Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What the Flock is a HIGH CONCEPT PITCH?

So you’ve been reading the blogs on how to write a query letter. You can do this, right? I could do it too until I tripped over the term High Concept Pitch. Suddenly I saw it everywhere I looked. I was totally freaked out! I mean, I though High Concept meant that my story had to have this huge, underlying message or theme like the LITERATURE that was required reading in High School. I thought I’d hit the pot hole in my writer’s road, the one that would blow my tires and strip out my transmission. I’m a genre kind of girl. No way do I write “high” anything.
Umm…no. Not so much.
High Concept means that what you write will ring a bell with the majority of readers- like zombies or vampires. Sometimes it means what you write is what you avoid saying at parties- a subject that will stir the pot and get people mad. Either way, when you have a HIGH CONCEPT PITCH, all the people understand with no effort.
Guess what this means? It’s easy. Don’t make it hard guys. In ten words or less, in one sentence or phrase, what is your story about?
Romeo and Juliette with werewolves and vampires?
Twilight, right?
No extra embellishments, no tap dance with fifty characters and a supporting cast and crew. Just. Your. Story. Simple, simple, simple.
Now for the bad news; not every story is high concept. If a main character is on a JOURNEY and has all this mental baggage to work through while he eats ice cream every Sunday for fifty years- umm not high concept. If your rambunctious little old lady finds a complicated murder plan in her crochet pattern book and you need to know how to crochet to understand- then probably not.
High concept is LOUD it doesn’t simper or whisper.
Sometimes people use famous books or movies to describe their high concept. Make sure they’re famous with everyone and don’t use 2 movies to describe your high concept. I mean, really. What on Earth is *Gone with the Wind meets Rent*? Seriously?
Keep your examples up to date and huge. You can’t use just any movie or book. Be evocative with your words and use what is popular and easy to understand for the majority. Then, ask people who haven’t read your book what mind-picture they get with your pitch.
If they say, “HUH?” it needs work.
You’re painting a word picture that a gerjillion people can understand. First, let’s look at a few proper names. Harry Potter, Chuck Norris, Barack Obama, and Gandalf all bring up completely different pictures in my head. Mother Mary, Scarlett O’Hara, Betty Boop, and Hillary Clinton aren’t exactly the same either. Each is a name bigger than life. Each paints a different mind-picture.
Some books and movies paint pictures the same way. Die Hard, Lord of the Rings, Jaws, and Pretty Woman. You see what I mean? All of these are iconic. All of them paint pictures. Almost everyone reading these names and titles gets basically the same picture. Of course you didn’t write a book about Betty Boop. But, if your main character is a dippy flapper in the 1920’s, Betty Boop not only says what she is but when she is. My grandmother knows Betty Boop and my eleven-year-old knows Betty Boop.
We spend years learning to make our books different. But for a high concept pitch, you need to generalize and to do it in a way everyone can understand.