An idea is a man goes to a distant wilderness that is filled with hostile people and wild animals. A story is a cynical Civil War soldier transfers out west to live with the Native Americans and becomes one of them. Eventually, he chooses to help them fight against his own kind. That story is better-known as "Dances with Wolves."
Another version of the same idea is a disabled war veteran travels to a distant planet populated with strange people who belong to another race. The place has flying dragons and dangerous monsters. Through the use of a new scientific development he inhabits a new body. He falls in love with one of the aliens. He becomes a member of her tribe and fights against his former allies to save his adopted world. That story is called "Avatar."
Both stories are based on the same essential idea. Two different movies, more or less.
As a side note, both of these movies follow the template known as the Hero's Journey, or Monomyth, which many of the most popular movies and novels are based upon. You can learn more about it in Joseph Campbell's seminal work "The Hero with A Thousand Faces" and from the great book on screenwriting, "The Writer's Journey," by Christopher Vogler.
The problem with most of the ideas that people come up with is that they are not actually stories. Often people pitch story ideas to some industry pros. They might say, "I've got a great idea for a story, then they relate their great "idea," such as, "A man who is afraid to fly works at an airport. Then someone asks, "What's the story?"
The response is usually a blank look. "Well, I just told you the story."
To which the industry pro is forced to say, "No, you told me an idea. Tell me what the story is. The person with the "great idea" doesn't have an answer.
The trouble is, many people confuse concept with story. In a story, someone wants to achieve some goal but forces, such as other people or events, stand in that person's way. The story is how the person overcomes, or does not overcome, those obstacles. Along the way, the resistance becomes much more intense until the climax, which resolves the issue one way or another. That is a story. If you want to succeed at screenwriting, you must understand the difference between an idea and a story.
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