Monday, August 18, 2014

High Concept Defined

If you've made the decision to query and agent or editor or decided to pitch your novel in person at a writers' conference, you may have heard the term, 'high concept.' If you check out an agent or editor 'wanted' list, many of them will say their desire high concept fiction. They might specify such as high concept romance or science fiction. What does that mean?

High concept fiction is a novel that can be captured with a brief description that immediately attracts attention. It's a hook or title captured in a single sentence. That sentence is what's fun in your story. It's the book in a single image. It's the very essence of the novel's premise. It is the entertainment value of the piece.
Captain Hook from Once Upon
a Time

The story has to have an original and unique premise that grabs attention before even reading a word of the actual book.

High concept fiction appeals to a mass audience and hopefully garners the attention of cross-over fans from other genres. Perhaps a thriller with a love subplot that appeals to romance readers.

Strong emotions are raised by high concept fiction. Emotions that linger such as fear, joy, love, hate and rage.

High concepts inspire the mind to paint a picture, conjuring images of what the story is about. The idea involves the visual part of the brain to get involved in the excitement of the story.

And after hearing a high concept pitch, you'll ask 'what if?' What if Thor is real and looking down on us?

Often you can find that one sentence pitch for high concept fiction on the front cover of a book or at the top of the inside flap of a hard-back book. By reading some of these in your novel's genre, you can get ideas how to create you own one sentence pitch. Let me give some examples.

It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, and another to be born. The Passage by Justin Cronin (combination thriller, horror and science fiction novel)
New York, 1891. A new breed of cop for a new breed of killer. Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews (thriller combined with historical)

Can you put the premise of your novel in one sentence that catches the imagination and interest of anyone who hears it? If you can perhaps you write high concept fiction.

Do you have more suggestions for writers about the definition of high concept fiction? Have you tried to put your pitch into one sentence? Have you heard other terms that meant the same thing as high concept? Do you know your hook before you even start writing a novel?

If you want to read more about the definitions of high concept fiction, read what Writer's Digest has to say it is.  Still confused? Here Rachelle Gardner, literary agent, gives her definition.

Susan Gourley is published in epic fantasy. As Susan Kelley she is published in science fiction and fantasy romance. You can find her at:
Susan Says

23 comments:

sjp said...

I came for the picture but stayed for the post, well put together thanks :)

Elsie Amata said...

This was fantastic, Susan. I'm a newbie to the writing world and just learned how important that hook sentence is to keep the reader reading. Gotta grab 'em quick and let them know what's in store!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I had no idea what high concept meant until now - thanks. And I find summing up my stories in one sentence is easier than summing it up in a synopsis.

Christine Rains said...

I didn't know that was what high concept fiction was either. I always find it difficult to put my ideas into one line, but I have a great writing group that helps me with my taglines.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

sjp, LOL, I knew the picture would attract a few but I'm glad you found more than just that.

Elsie, I remember not even knowing what the hook sentence was and struggling so much early on. Hope the post helped.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'd heard the term but didn't know what it meant.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Alex, I'm finding the same is true for me as you say. I'd rather write that one liner than a one or two page synopsis any day.

Christine, I should have mention something about how groups can help find that hook sentence. I hope everyone reads the comments and sees yours.

Pat Hatt said...

High concept I've never really thought about, I guess I've been doing it some indeed. May have to think about it more.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I'm an oldie to the writing world and this is what I struggle with. This and writing loglines, queries and synopsis. Thanks for making sense of it for me!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Pat, I think it's one of those confusing term things but it's nice to know you've been doing it even if you didn't know what to call it.
Joylene, I think we all don't care for all those thinks that take us away from writing the story.

cleemckenzie said...

One of the, if not the most, difficult things to do is to write that single sentence.

Thanks for the post and for these links because I'll read what others have to say on this as well.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Thanks for the visit, Lee. Those darn one-liners are challenges.

Sunni said...

Sue, I loved your blog about high concept. Trying to find an industry standard definition is impossible, but your description is clear and the two resources you list at the end tie it all together. Thanks.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Thanks for the visit, Sunni. Glad you found something valuable.

Cherie Colyer said...

I like how you break down high concept. Thanks for the links.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

You are so welcome, Cherie. Hope you found it useful.

J.L. Campbell said...

Interesting exercise. Yep, it's good to be able to capture what my book is about in a one liner. Helps in the querying and marketing departments.

Debra McKellan said...

This is the first time I'm hearing about it. Cool!

Michelle Wallace said...

My first time hearing about high concept...
So what happens in a series split up into seperate books? Would one sentence be used to capture the essence of the entire series?

Lanise Brown said...

I hadn't heard of the term high-concept fiction before. Thanks for enlightening me. I'll have to try capturing my WIP in a single sentence. It might be tough but I'll try. Thanks!

Tyrean Martinson said...

While I've heard of hooks, I haven't seen examples like the ones you have. In the past, I think I've had hooks mixed up with loglines and I think they are different animals. :)

Sherry Ellis said...

It's tough to write a compelling hook. This is a great description of what "high concept" is.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan - High Concept ... I'd never heard of it - but now it makes sense ... that one sentence is the key for many things ...

I'll keep my eye open now! Your post and the links certainly seem to have helped everyone ... Cheers Hilary