I ran a session for a writing group once and we were discussing High Concept. You know what I mean – that pesky little thing that editors and agents keep pounding on writers to have? As a refresher, remember that High Concept, in it’s simplest and non-scientific angle is; “what is it that makes your story unique and stand out?” High Concept doesn’t talk about location or character type (for example an Alien Vampire Bunny) but the unique twist or turn you took with your story to make it stand out among all of the other submissions out there.
In any case, we were discussing this with the writers in the hopes to create a great cover letter and many of the writers sat there frustrated. When faced with the single question, “why is your story unique?” many just sat there and realized it was far from unique. So the question I ask you is: Can you create a high concept after the fact?
I have to say that with the vast majority of stories that come across my desk, you simply can’t do much with the story. It was dead before we even opened the book. Sure the writing was good. Sure there were funny scenes or really great dialogue passages, but that high concept was simply not there, nor would it ever be there. For a writer, it is crucial that you sit down, before you even start writing that opening scene, and figure out what will make your story unique and amazing. The Twilight series did that with taking a genre, not normally designed for the teen market and made it work. Think about the later books that have come out to try the “teen vampire” idea. What really is different? You can’t claim setting. You can’t claim time period.
Some writers try to claim the theme of their book, the moral message of the book, is the high concept. While there are times that you can make this work, in most cases, this is simply not something that is unique. “This is a story about love lost and regained”. Again, a theme but not something unique! We can probably find a ton of books that say the same thing.
So, save yourself some time, and certainly pain and misery. Figure it out before you start. Remember, it takes more than simply good writing to sell in this market today!
Scott C. Eagan