Tuesday, April 30, 2013

If You Can Create a High Concept Story, You Can Sell It



Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

High concept. Maybe you've heard this phrase. It's been around a long while, but it's still important to selling stories in any form. A high-concept story puts a fresh twist on a universal theme. It takes the cliché and makes it new. When it's spoken/pitched, you instantly want to read the book or see the movie. And the moment you hear it as a writer, you think, "Why didn't I think of that?"

It's that powerful.

How do you come up with one of those ideas? It's not easy. Here is some advice from people who know more than I do on the subject.

Screenwriter Terry Rossio calls this "The Strange Attractor," which means combining something strange (unique) with something that attracts people (is compelling). 

Podcaster Mary Robinette Kowal twists this a little and calls it "combining the familiar and the strange."

Stephen King likes to combine two completely unrelated things. For example: murder and mayhem & prom (Carrie).

And there's always the What if? question.

Blake Snyder has a chapter on Loglines in his book Save the Cat. Here's one example he gives in his book:

An ugly duckling FBI agent goes undercover as a contestant to catch a killer at the Miss America Pageant (Miss Congeniality).

Snyder says a high-concept logline must include:
-A type of protagonist (Ex: an ugly duckling female FBI agent)
-A type of antagonist (Ex: a killer)
-A conflict that is primal--something we identify with as human beings (trying to stop a murder)
-An opened-ended question like, "What will happen?"

He also suggests that you include:
-Irony (an ugly ducking female FBI agent + the Miss America Pageant)
-a mental picture that blooms in our minds (Can you see the irony? I can.)
-a sense of the audience (This feels like a chick flick/romantic comedy)
-a title that "says what it is" (Miss Congeniality. Here are some other great titles: Legally Blonde, Snakes on a Plane, Four Christmases, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot)

Here are some high concept ideas that have come about in the past few years. 

The Lightning Thief: What if a boy found out he was a demigod?
National Treasure: What if clues to a treasure were hidden by our forefathers?
Hunger Games: 24 teens fight to death on national television.
Toy Story: What if your toys were alive?
The Shack: A man meets God in a shack in the woods.
Smallville: Superman in high school.
The Vow: Would you stay married if your spouse forgot your life together?
Twilight: What if a vampire and a human fell in love?
Cinder: Cinderella as a cyborg.
Groundhog Day: What if you had to live the same day over and over and over?

Whether or not you like them, can you see what makes these ideas high concept? Do you have any tips you'd like to share on coming up with a high concept idea?

And, FYI, today is the last day for the specials on Stephanie's Skylar Hoyt series in which book one is FREE! If you haven't downloaded it yet, waste no time and do it now.

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Just-Different-Reinvention-Skylar-ebook/dp/B00B76T3PE/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1362590963&sr=8-5&keywords=Me%2C+Just+Different

36 comments:

  1. Only 1 day to go and the torture ends? Phew. I WANT TO KNOW!! Ahem.

    I really liked this post! Of course the title is epic...plus helpful! And I love Miss Congeniality. So how do you know if what you find "attractive and compelling" other readers would too? My last book was about a teen with mild autism who was a monster hunter.

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    1. That sounds very attractive and compelling, Cait! I would read it.

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    2. Sounds attractive and compelling! I don't think you really need to worry about it. And you've got the two totally unrelated things too-- autism and monster hunters! Sounds super exciting!

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    3. I would so read that. Let us know when it's published! :)

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    4. Aw, gee, thanks guys! That's super encouraging!

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  2. Hmm. Interesting post...I'll have to think about this some more. These seem like the kind of ideas writing books tell you "DO NOT THROW OUT!!!" when you're brainstorming, even though they sound insane. ;)

    And, ARGH! Today is the day they announce editors at my virtual school's newspaper...and tomorrow is this...*facepalm* It's a wonder I got any sleep at all.

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  3. This post is very true. If you're trying to get that spark of an idea, the 'what if?' questions really help!

    As for the surprise... Well, at least tomorrow they can stop teasing us, right? ;)

    ~Ellie :)

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  4. I LOVE Legally Blonde! And only one more day of torture... Ahhhhhh must know what we've been counting down to!!!!

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    1. I really like Legally Blonde too!

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    2. "Whoever said orange is the new pink was seriously disturbed."

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    3. Definitely! There is no pink substitute ;) But her chihuahua is just adorable! I want one :((

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  5. Yay! Just one more day of suspense! (do we get another hint today?)

    This was a great post. I love several of the books that were mentioned at the end...


    -Abby

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  6. Hey, I forgot to mention, I have two special things going on tomorrow!

