WHAT IS A HIGH CONCEPT STORYLINE?

Image from Amazon.com

I’ve been asked about this term by writers who come to me for content editing. I read quite a few blogs about the topic, all by credible and knowledgeable writers, but liked Jeff Lyons’ blog the best. I’ve summarized it below, but recommend you read the original when you can.

The blog article written by Jeff Lyons really summarized this term–and what it looks like to writers–and publishers.[ http://www.scriptmag.com/features/story-talk-high-concept-yes-it-actually-means-something ]

(I’m restating these here – ) The book/story:

  1. Is highly entertaining
  2. Is very original
  3. Originated from a “what if”
  4. Is very visually oriented
  5. Has a very strong emotional focus
  6. Includes a unique element
  7. Has mass audience appeal

Now, according to Jeff, not all 7 components are needed, but at least a few of them are.

Image from Google.com

  • Entertainment can be a relative term. What I find entertaining, another might absolutely hate. Enlist the aid of readers who will truthfully tell you what they found entertaining about your book. Try and get at least 5-7 readers and then see what the common theme is among them. (Friends and family do not count!)
  • Originality is about finding a unique way to present the familiar!
  • What if scenarios really clarify your hook. What if aliens attacked the earth? Might look like Independence Day or The War of the Worlds, right? What if a young man is seduced by an older woman? Ever heard of The Graduate? The list goes on and on – but that “what if” give you your hook!
  • High concept books are almost always turned into films. Why? They contain cinematic imagery – big, powerful images make for big movies
  • The emotional punch is almost physical! The primal emotions the story evokes are powerful: hate, fear, love, joy, rage. Nothing middle of the road!
  • A truly unique element could be the formatting: no punctuation or capital letters; a large number of graphic images; presenting the novel backwards, whatever. Yes, it can be a character or setting as well.
  • Readers from all genres will enjoy your story if it has mass audience appeal. “They have cross-over appeal,” says Lyons. As an example of this, I always think of the Harry Potter series. I’m not a fantasy fan, nor do I consider myself a young adult reader, but I read every word of every book. Those are books with mass audience appeal. Another example of a High Concept storyline with mass audience appeal

These aren’t rules by any means. And, not every agency or house is looking only for High Concept work. But if you are submitting your work to agents/publishers who mention High Concept in their guidelines, you’ll probably be right on the money if your work incorporates several of these elements!

Keep reading and writing!! NQ

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About NL Quatrano

Award-winning author, speaker, editor and ghost writer, Nancy owns a full-time editing, writing and specialty publishing business: On-Target Words/WC Publishing. Volunteer/member of professional writing organizations including Florida Writers Assoc., Sisters in Crime, and AWAI. 2010 Professional Woman of the Year by the NAPW. Linked in Editor Pick May 2013. International Women's Leadership Association nominee for Outstanding Leadership 2014.
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