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,
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