Saturday, January 3, 2009

HIGH CONCEPT (it's a contest, with a prize)

Okay, I have a theory about high concept books. The theory might be wrong. It is probably wrong, but it'll be fun to talk about it. Yes, talk. That means you have to respond and then we can have a discussion (new years resolution- be more agressive)...(real new years resolution- be more witty so people will like you). Okay, yeah, I'd like to discuss this with some other smart people- that means you.

Before we beging the convo, I need a list of books you consider High Concept, and if you feel up to it, a short explanation of the concept.

If you aren't familiar with high concept, it was first, I believe, a movie term- when you can sum up the idea of a movie (or book) in a catchy distinctive sentence of phrase.

Jurassic Park- Dinosaurs get cloned from DNA found in amber but are not ideal amusement park exhibits after all.

Sister Hood of the Travelling Pants- 4 girls have their lives changed by a "magical" pair of pants.

Both of these were books before they were movies, of course.

I want to do a couple of posts on high concept books, because it's something I've been thinking about. Just out of interest. So everyone who posts, will be put into a drawing to win a signed copy of Handcuffs. If you already have a copy- you can give this one to a lucky friend, or I can give you something else off my overflowing bookshelf. One of my real resolutions is to be more aggressive-about decluttering my house.

So post away. Post post post.
Happy New Year, I love you all. More posting = more love. Also, maybe my handcuffs book marks will be in soon. I will send those to anyone who wants some.


EJ Griffin said...

I'm going to be honest-- High Concept books scare the bejesus out of me from a writing standpoint. I can barely master low-concept and fun at this stage in my process (eek- I'm just really starting), let alone a more 'stylized' piece.

I know that thay can be tremendously satisfying and very successful, but I cringe at the idea of making one work. Though I DESPERATELY want to, of course. I think you've really got a to have a decisive hold on your strengths and weakness as a writer to be able to pull off a High Concept story.

I just remember all of those times when I tried to describe 'Twilight' to my friends. "No really. I know it sounds lame when you say it out loud, but I swear it's really good."

(And even that is more of a fantastic concept than it is groundbreaking prose when you get right down to it.)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Okay, to me, high-concept books tend to be simple, hooky concepts -- plot-driven books rather than character driven ones when you get right down to it. Not saying they don't have good characterization -- just saying that's not the point of it.

Some high concept YA I've read:

1) THE HUNGER GAMES: A girl is chosen as a gladiator in a televised match to the death.

2) THIRTEEN REASONS WHY: A boy receives tapes from his girlfriend explaining the thirteen reasons why she killed herself.

3) UGLIES: in a society where all teens get a "pretty" operation when they become old enough, one teen considers rebellion when she discovers sinister drawbacks to the operation.

All of Scott Westerfield's books are pretty durn high concept, if you ask me. I guess my debut LAMENT (flux '08) is sort of high concept (a girl falls in love with a boy who turns out to be a soulless assassin and she's his next mark), but I think my next one, SHIVER (scholastic 09) is more properly high concept: a girl falls in love with a boy who must become a wolf for the winter & they must struggle to find a way to keep him from becoming a wolf forever).

So what is this convo you're planning? I'm intrigued!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Oh, and I have to say I disagree politely with the idea that TWILIGHT isn't a high concept book -- totally is: girl falls for a vampire who must struggle not to munch on her and eventually must save her from other monsters like him.

bethany said...

The convo- is related to the difference between High Concept for Realistic Fiction vs Speculative Fiction, and as a reader of both and a writer of only one, I find it...different...and difficult to articulate.

That's why I'm looking for examples- I tend to get the same ones in my head and don't move past them.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Interesting . . . because I think I know what you're going to say -- it's a lot harder to find high concept in contemporary/ realistic YA. You start to get ones like PAY IT FORWARD (for a school project, a boy invents a charitable concept that ends up changing the world) or have to wander into movie realms like CHARLIE BARTLETT (a high school student acts as psychiatrist/ doctor to his fellow students).

hannah said...

I think a lot of memoirs are high-concept--from Nic Sheff's TWEAK (A California boy struggles through meth addiction, recovery, and relapse) to Brent Runyon's THE BURN JOURNALS (A fourteen-year-old sets himself on fire--and lives).

amy said...

