High Times
by Jessa Slade on March 30th, 2009

There are so many ways to come at telling a story: Bold frontal attack.  Frantic sideswipe.  Sneaky garrote from behind.  If you combine:

  • All the names wizened Asian men have given various ass-whoopin’ martial arts 
  • Plus all the appellations for flavored martinis
  • Plus all the NASA designations for interstellar objects…

Still writers have come up with more definitions for writing maneuvers.  And one of my favorite is the “high concept.”

My XY’s snickers aside, coming up with your high concept isn’t a writing technique that involves choosing your favorite mind-altering substance…  Well, actually, that probably wouldn’t hurt.  Chocolate martinis, at least.

Because I have a regrettable tendency to want to write deep and intricate, I have trouble keeping my story focused and contained.  And this can be more dangerous than nuclear fission without those monstrous concrete barriers.  The high concept acts as reminder, retaining wall, and warning.  The high concept is your story condensed to one line.  Preferably less.

snakesSeems difficult?  Let’s practice.

Snakes on a plane. 

There.  You have the entire concept in four words.  If you want to totally flesh it out, you could add “with Samuel L. Jackson.”  Done.  You have characters, you have setting, you have action and conflict.  You got it all.  (Except — you know — a good movie.  But whatever.  That’s a different concept.)alient


Four words is awfully long though.  I think we can do better. 

Alien vs. Predator.

Oh yeah, baby.  I see the whole thing now.  Alien.  Versus.  Predator.  Could you express character and conflict more succinctly?


Why yes.  Yes we can.titanic


Ah man, you gave away the end too.  Brilliant!

But high concept isn’t just for writers anymore.  I like to use it in my daily life to give people a sense of what to expect with me.  Consider the following exchange at my stoopid day job.

Boss:  Jessa, can you step into my office for  a moment?
Jessa:  Resident Evil meets Rainman.
Boss:  Hey, you know what? Never mind.  I think I got it covered. Take a long lunch.  On the house.

This exchange has even greater comedic value if you know that I am self-employed.  So how’s your day/week/life going?  Tell us in high concept since it’s not yet chocolate martini time.

7 comments to “High Times”

  1. 1

    Savage Monday: Undercaffeinated Author vs. Fiscal Year End

    The stakes are high

    The bottom line is unforgiving :shock:

  2. 2

    “Sleepless in South Florida” - zombie mom multi-tasks teenage vampires, snoring warewolves and mutant ninja dust-bunnies into submission!

  3. 3

    Neverending Boredom

    Trying to invent ways to keep the incessant ennui at bay, and not doing a good job of it

  4. 4

    Isn’t it convenient this fell on a Monday? What better day to be inspired by rapidly cycling waves of bored dread and giggling insanity?

  5. 5

    Loved your high concept examples! As a former advertising copywriter, “high concept” was one of my personal pet peeves! (Second only to hearing the words, “I need you to work on a mission statement…”)

    My high concept descripton of the day:
    The Taxman Cometh!

  6. 6

    Bonnie - I marvel at you. You put me to shame, writing so many books while working a fulltime job and running around the Caribbean. Just don’t stop. Jan

  7. 7

    Excellent high concept examples! I think Jessa needs to convert this blog post into a workshop! (HINT!)

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