High Concept Improvement

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Margo
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High Concept Improvement

Post by Margo » June 25th, 2010, 6:05 pm

So, does anyone have any good techniques for improving a high concept idea that may not be as high concept as you'd like?
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Down the well
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Down the well » June 25th, 2010, 6:38 pm

You mean without adding in vampires, zombies, or werewolves? :P


I'd be curious to know what others have to say, but I believe I heightened the concept of my WIP by giving it an unusual setting- in my case a distant, somewhat primitive, future. If I were telling the same story in present time it wouldn't have nearly the same impact I don't think. Not sure if that's the sort of thing you were thinking of or not.

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polymath
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by polymath » June 25th, 2010, 6:43 pm

High concept as I understand it relates to high-concept premises, like exploding starships, gunplay, universally acknowledged crimes, character motifs like archetypes and stock characters, setting motifs like wastelands and metropolises, concepts that are more or less universal to human experience. Screenplays', expecially blockbusters, tend toward high-concept premised themes and motifs. For me, a high-concept is a literal concept that needs little context for ready interpretation, if any, beyond the dramatic implications and contexts of the concept.

However, I've seen high-concept used synonymously with high-art concept, which I know as low-concept premises, the figurative meaning of settings, plots, ideas, characters, and/or events, motifs, themes, etc.

For qualifying if a premise is high-concept or low-concept, I look to popular culture and current events. For example, terrorist today is equivalent to anarchist in Nineteenth century meaning. Also, primal conditions of human nature, ie., subsistence, procreation, and competition for same, like battle, are easily high-concept, as are primal emotions. Abstract emotions range from high- to low-concept.

One area that consumes a fair portion of my creative contemplation is how delightful low-concept premises are in prose, yet they defy translation to visual arts.

For moving an arbitrary concept premise toward high, I rethink based on audience capacity to share the experience in some visceral way. For a low-concept that's too low for general audiences, I usually rethink the purpose of the concept, like a dream symbol which might be universal to maritime folk that might not be universal to inland dwellers, for instance, a lighthouse or a shipwreck. I'm afraid this is an area where knowing the target audience bracket's sense and sensibilities plays a large part.
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Margo
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Margo » June 25th, 2010, 8:04 pm

Down the well wrote:You mean without adding in vampires, zombies, or werewolves? :P
HA! I love it. My project is urban fantasy. Maybe not having vampires, zombies, or werewolves is enough high-concept. :)
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Margo
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Margo » June 25th, 2010, 8:07 pm

As usual, polymath, you never show up to the party empty-handed. Especially thought-provoking...
polymath wrote:For moving an arbitrary concept premise toward high, I rethink based on audience capacity to share the experience in some visceral way.


And...
polymath wrote:I'm afraid this is an area where knowing the target audience bracket's sense and sensibilities plays a large part.
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Down the well
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Down the well » June 25th, 2010, 8:07 pm

After scratching my head a little bit, and because you got me curious, I had to go see what I could dig up about high-concept. It seems to me that what you might be looking for is a mechanism for raising the stakes. High concept seems to be about big things like good versus evil. If X doesn't battle Y and win then Z will die - or the planet will explode, or the meteor will crash into earth, or the train will run over the girl tied to the tracks.

I think the sharper the contrast between right and wrong or good and evil the higher the concept, and thus the easier it is for the reader to grasp. Will your idea allow you to make the outcome a life or death situation? Can you make the stakes intensely personal for one of the characters?

Donald Maass is very good at teaching people how to achieve this kind of high tension in their novels. Maybe giving one of his books a second look will spark a few ideas. It usually works for me when I'm stuck or my ideas start to flatten.

Good luck.

Margo
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Margo » June 25th, 2010, 8:10 pm

Down the well wrote:Donald Maass is very good at teaching people how to achieve this kind of high tension in their novels. Maybe giving one of his books a second look will spark a few ideas. It usually works for me when I'm stuck or my ideas start to flatten.

Good luck.
One of his books? I'm a Maassketeer! Got all the books and attended two of the workshops. :) As I was reading the earlier part of your post, I was thinking, Yeah, that's what Donald Maass said...Yeah, that too... Putting all of it to use on the other hand...

(I seem to have ellipse-itis in my personal correspondence today.)
Last edited by Margo on June 25th, 2010, 8:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Margo
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Margo » June 25th, 2010, 8:13 pm

Down the well wrote:I think the sharper the contrast between right and wrong or good and evil the higher the concept, and thus the easier it is for the reader to grasp.
I think you have something here. Contrast...
Last edited by Margo on June 25th, 2010, 8:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Holly
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Holly » June 25th, 2010, 8:16 pm

Let characters with realistic reactions grapple with the high concept. That's the best way to make it come alive.

