Melissa 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?