreciated.

      I think reading Story Engineering is especially helpful before writing a book. The other two books are great follow-ups to it and help make what we’ve written that much stronger.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Ha, thank you, I wish I was cranking them out. But this will make three in just over five years so I guess that’s not terrible.


      • ParentingIsFunny

        Are you kidding? That’s phenomenal. We all know how slow the printing industry is, but apparently not for you. I’m working up a proposal for another nonfic, and I’m told earliest will be Fall 2019. Granted, I haven’t finished WRITING the book, which factors, nevertheless… 🙂 And the books that were finished in advance took a year to print. Okay, so some writers do one a year, but they had some warm up years, I’m sure. You’re doing great.


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