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What's More Important: Concept or Readability??

Tl;dr: At the non-famous writer level, concept is king 100%.


Trying to separate aspects of a story is somewhere between tricky and impossible, but someone asked me about a "well written" story vs a high-concept idea. For a pre-WGA writer, I don't think it's a contest between the two, if one accepts the exercise of these avenues being a dichotomy.

This is basically because someone else summarizing your story should have fun doing it. When other people talk about your story, you win (and sometimes get paid). Could you tell me about "Jurassic Park"? More importantly, could a development executive reasonably tell their boss about "Jurassic Park"? A script with flat characters, cliche dialogue, unclear action blocks, wrong formatting, etc., can get cleaned up by rewrites, new writers, script doctors, etc. A studio will even keep sinking money into endless rewrites if they're confident on the concept (ex. "Last Action Hero").

What's the other extreme? A non-concept that has fun descriptions and dialogue? Imagine a development executive tells their boss a story about a 20-something, struggling writer who has wacky friends and goes on awkward dates, but the screenplay is easy to read. Does that move anyone's needle? More likely, that writer gets tapped to do (possibly uncredited) rewrites on the "high concept" script I mentioned a paragraph ago.

To make this all worse: you'll likely never know when your own concept is great or when the story is best-told. The most famous working writers all have story ideas they're sure are/were great, but died in the room/theater. It's the disappointing truism that one man's (idea) trash is another man's idea (treasure). It's only in hindsight that every mega-hit and mega-bomb was so #@%ing obvious.
Part of the problem in trying to separate concept from "script" is the overlap between an "original story" and a "story that's been told a thousand times." Is The Matrix an original story? Adaptation? Transformers: Buttfall?

The main point I want people to take away from this is that: 1) We should approach "experts" (gurus, execs, award-winners, etc.) with some skepticism and, 2) We should approach ourselves with humility.

Do your best.

Most people are trying to do their best.

Taste is subjective.

Intelligence may be described as the toleration of ambiguity.
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