H is for…High Concept

So much has been written and debated about high concept. Do you need it? Does it matter if your story isn’t high concept? Will it still sell? Who cares if it’s high concept? And the most important questions – what the heck is high concept? And how can I get it?

So, first, do you need it? Depends. If you’re submitting to agents and editors then I would say probably. They’re always saying they want the same but different. Translation – high concept. They want something with inherent marketability. Does it matter if your story isn’t high concept? Will it still sell? Yes, it can still sell. Just because editors and agents are looking for the same but different doesn’t mean they always get high concept stories.  Stories have sold and continue to sell that aren’t high concept. Who cares if it’s high concept? You should. It’s easier to sell if it is.

What the heck is high concept? People tend to think if they can boil their concept down to that twenty-five word logline they have high concept.  That’s not what makes it high concept.  I can do that with a lot of my stories but only a handful are actually high concept.

So then what is it? From my workshop on loglines:

The concept must be unique

The concept must appeal to a wide audience

The concept should have a likeable protagonist (though this isn’t always the case)

The there should be high stakes

The concept can be told in a single sentence and you see the whole movie (or book)

High concept pitches can make it easier to communicate up through the chain of command.  If your idea is too complicated, by the time it reaches the top, it may sound like a totally different idea.  Anyone ever play telephone as a child?  It also forces you to determine what the story is really about.  What the core of the story is.

How do you get high concept if your story isn’t already there? First step is to not be married to your concept. All too often writers will get an idea and start running with it. Developing plot points, characters, dialogue. At that point they are reluctant to change the idea, even a little bit, to make it better. Me, I don’t get married to any of my concepts. I have a book that I’ve completely rewritten once and now I’m thinking of rewriting it again to add another element that will make the story better. Probably half the pages will need to go to accommodate the new story element. That’s a rare instance. I usually don’t even start writing anything for the story until I narrow down the concept line. Once I’m happy with that I move on to the story.

The example I use in my high concept lesson for the loglines class is:

Original:  To prevent an assassination a delusional hooker must get married but her cover is blown and her fiancé becomes a target.

Rework one:  To prevent the assassination of the president a delusional hooker must get married but his cover is blown and his fiancé turns out to be the enemy.

The first rework isn’t great but it’s higher concept than the original.

So, anyone want to share concepts so we can brainstorm ways to elevate them to something higher concept?

Happy writing!



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