The Origin of a Concept

March 2, 2018

There are probably millions of intangible and indescribable ways a story concept is born. On top of that, it's impossible to say why or how an idea for a story is deemed worthy of pursuing by a given storyteller. I'm sure we have storms of ideas passing through our heads every day, and the question of why we decide some of those ideas are good ideas most likely has a complex answer. However, I've found there are two avenues for how an idea might make it past the that's not a thought worthy of writing down phase. In other words, there are two forms of criteria for why an idea becomes a that's a concept I need to bring to life kind of idea.


One has to do with the head and the other has to do with the heart. Let's look at the head criteria: the storyteller has an idea and thinks, that's interesting, and it could be thought-provoking or entertaining for an audience. These become cerebral stories like InceptionPhone Booth, Memento, Arrival etc. They're great, concept driven stories that probably made whomever conceived of the idea go, "Cool!"


Now look at the heart criteria: the storyteller has an idea and feels, that deals with an emotion I've felt, and it's moving to think about, and it might be moving for an audience. Some that come to mind are Life is Beautiful, Annie Hall, The Lives of Others, The Celebration, Friday Night Lights, Punch Drunk Love, etc. They're stories that connect with audiences on an emotional level. 


I'm sure the hope for most stories is that they land on both an emotional and a cerebral level, but I'm interested in which arena the story concept is born. Do some storytellers tend to validate ideas using the head criteria? I would think someone like Christopher Nolan does. And do some validate ideas using the heart criteria? Maybe Ingmar Bergman did? Has one criteria impacted more audiences than another? Is it common that story concepts successfully fuse head and heart? Can you think of stories that do? The first that comes to mind for me is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.


These are questions I've been asking myself as I continue to find my storytelling voice. I am drawn to both the head and heart criteria, but I am poking around and figuring out which is more important to me. I know that I seek to connect with an audience and probably emotionally more so than cerebrally. But, strangely, I more frequently validate cerebral story ideas as they pass through my head. 


Maybe it ain't so binary after all. Is it helpful to think about it this way? Food for thought.



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