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Monday, April 29, 2013

Concept, Concept and more Concept...

Gracious good day my fellow Turbo Monkeys, 

Last time I wrote about how important it is to start with a great concept before you begin writing word one, 
but what is a great concept?

Because of my film background you might think I’m talking about “high concept”...but a high concept is not necessarily a blue print for a great story.

“What happens when a bored married couple's "Date Night" goes wrong?” Wacky fun!  

“Snakes on a Plane"  More wacky fun?  No...(although it might have been better as a comedy)

Both high concepts and yet considered flops.
So, high concept is not a guarantee of commercial success, but it does aid in the sell-ability of your story, and really this is why publishers and agents are in business.  
Buffy the Vampire Slayer  = “What if a cheerleader hunted vampires?”
Jaws                               =  “What if a shark stalked humans?”
Toy Story                      = “What if your kid’s toys had secret lives?”

Perfect examples of high concept stories with universal appeal, short concise pitches and a promise of potential.
A high concept is a great formula to streamline your premise, it helps, but it’s not always the indicator of success. For example...
Star Trek
Star Wars
When Harry Met Sally

Are all great concepts but not exactly “High Concept.”

A great concept, does not necessarily have to be a high concept but it should have what I call the UP UP elements.  
  1. Universal appeal - Is your theme understood by many?
    1. A primal theme of survival?
    2. A romantic theme of finding love?
    3. A nobel theme of saving a loved one?
  2. Poses a question - “What if...” “Who is...”  “Why did...”
    1. "What if your reality was just a computer game?" = Matrix
    2. "Who is Forrest Gump?" = Forrest Gump
    3. "Why did Schindler save the Jewish workers?" = Schindler's List
  3. Unique - Original or a spin on something familiar.  
    1. Human girl falls in love with glowing vampire = Twilight
    2. Ex lovers chase tornados = Twister
    3. Man is castaway on a boat with a tiger = Life of Pi
  4. Promises Potential - Potential of laughter, drama, fear, romance or $$$
The promise of potential is a bit subjective but it should be as obvious as one eastbound train and one westbound train on the same track.  

A great concept is generally pitch driven.  Three sentences or less that paint a picture in the reader’s head, states your theme, poses a question, promises potential and most of all causes “Cha Ching” to ring in their ears.
I hope this helps you form a great concept and gets your writing to a new level.


  1. Craig -- fantastic thoughts to start the day! Thank you. I need to print that list of questions and keep them close by me as I write.

    1. Aw Beth,
      Thanks so much.
      I sometimes look at my own work and say, "Doh! I didn't include the UP UP."

      I am very happy that you find this helpful.

  2. I think I always miss the last "P". I'll have to work on that. Thanks for breaking it down so clearly! At least now I know what I don't have. :)

    1. Sometimes it's a scary realization...knowing what you don't have. I hate it when i don't have the last "P"