High concept is one of the most understood concepts in storytelling. So what does high concept mean?
High concept means that a novel/movie/TV show’s plot can be described very succinctly in appealing fashion.
- Kid wins a golden ticket to a mysterious candy factory? High concept.
- Wizard school? High concept.
- There’s this guy who walks around Dublin for a day and thinks about a lot of things in chapters written in different styles and he goes to a funeral and does some other stuff but otherwise not much happens? Not high concept.
High concept is very often misunderstood because what it sounds like it means and what it actually means are basically completely opposite. It doesn’t mean sophisticated (opposite), it doesn’t mean cerebral (opposite), it doesn’t mean difficult to describe (opposite). And it’s very important to know what it means because although high concept is often a term used derogatorily, I am hearing from more and more editors that they want high concept novels, even for literary fiction.
Why? Well, my hunch is that the more media, the more Tweets, the more links we’re constantly besieged with, the more readers are drawn to hooks that we can easily understand and digest.
So not only do you need to know what high concept means, you might also want to consider embracing it if you’re thinking of a new project. But only if it’s true to the story you want to tell.
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J. T. Shea says
PLANE IN A SNAKE! An actual chapter title from my WIP. And it's not a metaphor. Of course, it's a small plane in a very big snake…
Mira, NOBODY understands ULYSSES! James Joyce had very poor eyesight and dictated the novel. Many of the weirder words and phrases are now believed to be typos.
Terin Tashi Miller, ULYSSES was filmed by Joseph Strick in 1967. Milo O'Shea played Bloom. Joyce would probably have approved. Before becoming a writer he opened Dublin's first movie theater.
Two teens find a locked up zombie girl and have sex with it. <— High Concept. (Unfortunately the movie 'Deadgirl' is poorly executed but that didn't stop the indie film crowd from raving about it. Ahhhh marketing… you can sell poo to a manure pile.)
I often find tyat high concept is a lot easier with short fiction.
After seven chapter, it gets sort of complicated to cram into five words.
Theresa Milstein says
Thanks for clearing this up. I had a totally different idea of what it meant.
The concept is much faster to lay out than the pitches I've been led to draft. I've laid out my WIP's concept here: https://cdragons.livejournal.com/8198.html
Ron Peters says
Something Chloe Kardashian could get in ten seconds and think "Cool! That'd be fun!"
Steven W. Johnson says
Book title: Not Much of a Crime.
Back cover blurb: Allison King finds herself embroiled in a fight for her life when she decides to campaign for a vacant seat on the town council of Charleston Nevada. Does she have what it takes to overcome the political corruption, intrigue, and murder that permeates the town and still save the adult video empire she created in Los Angeles?
High Concept? Porn star takes on City Hall.
Steven W. Johnson