Audrey, Wait! -- A girl becomes suddenly (in)famous via her ex-boyfriend's break-up song.

Stealing Harvard -- a group of kids decide to hack their way into Harvard admission.

A Year of Yes -- A woman decides to say yes to every date for a year.

To me, a high concept book is one that instantly makes me wonder, "Wow, I wonder what the author did with *that* idea." Twilight is not like that, because the concept is basically "vampire love story" which is nothing new and would not make anyone say wow. What makes Twilight work is not the concept but the execution.

High concept books are always popular with agents and editors, mostly because they are easy to explain and get people excited about. But I'm not convinced they are such a good idea for building a career.

Truly high concept books rarely live up to their promise -- the author simply can't deliver a story as cool as the premise. Which means bad reviews, which means mediocre sales, which means no second book deal.

Write a really great story, high concept or not, and you'll build fans for life.

hannah said...

My debut is high-concept as well--"A boy wants to break all his bones."

bethany said...

oh yeah, Shady, Break is definitely high concept.

Maggie- sort of. At least I'd agree with you, I think.

New post tomorrow where we cry to come to a consensus or have a big argument one or the other.

Shelli said...

i think high-concept books can still be well-written. There seems to be a label that they are not.

Sarah said...

Very interesting thoughts on this! I work in movie development and I think any good story can be effectively boiled down to one statement, but that doesn't necessarily make it high concept. I see high concept as a story that is 1) easy to grasp (and therefore market) and 2) compelling in some way.

Maggie mentioned Thirteen Reasons Why and I'd agree that is definitely high concept. We immediately understand this story and without even reading it, we have an emotional reaction.

Just my two cents:-) I'm enjoying this conversation!

Daisy Whitney said...

High concept books often have a slight twist on reality. In women's fiction a recent example is Allison Winn Scotch's TIME OF MY LIFE in which the main character wonders "what if I made different choices" seven years ago and then magically wakes up seven years ago and has the chance to make those choices again.

High-concept, however, has come to be used as a term that means something better than just a regular story. So now when book people use high concept it just means "cool concept," "different concept." But originally it meant slightly altered reality.

althrasher said...

I haven't read it, but WAKE seems high concept--a person sees into other people's dreams.

I'd agree with 13 REASONS WHY, as well as BREAK and AUDREY, WAIT! But I don't think TWILIGHT could be high concept--that's something I hear and think, "Oh, great. Another vampire romance."

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I do think that high concept can be "used up." As in, something can be high concept the first time it's used and then the more we see it, the less it is. Take the vampire romance -- when Anne Rice wrote her vampires, her plotline might have been considered high concept. Buffy the Vampire Slayer could've been high concept if it was the first of its kind. But once you've seen a lot of them, the novelty of it -- the "high"ness of it -- wears off, and it's just a vampire love story.

I'm kind of in love with Sarah's description of a high concept, because it seems to me to fit it in a nutshell. She said: "We immediately understand this story and without even reading it, we have an emotional reaction."

liss n kids said...

All I know about high concept books is that I am incapable of writing one. Turns out I'm all about the characters and their quiet moments of self-discovery. Also turns out nobody's really interested in that. :P

Book Spot said...

I'll admit that I haven't really thought about High Concept & what is or isn't before so these comments are very interesting for me to read.

The only book I can right now think of as maybe being high concept is Zombie Blondes.

Thanks for giving me some things to think about :)

Katie said...

The Lovely Bones?

EJ Griffin said...

Hmm. It seems our definitions are varied. I was thinking along the lines of High Concept being one ultimate trope that is the driving force behind the rest of the book. Ultimately relating back to everything else. Hence "Twilight," regardless of whether another author has written about the subject matter as well.

I also agree with:
"Thirteen Reason Why"
"The Lovely Bones"

K. M. Walton said...

New to this blog. Very, very interesting topic and comments.

Would Harry Potter be high concept?

hannah said...

K.M., I'd say so.

And welcome to the blog!

Anonymous said...

Scott Westerfields - The Midnighters
definitely high concept.

Personally I love high concept novels, I like twists and turns, but that's also what I write and now that I think of it, mostly what I read too... I guess I'm biased.