Monday, July 2, 2012

Question From A Writer - What is High Concept?

Please explain to me what you mean when you write about "high concept". I've been studying your blog posts regarding queries, and high concept has appeared several times.

This is a great question and certainly one worth thinking about. You are certainly not alone when it comes to not really understanding the idea.

First of all, it is probably easier to start off with what it isn't. We will tweak some of these a bit later with HOW we use the high concept in pitches and queries but let's start simple.

High concept is not just a single summary sentence. I think a lot of authors seem to think, if they are asked what the high concept is for their story, it is a that one killer sentence or line they like to throw out at the beginning of their query that seems to highlight the theme and the "take-away" from their story. In other words, A story about a man and woman fighting for custody of their kids while trying to deal with feelings of love that might still be there. Yes, this is a great line, but in reality, it is simply nothing more than a brief plot summary.

High concept is not a sentence that blends too books or movies. This one pops up in many workshops. There is a belief that if we combine two stories or movies, it somehow summarizes the high concept or idea of the movie. For example, Katniss from Hunger Games meets Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz. Again, this is really nothing more than a discussion of the plot or character. We are still not thinking about the over-all story.

High concept is not a sentence that inserts a character into a completely different setting. This is just a twist of the last one. Writers seem to think if we can describe our story by using an analogy of dropping a character into a story that is completely opposite, we get the high concept. For example, What if the main character in Kill Bill pairs up with Cinderella. Again, this focuses on characters but doesn't talk about the story.

So, what is it really?

When it comes to High Concept, we are talking about what makes your story unique from everything else out there. What is it that you are bringing to the table that no one else has done before? How can you provide a great new, and unique spin, on something we might have gotten used to.

The key is, how can you describe your story in such a way that makes it truly unique?

Now, all of those things we talked about of what it isn't are still crucial when it comes to writing your high concept in a query or selling it to an editor or agent in a pitch session. You do need to keep it simple. This is where the single sentence comes into play. You do need to make it memorable and that is where the blending of the two movies/book idea comes into play, as well as inserting the characters into strange situations.

One editor I worked with stated that High Concept was crucial for her when selling the idea to the book buyers. The story had to be something that the buyer could remember without having to refer to notes.

Hope that helps!


No comments:

Post a Comment