No, I haven't abandoned my alphabet posts, but as I was considering "H" words, I thought maybe one of those should get its own post. The dreaded, yet coveted "high concept".
It's something you'll hear over and over if you're trying to figure out how to pitch a particular story, but what does it mean?
If you've read this blog for a while, then you know that way back when I was a kidlet I had aspirations of being a screenwriter. Trying to figure out the ins and outs of that particular field was where I got my first taste of this idea called "high concept". And, like most people, I took the phrasing to mean that this was some big, complicated thing, because that's what it sounds like it should be, but the good news is -- it's not.
High concept means you can - clearly and concisely - explain your book/story/movie in one (maybe two) SHORT sentences. (And you thought boiling it down to a query summary was hard, ha!)
When you try and sell a screenplay, you develop a logline - the actual 1 or 2 sentence encapsulation of your entire story. And the "rules" aren't much different from those used to pitch a book.
Strip it down to the core premise - not plot, premise.
An orphaned boy learns magic so he can destroy the evil wizard who murdered his parents.
There are nearly 1,000,000 words in the Harry Potter series, and it takes less than 20 to give the premise.
A teenage girl discovers a family with a centuries old secret - they're vampires.
Twilight takes less than 15. (This would also work for Tuck Everlasting with "immortal" in place of "vampire")
A determined teen replaces her sister in a televised fight to the death.
The thing about a concept like The Hunger Games is that you can also get the concept across by putting it into the context of an existing idea.
It's Survivor, if getting voted off the island meant a spear through the heart.
There really isn't a sure fire way to do it "right", but basically, you want something like:
A [adjective] [noun - NOT the character's name. The name holds no meaning][strong verb, present tense, not state of being].
Preferably all of this will lead to a sense of the stakes for the story.
For Harry, avenging his parents is at stake.
For Twilight, discovering the secret is dangerous.
For Hunger Games, it's life or death.
Forget the plot, forget the subplots, forget the relationships and all the window dressing. High concept is only about the linchpin that holds the story together. It's that one, central something that would cause catastrophic failure if you removed it as an element of the story.
Hopefully, this will make it a little easier for you to determine.