1 Part Fascination + 1 Part Excavation + 1 Sentence = High Concept
What is 'High Concept' and why do you need it? In a world full of great writers, we all know by now that concept is king. High concept is a unique idea packaged into a one or two sentence log line or tag, in which the reader can visualize the plot immediately. Unique in this context means “never done before.” Not an easy thing to accomplish in an arena of hundreds of thousands of books and screenplays a year.
When I set out to write a project, I begin at the end. Yes, backwards. After all, why waste a year or five of your life writing a manuscript if you can't sell the concept?
I picture myself pitching my book/screenplay to a panel of investors. That's right, investors. Not publishers or producers. In the end, art is a business and if an investor does not think my product is a good risk, it probably isn't. Sure, there are those of you who don't aspire to eat and write at the same time, go ahead and write whatever you want. Send me your address and I'll ship you those extra box's of mac and cheese I have taking up space in my pantry since I quit carbs.
To discover my next concept, I set out to come up with five or ten great ideas.
I use this simple saleability quotient:
What fascinates me? What is the one thing I wish I knew the secret/answer to or spent time wondering about? Will others have this fascination? What do I ponder while showering besides the cellulite on my ass?
I then go on an excavation. Digging up all the 'unknowns' buried in my head. I often use the brain exercises that can be found in my blog at:
you can catch part two at: http://redroom.com/blog/lslbradford/being-homolateral-the-hippo-on-your-head-part-two
I make a list of fascinations and potential log lines. Trying to sum up my idea in a sentence or two.
The teen fantasy I am currently writing, Z, began with a fascination about human genius.
Since I was a child, I wondered why some people were born with the ability to compose a masterpiece at 5 years-of age, even the mentally handicapped, while I couldn't figure out Twinkle Twinkle to save my cookie obsession. How could some discover a math formula while fiddling around with a pen, a maraschino cherry and a cocktail napkin? I could only tie a knot in the damn stem with my tongue. Why a genius could often not navigate the simple social circles at a party but could build a rocket in his backyard. How could a blind person with the IQ of a squirrel produce mind-blowing works of art with his nose and a straw?
From 8-44 years-old, I have held that fascination. It must be pretty solid.
Here is what I came up with;
The tag for Z;
While on a high school exchange in New Zealand, sixteen year-old Re Re Ridgeway discovers
humanity's greatest illusion and the roots of human genius lay at the core of the world's most mysterious Island.
The concept broken down:
Teen fantasy—hot, hot, hot.
Re Re Ridgeway- a fresh name
Humanity's greatest illusion—Hmm, what could that be? Tell me more. I've had illusions, too.
Roots of human genius—Yeah, me too, I've always wondered where genius comes from.
Hopefully, if I have done a good job, the reader of this query will ask to see the synopsis and upon reading the mind blowing one-pager and three chapters will advance me six figures double asap. Otherwise, I may need to retract my offer of sending the mac and cheese despite the carb thing.
My other current project, “Ditching Dresses” came from this exercise. It is a coffee table book for women.
The humor and wisdom beneath the “Wedding dress for sale, never worn” ads.
My girlfriend was shopping for a used wedding dress online. When I sat down to make my high concept list, I wondered what happened in these relationships that found women selling their dresses brand new? There must be a lot of good stories out there and many valuable, yet humorous lessons about love and life.
I talked about the concept with my neighbor. She has owned a bridal shop for 29 years. Turns out, Paulette never wore her wedding dress despite being married for 30 years. Her story will open my book. Paulette's tale is full of wisdom and humor and the photo of the vintage dress is fabulous.
When I do this exercise, I am often surprised at how many ideas flow forth. I currently have five other concepts in my idea bank and no time to write them! When I finally do, I'll run them through the formula once again and test their saleability quotient.
It is not how I write everything. My first screenplay and current book, The Garden That Grew Her, were both written without the formula. Despite the screenplay winning an International Film Festival and being chosen as a Praxis Fellowship finalist, it did not sell.
The formula, I believe, just increases the odds of a payday. And who doesn't want that?
Causes Leslie Scott Supports
Humane society, cancer research, youth mentorship, homeless shelters