A high concept story is a type of narrative or idea that can be easily and succinctly communicated, and it usually contains a unique, intriguing, or attention-grabbing premise. High concept stories are often characterized by their marketability and commercial appeal, making them attractive to producers, publishers, and audiences. They tend to focus on a central idea or “hook” that sets them apart from conventional narratives and can quickly capture people’s imaginations.

It is my understanding that “high-concept” ideas are easier to sell, especially for debut writers.

What are high-concept ideas?
high concept movie - jurassic park

The term “high concept” emerged in the entertainment industry, particularly in Hollywood, where it is used to describe film and television projects that can be summarized in a single sentence or elevator pitch. A high concept story has the potential to generate widespread interest and excitement because of its innovative or captivating premise.

Examples of high concept stories include “Jurassic Park,” where dinosaurs are brought back to life through genetic engineering, “Inception,” where a team enters people’s dreams to steal or plant ideas, and “Groundhog Day,” where a man relives the same day over and over again. These concepts are unique, attention-grabbing, and can immediately spark curiosity and interest, making them appealing to a wide audience.

How To Write High Concept Stories

In the competitive world of literature and filmmaking, a high concept story can be a game-changer. With a unique and captivating premise, high concept novels and screenplays have the potential to captivate audiences and attract publishers and producers. In this article, we will explore the key elements of crafting high concept narratives that stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impact on readers and viewers.

Start with an Innovative Idea

A high concept story begins with an innovative idea that sets it apart from the ordinary. Think of an exciting “what if” scenario that challenges conventions and introduces a novel concept to your genre. Whether it’s exploring new technologies, alternate realities, or unexpected twists, a compelling idea is the foundation of your high concept narrative.

Example: In “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, the story revolves around a dystopian society where teenagers are forced to participate in a televised fight to the death. This unique and dark premise quickly captured readers’ imaginations and became a global sensation.

  • Idea: What if a young boy discovers he is a wizard and is invited to attend a school for magic? (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)
  • Idea: What if dinosaurs are brought back to life as a theme park attraction, only to wreak havoc on the island? (Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton)

Craft a Memorable Hook

Your story’s hook is the essence of your high concept. It should be a one-liner that can easily convey the central premise to others. The hook should be intriguing, attention-grabbing, and capable of sparking curiosity in your audience. This should be smaller than a blurb.

Example: The hook for the movie “Inception” directed by Christopher Nolan is, “Your mind is the scene of the crime,” highlighting the film’s focus on entering and manipulating dreams.

  • Hook: “In a world where humans are divided into factions based on their virtues, one teenager discovers she is Divergent and must navigate a dangerous society.” (Divergent by Veronica Roth)
  • Hook: “In a distant galaxy, a farm boy with dreams of adventure finds a message from a princess seeking help, setting off an epic space opera.” (Star Wars: A New Hope)

Embrace Universal Themes

While a high concept may have a unique premise, it should still resonate with universal themes and emotions that connect with a broad audience. Themes like love, survival, redemption, and overcoming adversity can add depth and relatability to your story.

Example: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” explores love, memories, and the human desire to hold on to cherished moments, even when painful.

  • Theme: The journey of self-discovery and the power of individuality and imagination. (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)
  • Theme: The triumph of good over evil and the importance of loyalty and friendship. (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Create Dynamic Characters

Strong and multidimensional characters are vital to any narrative, including high concept stories. Your characters should have clear goals, motivations, and obstacles that align with the unique premise of your story.

Example: In “The Matrix,” Neo’s journey from an ordinary computer hacker to the savior of humanity is a key driver of the high concept narrative.

  • Character: A brilliant but eccentric detective with exceptional deduction skills and a troubled past. (Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle)
  • Character: A strong-willed young woman who defies societal norms to pursue her passion for writing. (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

Build an Engaging World

For high concept novels and screenplays, the setting is just as important as the plot. Develop a vivid and immersive world that complements your unique premise. Whether it’s a futuristic city, a magical realm, or an alternate universe, the world-building should enhance the story’s impact.

Example: J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series brings to life the enchanting world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, making it an integral part of the high concept narrative.

  • World: A dystopian society where individuals’ memories are erased to maintain peace but lead to the discovery of a dangerous truth. (The Giver by Lois Lowry)
  • World: A whimsical chocolate factory with fantastical rooms and eccentric characters. (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl)

Related: Stream of Consciousness Writing

Maintain a Tight and Fast-Paced Plot

High concept stories thrive on excitement and energy. Keep the pacing tight and the plot moving forward, with unexpected twists and turns that keep readers and viewers hooked.

Example: Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” is a fast-paced thriller filled with historical mysteries and conspiracies that captivate readers from the first page to the last.

  • Plot: A hunt for hidden clues and artifacts across the globe in search of a lost treasure. (The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown)
  • Plot: A thrilling cat-and-mouse game between a detective and a brilliant serial killer. (The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris)

Test Your Concept’s Appeal

Before fully diving into your high concept narrative, test its appeal with a diverse group of readers or industry professionals. Their feedback can help refine your idea and ensure it resonates with a wide audience.

In summary crafting a high concept novel or screenplay requires a combination of imagination, creativity, and skill. By starting with an innovative idea, creating memorable characters and an engaging world, and maintaining a tight and fast-paced plot, you can write a high concept story that leaves a lasting impression on readers and viewers alike. Embrace the challenge of pushing the boundaries and exploring new possibilities to create narratives that stand out in the competitive world of storytelling.

High Concept Prompts

  1. Start with an Innovative Idea:
  • Idea: What if a virus turns people into zombies, and the only way to survive is to seek refuge on an isolated island?
  • Idea: What if a group of strangers wakes up in a mysterious labyrinth with deadly traps, and the only way out is to solve a series of mind-bending puzzles?
  1. Craft a Memorable Hook:
  • Hook: “In a world where dreams become reality, one man must navigate the thin line between fantasy and nightmare.”
  • Hook: “In a future where time travel is possible, a detective must solve a murder that spans across centuries.”
  1. Embrace Universal Themes:
  • Theme: The power of friendship and teamwork can conquer even the darkest forces in the universe.
  • Theme: Love knows no boundaries, not even across different dimensions and timelines.
  1. Create Dynamic Characters:
  • Character: A young orphan with magical powers discovers their true destiny as the Chosen One destined to save their realm.
  • Character: A brilliant scientist struggling with personal demons becomes the unlikely hero who must prevent a global catastrophe.
  1. Build an Engaging World:
  • World: A post-apocalyptic wasteland where a nomadic warrior battles mutant creatures in search of a mythical sanctuary.
  • World: A steampunk metropolis ruled by clockwork automatons, where rebels fight for the freedom of humanity.
  1. Maintain a Tight and Fast-Paced Plot:
  • Plot: A race against time to stop a terrorist plot and prevent a deadly chemical attack on a major city.
  • Plot: A high-stakes heist during a lavish masquerade ball, where the thieves must evade guards and unravel complex security systems.

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