November 3rd, 2006

High concept? Or high crap?

A friend of mine has been working on a book that her editor wants to be more "high concept." The idea seems to be that high concept = BEST-SELLING BOOK. So a group of us have been talking about high concept and what it means. It's a term that is usually applied to movies.

Here's what one website has to say about it: "A high concept is an intriguing idea that can be stated in a few words and is easily understood by all. An asteroid the size of Texas is hurtling toward the earth. That's a high concept. Everyone knows exactly what that means. It arouses an emotional response and in just eleven words, everyone knows what the movie is about. Doomsday."

He says there are four elements to high concept:
- A fascinating subject
- A great title
- Inciting action (the problem)
- The hook (what's unique about your story).

Supposedly, high concept is easiest to sell for action-adventure or comedies.

But a lot of high-concept movies are just crap. Remember seeing trailers for Keenen Ivory Wayans' "Little Man"? The high concept there was "Little person poses as baby to retrieve stolen diamond. Wacky chaos ensues! " You can see how successful that high concept was.

High concept is all about plot. Flash Gordon meets cowboy movie = Star Wars. 'Jaws' in a haunted house in space = Alien. Cop and bad guy switch faces. = Face Off. Serial killer bases murders on the seven deadly sins = Se7en. Human adopted by elves seeks his roots = Elf.

There's something in me that rebels against the idea of sitting down with the idea of writing a high-concept novel. Writing a novel should be more than "it's like Speed, only on a boat!"



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Naming names - please don't double up

I think Caroline B. Cooney writes great thrillers. I'm reading Wanted! to my kid now. (Full disclosure: Look at the cover? Doesn't the main character look like she is wearing a burqua?) The main character, Alice, meets a boy while she is on the run. His name is Paul. He is present for five or six pages, and serves the purpose of helping her find a place to spend the night (with one of his friends.) The next morning, Alice realizes her entire high school is out hunting her. Including someone named Paul Chem. Who is a different Paul. At least that's what we think, after turning the pages back and forth.

I know lots of folks named Nancy. Three are pretty good friends. So we all know that it's not uncommon for people to share a name. (Full disclosure: I like that there aren't many Aprils.) But don't ever give your characters the same name. It just confuses the heck out of your reader.

In fact, don't give main characters the same first initial. When I read Hearts and Bones , I got all the male characters confused: Jeremy, James, John, Jake, Jebediah, whatever - there were three or four main guys whose names started with J. I didn't realize until I was halfway through the book that in my head I had combined two characters into one.



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Wow - now this is a dream promotion for a book

From PW: Park Place Books in Kirkland, Wash., recently held a party for writer Dia Calhoun's new fantasy novel, Avielle of Rhia (Cavendish, Oct.). As part of the festivities, a group of costumed teenage actors roamed through the audience, acting out the roles of characters in the book. Also on hand at the store was a real-life weaver (because the book's title character is a weaver), as well as exotic birds, jazz music and food. More than 100 people attended the event.

Somebody definitely thought outside the box. I don't know if it was the bookstore, the publisher, the author, or some combo. But they made it a cool event.

But what would I have if I tried to do something similiar? Guns, knives, a Taser, a bloody wrench, a pipe bomb? Not quite the same thing. [Full disclosure: I am not at all jealous of this cool event. Not at all.]



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