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High Concept: What the Hell Does That Mean?

January 5, 2015

You’re trying to come up with an idea that will sell. You want to write a story that people want to read/see. You want to give the public what they want. So you ask your agent or producers what they’re looking for and you keep hearing the same thing: “We want High Concept. Give us a High Concept story.” What the hell is High Concept?

The truth is, everyone has their own idea of what high concept means and no one can easily articulate it. It’s not something that can be explained in one sentence. Often times you’ll hear someone say that high concept is a story that can be summed up in one sentence. Well… that’s called a logline and EVERY movie or television show should be able to be summed up in one sentence. Some will tell you that high concept is a mash up of two contrasting ideas, often times relating to past hit films, a.k.a. Home Alone meets Boogie Nights. (Sounds like a remake of Risky Business). Some will even tell you that it’s something original. Steve Kaire of The Writer’s Store claims to define high concept in five requirements. Jeff Lyons says he can sum it up in seven. The truth is, everyone has their own idea of what makes a story high concept, but it almost always deals with all of these, some other ideas, and/or some combination.

If a producer or an agent tells you they’re looking for a high concept idea, they usually want something that is original, with a twist, that combines two apposing ideas, is relatable to a mass, clique audience, and can be summed up in three sentences or less. Something original? But there are no original ideas left, you say. Everything has already been written. All we can do expound upon or rehash old story ideas. What I mean by something original is to give an old story a new twist. An easy way to give an old story a new twist is to ask yourself, “what if?” What if the Tooth Fairy were actually a muscle bound man in a tutu? What if a man with a DIY Home Improvement show really had no DIY skills at all? The idea is to take an old idea and flip it on its head.

Where can you get ideas for high concept stories? Check news websites. Take two news stories that aren’t related (remember opposing ideas) and combine them. Here’s a couple from CNN: Seven-Year-Old Survives Plane Crash & Tomb of Unknown Queen Discovered in Egypt. Here’s and idea another Egyptian tomb raiding curse movie. but this one has a twist (I want idea credit if you decide to write this one). TV Tropes gives a comprehensive list of high concept ideas categorized by medium. This can help give you some ideas as well. If someone in particular is asking you for a high concept story, ask them to clarify just to be sure you get it right. Happy writing!

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