A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!

Julie Moffet . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


 High concept ideas? What are they, and what do they mean to your work as an author?
Well, recently, my fellow RWA member and bestselling author, Heather Burch, analyzed the h.c. approach to novel writing and agreed that I could share her thoughts with you.

Like so many good ideas, h.c. can be expressed in a single statement: A high concept is two worlds that should never meet but do. For example, Jurassic Park—Live dinosaurs meet modern man. Or Love Story—Young woman with everything to live for meets death.
Also, most reality shows are h.c. Take Duck Dynasty. What’s the unexpected element there? Well, glory be, it’s the rich rednecks, a current take on the old TV show The Beverly Hillbillies.
Not all opposites, however, amount to a high concept. While Cinderella has the necessary elements of two worlds colliding, the story is so familiar it offers no surprises. But how about this? A single mom is struggling to make ends meet when her child is killed in a drive-by shooting. To avenge her child, she takes on the mobs. Or this? Your character goes in for a latte; somebody else drinks it and dies. What should not happen, happens. Your character is thrust into a situation she never asked for and doesn’t want to be in. Think of the tension this creates!
Another example is Allied, the recent Brad Pitt/ Marion Cotillard flick. A WWII British soldier falls in love with a German spy. And closer to home, in my soon-to-be-released mystery, Murder on Pea Pike, a country girl outfoxes a city slicker.

What makes a h.c. interesting is not the event itself but what goes wrong in the characters’ lives. Your heroine has to feel she can’t go there again. It hurts too much. It’s too threatening, too dangerous. Despite all these fears, she plunges into what frightens her, into what is inherently dangerous and that energizes both her and your story.
Another important point: By thinking in high concept terms, you may well discover your story’s tag line, the single statement that sums up your novel. Consider what you’ve written. What polar opposites have you pulled together? Find out and you have your tag line, your sales hook. Or how about this? Create the h.c. tag line first and you may have a capsule idea for your next book.

Here are a few I played around with:

Football hero meets crippled girl.
Tough commando meets war-hating pacifist.

Ex-con meets former nun.

Murder suspect meets victim’s sister.
Millionaire playboy meets bag lady.

Starving novelist meets celebrity chef.
I think my tries got better as the list went on.  That last one kind of has potential. What do you think?

Finally, to revert to my old teaching persona, I’ve come to realize that high concept is somewhat akin to metaphor, the yoking together of dissimilar objects and treating them as if they were one--one good, strong sales pitch!  

LINKS: Camel Press, Amazon, Heather Burch, Murder on Pea Pike



















LynnetteAustin said...

Great information, Jean, and well presented. I've loved every single one of your books and cannot wait to read Murder on Pea Pike!

jean harrington said...

Thanks, Lynnette. Your words are music to my ears.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Interesting post, Jean. I have to say, I've never really given a lot of thought to high concept ideas, or whether or not mine are, but now you've given me something to think about.

Kerryn Reid said...

A fun read, Jean. I think several of those ideas have potential! But yes, the starving writer strikes closer to home than most. ;)

Rita said...

For me High Concept is emotional and brings something different to the table yet has something we can all understand and are vested in. Easy to say not so easy to write. Great psot Jean.

jean harrington said...

Thanks, cyber friends. Your comments and interest are valued. Every writer needs friends. Snif, snif . . .

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog! Can't wait to read your book!

Dee J. said...

Great post, Jean. I always forget to think high concept like this. Terrific reminder!

Sandy Parks said...

High concept is something we strive for too often after we've created our story (which isn't high concept). I like the idea of trying to come up with a tag line first. It might help us remember that if we can't make a good one, maybe our story isn't where it should be at. Thanks for the hints to get me thinking.

Lisa Q. Mathews said...

I'm so glad you wrote this post, Jean! I've always wondered what the heck "high concept" actually was (I used to have a job creating series for a children's book packager where they talked about it all the time, and how we should come up with them, but I never really got it). Thank you!

jay gee heath said...

As close as I can get - Don't disturb the dust, I'm nurturing it and hoping it will grow and spread.
jay gee

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