Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guest Post: You Must Write High Concept!

Today we welcome the always insightful Laura Pauling to the blog.  Laura's blog is a must-visit for me because she covers the vastly changing field of publishing with a balanced and understanding approach to varied points of view -- and does all this with a spin uniquely her own.  She frequently posts terrific movie and book reviews where she breaks down story structure and helps writers analyze what works, and what doesn't, and why.  On her Twitter stream, Laura keeps her followers linked in to a wonderful assortment of craft articles, news on publishing, and recent releases from across the Internet.  And if all that wonderfulness isn't enough -- she's incredibly generous with her knowledge and just a nice person! :-)

So, please, welcome Laura with me and read below her own insight on high concept:

You absolutely must write high concept stories.
Yeah, no. Hopefully you reacted to that statement with a bit of healthy rebellion.
But, I’ll admit. I love reading high concept.
Ally Carter’s spy series starting with I’D TELL YOU I LOVEYOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU could have been just a sweet high school romance. But no. The story is set at a private girls’ school for spies.
High concept.
Beth Revis’ series starting with ACROSS THE UNIVERSE could have been a murder mystery set in a small town. But no. The story takes place on a spaceship in outer space. High concept.
Harry Potter – you all know HP if you’re reading this blog – could have been a heartfelt story about a boy whose parents were killed and his journey to find himself. But no. It’s set in a castle-like school for wizards and Harry is the target of an evil wizard. High concept.
Do you want to create high concept stories? I could throw around words like irony, compelling mental picture, universal appeal, primal emotion, high stakes, logline, character arc, unique premise but I’m sure you’ve heard them before.
If you haven’t, then google high concept! You’ll find posts by Roni Loren, Story Fix, Rachelle Gardner, and even one by me that I wrote during the A-Z challenge last April.
These days it seems like high concept is the magical train that will carry you to the Hogwarts of traditional publishing.
Do you have to write high-concept? No.
If you want to write that quiet but powerful and literary story – then go for it. You can still add in some elements of a high concept story, like a strong character arc and high stakes.
If you want to write high-concept then take your ideas and go bigger. Add higher stakes. Add bigger conflict. Change the setting.  You can train your brain to start thinking this way. Come up with five different high concept ideas every week. You’ll find one you love that hasn’t been done and is unique.
You decide. Write the stories you want to write. Put your heart into it. Put every aspect of craft you’ve learned into it.
What about after the high concept idea? Creating the high concept is just the beginning. All the elements of craft: structure, character, plot points, dialogue, voice, tension, conflict, narrative, exposition, setting, description – all need to be in place.
You story will need a character the reader can root for, emotion pulsing through out the pages, and masterful storytelling.
So fellow scriveners, pick up your wands, er, I mean keyboards, and create magic. And in the words of Donald Maass – GO BIG! Because even “quiet” books should have BIG moments.

Thank you so much, Laura, for helping many of us set our minds at ease about whether our beloved story has to be high concept or fail. I also love her point that even with a high concept, the execution has to carry the story through.

What do you all think? Do you seek to write high concept stories? Or do you write the story you want and then try to find a high concept in it later? Or not bother about high concept at all?

Please be sure to visit Laura's blog for more fabulous insight and follow her on Twitter to keep up on the latest writing posts and publishing news!


Laura Pauling writes middle grade and young adult novels, sometimes funny, sometimes dark and twisty, but always with heart. On her blog, Laura Pauling, she breaks down published novels and movies to discover the secrets of story structure and likes to open discussion on publishing industry trends and issues.