    1: whatever 'it' is opens (duh)
    2: my brother's 12th birthday!

    LOL I can't believe I forgot to say that before. :)

    ~Katelyn~

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    1. Happy BD to your brother ^_^ It's actually y bro's BD tomarrow also . . .

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  7. This post was really great to read! I loved some of the examples. Miss Congeniality, National Treasure, The Vow? All movies that I've sat back and felt, "You know, that's extremely clever."

    And I can't WAIT to know what "it" is tomorrow. Shame on you guys for keeping us in suspense for so long! ;-)

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  8. Yahoo ... finally get to find out what's tomorrow! This was an interesting post too :)

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  9. And see, cynical little me is sitting back and going "they should have started the countdown a month ago, just to keep people in suspense even longer." My wait-o-meter is eager enough for the Books being released in the fall that I totally don't have the energy to be in suspense, though I'm still curious.

    I've been running into the concept of...er...well, high-concept over the past few weeks. Sometimes it's discouraging ("my ideas really don't grow that way, so..."), but other times I'm glad I've got a store of those one-sentence ideas in the back of my brain ("you know, if I combined that chunk of storyX with that chunk of storyY, I bet..."). I always love seeing the examples people give.

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  10. And WOWMYGOSH I wrote my climax today! So super excited (and sad) that the end is on the horizon. Then onto editing. Good thing I have the GTW book :) But I can't believe the amount of times my characters have turned around and said "No. Not doing that. I don't care that you're the author, trust me: this idea is better." And it was. But it's still spooky to be bossed around my figments of your imagination O_O

    Well, my WIP is horror/paranormal after all ;)

    Totally unrelated to today's post, but had to share my glee with fellow writer people. I can't wait to torture my critique partner with THIS cliffhanger...

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    1. Yay! *party music* Super exciting!

      Oh those torturous cliff hangers... They make awesome books though.

      Haha, yeah, you know you've written a good character when they correct your ideas.

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    2. Cliffhangers and moi have the most love-hate of relationships ever :) but they are pretty awesome, haha. And at least now I can tell Eric it's his own fault he fell out of that tree ;) I never planned that!

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  11. Thanks for the post. I guess I don't really understand how you come up with a high concept like that. It's hard enough for me to come up with an idea that can grow into a story I really want to write as it is. My storyline doesn't even compare to "What if 24 teens fought to death on national television?". How do I add something "wow" into my story without scrapping the 70 pages I love and starting over at page 1 with no idea where to go?

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  12. 1 more day!!!!!! =D

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  13. One more day!! Can't wait!

    Are we allowed to guess what it is?

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  14. Stephanie, Are we not going to get one last hint? Pretty please?

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    1. Okay, one more :)

      It's possible that you'll still be benefiting from it at this time next year.

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    2. Ugh! I *still* can't figure it out!!!!

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  15. Thanks to this post (WOOO, Jill!) a plot struck me. I'm excited about it because that's what's supposed to happen when you think of new things. I had one plot that wasn't 'right' after thinking about it for a while. And then I started thinking about what I could do to make it 'spicier.' I came up with something like: Eden's been shunned by her parents for no reason for her whole life. Her older sister is mysteriously kidnapped and returned. But something still isn't right...

    Thanks! (Really anxious for tomorrow, *pulls out hair*)

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  16. Today, in NZ it's all ready Wednesday. It's seems a little unfair to wait ANOTHER day! :(

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  17. New twists on cliched topics are my specialty! (I think at least) My (self) published book was based on the question, What if, in a Fairy Tale world, a pair of twins received the wrong gifts from their Fairy Godmother - she swordfights, he sews?

    My current WIP is a combination of "Girl must rescue imaginary world that she has been neglecting for far too long" and "Allegory of Jesus' sacrifice to save mankind."

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    1. I'm also writing allegory! Love that 'genre' (uh, can you call it a genre?)

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    2. It ought to be a genre! (if it isn't)

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    3. Wow! What's your book called? I really want to read it! :) sounds awesome!

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    4. @Kendra: Definitely true!!! We're gonna fight for it, right? ;-)

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    5. @Hannah J: It's called Sew, It's a Quest, and its the first book of a series (I just released book 2, Do You Take This Quest? the other week, a spin on Arthurian legend). And, yes, it's pun intended.

      @Arende I just checked Amazon's categories - the closest I could find was Christian Fantasy, which isn't quite the same ... I ought to check the BISAC codes though, to see what they say ...

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  18. I stopped writing my book because I didn't want to keep writing and scrap it all in the end anyway. I reckon this is what I've been needing to think about. Thanks, Jill!

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