Sunday, November 13, 2011

Figuring out High Concept

Big moment for some of the drunk writers - namely, me. For years when people have talked about High Concept, I have mocked them behind thier backs largely because I have no CLUE what high concept actually means. Is it JAWS meets LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE? What if we write straight up contemporary romance - where's the high concept in that? Don't I need zombies or post-apocolyptic drama to be high concept?

And, and this is ugly, I have always believed that the books I have adored you can not whiddle down to one line that manages to encapsulate all the tension, drama and nuisance of the character and conflict I love. Because I love those books, and emulate those authors, I thought my books were so damn special one line wouldn't do it.

I know, such a dummy.

Anyway, I had a slow-burning ah-ha moment after Lori Wilde's talk at the TRW meeting a few months ago, and in talking with Maureen and Sinead about the ideas they are working on and the rejections that they've gotten.

High concept doesn't encapsulate the book - it encapsulates the idea. It sells the idea. Shines it up to an irresistable gloss. The book is another thing entirely! (not really, but for this discussion, yeah it kind of is). And yes I think a contemporary romance needs a high concept line most of all. We've got to figure out why this book is different and get it out there.

I don't know about you guys, but after I've written a book, I could not come up with the high concept line to save my life. I'm all bogged down in the 100,000 words of nuance and conflict and backstory and mommy issues. In fact, as an aside, I could not come up with a high concept line on a book that I've written a proposal for.

But this weekend, Stephanie came to town to be a big timmer up at the Harlequin office and we got to do some brainstorming. Steph, Sinead and Maureen were all at the very beginning of brainstorming, they had some ideas, some plot and a character - all very fluid. But we decided for each of these ideas the brainstorming wouldn't be finished without coming up with this line...and HOLY SHIT! I am not kidding you, in all my years of writing and brainstorming - nothing has ever lit a spark under us like this. It wasn't just enthusiasm for the ideas - all of us wanted to pitch these books. We were excited about the part of the publishing process that every hates - submitting.

And the really amazing power of a great high concept line is that it shows the whole book. The world, the character, the external conflict, the twist - and if you choose the words right, you can even get tone and voice in there too.

It's freaking magic! Not kidding.

9 comments:

Stephanie Doyle said...

Best writing weekend ever...

Molly - you were like a High Concept wizard spitting out sentences that will sell, sell, sell!

Maureen McGowan said...

It really was great and I do think the key was not letting ourselves give up until we had that sentence. I know for me, brainstorming in a group can be super overwhelming, especially when it gets bogged down in the world's details and veers off in directions that don't fit the original idea I had....

And my instinct at that point (and I think I saw this with each of us) was to just shut it down and say, "That was great. I'll think about this more on my own and figure it out. Let's move on to someone else and take the heat off me."

But the magic came when, after talking about all the trees (some of which might have been in the wrong forest), we came back to: Let's describe that forest. The trees in it aren't relevant and it will be up to the author to decide what the trees look like, and if she needs help with that later, fine, but right now it's about what the forest looks like.

And forcing ourselves to do that yielded awesome results. And Molly was on fire in terms of getting the wording down. Fire.

Eileen said...

I am so jealous!!!!! I wish I could have been there!!!!!!!!!

I love the way you guys are turning it around. It's not about describing the book. So simple, but so mind-blowing.

Although, for the record, I suck at brainstorming.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Eileen you were missed! But now it gives us more of an excuse than ever to arrange a DWT retreat.

I can tell you they involve a lot of wine, a lot of pizza, a lot of book talk and and just great great work.

Eileen said...

I like all those things . . .

Sinead M said...

Molly is a genius at the high concept statement... genius....

And Steph, it was so much fun brainstorming with you. We definitely need to make this a regular event...

Molly O'Keefe said...

The forest/trees thing is the best analogy. We love the trees - we are all about the trees. Publishers, agents even readers - they have to see the forest first. great.

the genius has left the building sadly. Somone else will have to get possessed by that magic.

Eileen - we missed you very much and will never do this without you again.

Eileen said...

That's okay. I'll just sit here in the dark in California by myself.

Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, you should have been here. We need to figure out a way to all get together some time next year. Maybe after RWA... Vegas anyone?

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