Thursday, November 13, 2008

BIG time

First it started over at Trashionista, when the lovely ladies over there posted a video clip of the incomparable Meg Cabot. (Okay, how much do we love Meg Cabot?!)

Then, Allison Winn Scotch continued the discussion over on her blog, Ask Allison (and if you're not reading her blog, um, why not?!). Allison talked about having a BIG idea for your book (yes, all caps, please!) and why it's important to think about high concept ideas for your fiction (well, at least the fiction you're hoping to sell, anyway).

I broadened the discussion out to my Mediabistro class, and we talked about what makes an idea "high concept," or as Allison puts it: BIG! And, for me, there's no better example than Allison Winn Scotch's latest, TIME OF MY LIFE. TOML is the story of a woman who gets caught up in the what-ifs of her life, and finds herself seven years in the past, able to fully explore the what-ifs, and take the path not taken.

Talk about a BIG idea! First of all, it's easily explainable. Also, it's the sort of book that would be perfect for a book club-- it will generate lots of discussion and will bring up some really serious issues for people: What if I married someone else? What if I never quit that job?

And, most importantly, can't you just see the movie now?!

The book is really resonating with lots of people out there who can relate to the idea of having lots of what-ifs in their lives. I read the book and gobbled it up. I absolutely loved it and would recommend it to anyone-- even those of you out there who don't think about what-ifs (I personally don't-- I try to just look ahead). The writing is so smart and thoughtful, you can't help but fall in love with this book.

I guess that's why it just made the New York Times bestseller list!

Other writers who I think deal in BIG ideas are Jodi Piccoult, Emily Giffin, and Sophie Kinsella. What are some BIG books and what makes them high concept to you?


Irina said...

This is SUCH a fun topic... and definitely an important one!

I do think it's important to have a "high concept" in your book, but I don't know if it 100% makes or breaks your book. I mean, if the story and the writing is interesting, people will still read it.

One of the biggest women's fiction books is Bridget Jones' Diary, and I don't think that has a high concept. It's just a single girl in the city who tries to change her life, but ultimately never really does.

Though, that being said, there ARE definitely some great "high concept" books. Lauren Weisberger's books tend to have one. Such as The Devil Wears Prada- about an unfashionable girl who goes to work for THE most fashionable magazine.

Even books in other genres... for lack of a better example, The Notebook- about what happens when your first love comes back into your life when you're engaged to another man.

Brenda Janowitz said...

Allison says: “What editors and publishing houses often look for (at least in commercial fiction) is what they deem a high-concept idea. This is one that can be summed up in one sentence and is really marketable. In ToML's case, for example, it's something like, "Discontented housewife wakes up one morning seven years in her past and has a chance to answer her 'what ifs.'" BAM. High concept. Adaptable for a movie. Everyone gets it.”

And I think that’s the most important info in the post. I think some good examples of authors who write about BIG ideas are: Jodi Piccoult, Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella. They write books whose premise can be summed up in one sentence, and one that starts a discussion: what would you do if you fell for your best friend’s fiancĂ©? What would you do if you woke up and had no memory of the last 5 years?

Here are some other blog posts that do a nice job of explaining what makes an idea “high concept.”