Example: Frodo had to deal with good and evil. He resisted the power of the ring, went on a journey to destroy it, and possibly destroy his life as he'd always known it... but along the way he acted like a real person (um, hobbit). He stopped for tea, a hot meal, and a fireside brew whenever he got the chance, plus he sang songs, acted scared, and loved his friends. The author made him seem real, so we felt his feelings and experienced the high concept in a deep way.

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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Margo » June 25th, 2010, 8:29 pm

Holly wrote:Let characters with realistic reactions grapple with the high concept. That's the best way to make it come alive.
No argument with that. I think I'm struggling with using a high-concept premise to set my project apart from 'just another LKH/Ilona Andrews/Kim Harrison rip-off'.
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Holly
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Holly » June 25th, 2010, 9:22 pm

Margo wrote:
Holly wrote:Let characters with realistic reactions grapple with the high concept. That's the best way to make it come alive.
No argument with that. I think I'm struggling with using a high-concept premise to set my project apart from 'just another LKH/Ilona Andrews/Kim Harrison rip-off'.
http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/b ... h-concept/

This writer says high concept means high stakes.

I call it finding the heart of the story. Once you find the heart, everything else falls into place, plot problems and character reactions that were a stretch before, that kind of thing. What do you love the most? What frightens you at the deepest level? For me, it's nuclear war and the fact that we're destroying the planet. Anyway, just rambling.

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polymath
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by polymath » June 25th, 2010, 9:29 pm

I tend to process poetics writers based on central themes. Maass, in my point of view, focuses on audience rapport. Developing credible, potent high-concept premises underlies developing audience rapport. As noted before, knowing audience capacities and sensibilities contributes to building audience rapport.

What's on the public mind today? What's timely relevant, today at least, if not timeless? Crackerjack-snap sharp voice is relevant today. Current events tend to be time sensitive. There's a lot of ongoing stories that are timeless, though, that are still unfolding today.

Down the well's contrast concept is a noteworthy way of developing high-concept premises, even for otherwise low-concept premises. Say, for instance, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, a pair of starcrossed lovers who events drive to extremes. Although the stakes are comparatively low in the beginning, they lead inexorably toward an inevitable ending.

Maass also talks about public and private stakes. What's at stake privately with public influences, and vice versa? Tom Clancy's The Sum of all Fears deals with the extremes of private and public stakes regarding nuclear terrorism, timely, relevant, and timeless. Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections explores the nature of modern mid-Western family life from a private perspective, but by being intimately specific becomes larger than life in a public way. I felt rapport with all five viewpoint characters because I've been in their shoes. The punishment dinner scene is especially personally visceral.

My mom had a repertoire of punishment dinners, including liver and onions deliberately prepared so as to be unpalatable. Her unspoken message to the family, You don't appreciate all I do for you? Okay. Take that and complain, see what happens, sort of a preemptive overture for us taking her caregiving and nurturing for granted.
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Margo
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Margo » June 25th, 2010, 10:05 pm

Holly wrote:I call it finding the heart of the story. Once you find the heart, everything else falls into place, plot problems and character reactions that were a stretch before, that kind of thing. What do you love the most? What frightens you at the deepest level? For me, it's nuclear war and the fact that we're destroying the planet. Anyway, just rambling.
No, I'm pretty sure that's not rambling. Very useful questions. The link was very helpful,too, especially the heading on the last comment: High Concept Means Death and Flying Ninjas. I like it. :P
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Margo
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by Margo » June 25th, 2010, 10:08 pm

polymath,

Yeah, I get what you mean by audience rapport.

That bit about punishment dinners is good dramatic stuff. Fascinating on a number of levels.
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polymath
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Re: High Concept Improvement

Post by polymath » June 26th, 2010, 12:12 am

A story I've been developing and running into dead ends with just opened up again due to this discussion. One of the high-concept premises vital to the central action, a pivotal object possessed by the deuteragonist, was a sticking point. It was causing a need for multiple viewpoint characters in a story that's better told from one viewpoint for target audience reasons and keeping the story as simple as possible. Another longtime writing how-to principle, KISS, Keep It Simple Simple. (I'd encountered it as keep it simple, stupid, but think that's not a good implied imperative writing wisdom for common courtesy's sake.)

Rethinking the object's relevance to the plot meant changing to the protagonist's owning it. Simple, but I was stuck on the deuteragonist owning it for other high-concept premise purposes vital to the opening, middle, and ending action. The object also has significant low-concept premise value. By changing who owns it and is the only one who can use it, its low-concept value becomes more reader accessible too, much less obtuse. The main supporting character still experiences a character transformation, but is no longer competing for first position on the story's stage. There's a latecomer triagonist too, who also experiences a character transformation, only now the protagonist directly contributes to both supporting characters' transformations because of the more focused centrality of the object, instead of being vaguely contributory, while pursuing a private character transformation.

Thanks, you-all, and Margo, for posing and discussing the high-concept question.
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