High concept - an original story and sympathetic characters. Sound easy?
I went to a workshop a couple of years ago. It was led by Lori Wilde, whose own novels embody high concept. The event came at exactly the right time for me in the writing of my own book. I’m always looking for tactics to improve structure and give characters more depth.
But high concept, originally a film term, also means that your story is so universal in its theme, at the same time as being completely unique, that it can be summed up in one sentence. Lori was strict. 25 words.
I have to tell you that after you’ve struggled to give a mystery or romance twists and turns, sub-plots and fascinating secondary characters, 25 words is, um, a little limiting.
Near the end of the workshop, she asked us to volunteer our own high-concept summaries. I got about half way, before rambling off in incoherent details about what I considered the fundamental plot of my novel. I couldn’t do it.
But before you get too sympathetic, think about it. Any of your favourite movies lend themselves to a high concept summary. Lori uses several examples. Think Brad and Angelina in Mr and Mrs Smith: “Embattled husband and wife assassins end up hunting each other.” Or “Teenage girl discovers she’s princess of a small European country and must endure princess lessons from her grandmother.”
I worked on this task for over a month. Here are 25 words about Green Sky.
“A beautiful, ambitious meteorologist must team up with her storm-chaser ex to stop a killer in the torrid days and night preceding a deadly tornado.”
Now, Lori said she would occasionally consider 28 to 30 words. I love this.
“A beautiful, ambitious meteorologist must team up with her storm-chaser ex to stop a killer and expose an ecological disaster in the torrid days and night preceding a deadly tornado.”
So there you have it. Now, would you read this book?