Have you ever reencountered a writing lesson or precept that you knew but had begun to overlook? And when it hits, you say to yourself, “Uh-oh, let that one slip through my fingers.”
It recently happened to me at a writing conference. And although I was familiar with the concept of High Concept, I’d never heard it so highly touted as I did during those two days. The topic was raised in no less than three sessions, by three different instructors.
For those of you who may not be familiar, or who need a refresher on just what High Concept is as it relates to story, I recommend this article at Writer’s Digest by story consultant Jeff Lyons. In a nutshell, it’s the unique and original spin that gives a story concept impact and broader appeal. One of my favorite examples was offered at the conference by presenter Bob Mayer. Start with a poor boy falling in love with a rich girl. He successfully woos her, but societal forces work to keep them apart. Nothing special, right? Been done thousands of times. Now, put them on the Titanic. That’s High Concept.
I confess, having the topic of High Concept stay with me after the conference is likely due to self-consciousness. You see, I used to be high on High Concept. But somewhere during the flight, my enthusiasm to reach it descended. And the way these sessions presented High Concept as the de facto perch from which to launch, well, I guess I was left feeling a little low.
My Reaching Days
Although when I started writing I hadn’t been formally taught the meaning of High Concept (or much else about writing fiction, for that matter), I instinctively sought ideas with twists I thought might attract attention or interest, even if only from other history buffs. For example, the genesis idea for my first trilogy was to tell the tale of the first Sack of Rome in 410 AD… from the perspective of the Goths. As the story unfolded, it evolved into a series. So for the second edition I decided to feature two brothers fighting in an alternate version of the pivotal Goths versus Romans Battle of Adrianople… on opposite sides (why yes, I am a John Jakes fan, why do you ask?).
Where next for book three? A highborn Roman woman marries one of the brothers, then realizes she feels a maternal bond with one of her slaves, a Gothic boy. When the slave boy leaves to aid his sister’s escape, the woman pursues them. She is caught and held captive by a group of Goths led by her husband’s brother, now at war with her people. She becomes both bargaining chip and sympathetic liaison—a linchpin and lightning rod—for an entire war. [Read more…]