High Concept

light-bulb.jpgMelissa Marsh blogged lately about the frustrating difference between books that are well-written — and those that make it big while not being well-written. She got me thinking, and here’s what I wrote to her:

I know, this issue can be frustrating. I remember reading Timeline by Michael Crichton and thinking the writing was the worst possible. I could hardly slog my way through it. Yet it got made into a movie, and Crichton is an enormously successful and wealthy writer. His books all have “high concept.” I really believe that every poorly-written book that “makes it” does so because there’s something special there, and it’s not necessarily the writing. Maybe there’s a great character or a “high concept” — something that excites readers. Sometimes it makes me think we strugglers worry too much about craft; but, to me, craft will always be tremendously important. Because when a writer latches onto something exciting, and then carries it off artistically, it’s the best of all possible worlds.

And that got me thinking further — what exactly is “high concept”? I’ve read lots about it, and it all boils down to something new, fresh, and exciting that can be stated in a short, strong sentence. Of course, the book lately that rocked off the charts with high concept was The DaVinci Code. It was an incredibly new and fresh idea. The thrills and codes kept readers turning pages. The deeper theme about women caught readers’ imaginations and satisfied somehow. The writing wasn’t great art, but I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.

Hey, are any of us struggling writers working to develop “high concept” ideas? Usually I plug along, grateful to come up with any story idea to work on. But maybe, just maybe, I should set my sights a bit higher? Try to come up with a high concept? How would I go about doing this? What do you think?

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5 thoughts on “High Concept

  1. I’ve tried to come up with high concept ideas before, but nothing ever really struck me. For me, it probably has to be that “bolt of lightning” idea for it work.

    Great post, Betty. 🙂

  2. I disagree that high concepts are new, fresh and exciting that can be stated in a short, strong sentence. I feel that high concepts are the old, tried and true ideas with a new twist that can be stated in a short, strong sentence.

    What’s your favorite romance high concept? Runaway bride? Marriage of convenience? Take your favorite high concept plot and put your own spin on it. Is your heroine a nurse? A stripper putting herself through nursing school? Is it your hero that’s a stripper putting himself through nursing school?

    Great post, Elizabeth. It’s got me thinking.

  3. Hey Elizabeth – I thought I’d comment on what you said about Michael Crichton’s book, “Timeline.” It’s one of my favorite books by him and I don’t recall paying any attention to how it was written. It was truly the “high concept” that sucked me in & made it one of my favorites. (Of course, the movie didn’t do the book justice.) I’m not a writer, but as a reader, it’s very entertaining to read a book with a “high concept.” I hope a few high concepts/ideas come your way.

  4. Hey, Harrie, thanks for the comment. I agree that “high concept” ideas attract me every time, no matter how well they’re written. “High concept” books and movies are just plain fun. They excite me!
    Hope to see you here on my blog again.

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