Posted by: krpooler | January 23, 2011

Defining “The High Concept”


Before I can shape my individual scenes and vignettes into a story  structure, I have to be able to identify an overriding story idea, the “high concept” . According to James Bonnett  high concept involves” being able to reduce your story idea into something powerful that the reader will be able to make an emotional connection with~ a logline with a twist”  He goes on to explain that  defining your high concept will “force you to come to terms with what your story is about”.

Distilling the complexities of life into a few words is not something I view as simple and I am realizing through my memoir-writing journey how challenging this simple-sounding task really is. How do I pull all my ideas together and come up with a few sentences that describes my story succinctly?

 What is my” logline with a twist?” 

The essence of my memoir is  the power of hope through faith;  overcoming extraordinary challenges in the midst of my ordinary life;  finding joy,peace and learning to live life on my own terms.

The “twist’?  How does someone from such a secure, happy childhood take so many  self-defeating detours and then how does this person find her way back home again?

Last week, we talked about defining author brand in this post, being  able to define oneself to the world. I defined my brand  as sharing the  power of hope through my memoir. My high concept needs to flow from that.

James Bonnett points out that high concept requires:

* a fascinating Topic~ Is my high concept fascinating enough so far?

* a great Title~ TBA

* an “Inciting Action”~ Lots to choose from~TBA

* a “Hook”~ do you sense any intrigue here?

I am keeping all these components in mind as I move forward writing stories through NAMW Memoir workshop with Linda Joy Myers and preparing for The Christian Writing Guild’s “Writing for the Soul” Conference in Denver in February.

I would love your input and discussion on my story idea so far. You can be honest! Your input will help me refine my message and maybe even pitch to an agent or two at the conference.

Do you think the” high concept” is intriguing enough? 

 Do the few words tell you what my story is about?

Have you defined your own high concept?


  1. I love the idea of a memoir about someone from a safe secure childhood. That seems almost a novelty among the memoirs that have caught my attention. Intrigue? You mention self-defeating detours before you “find your way home.” Now, what would those be, and how did you rise above them? Intrigue!

    Your journey through this process has intrigue and fascination, quite apart from whatever such elements your memoir has. Write on!

    • Wow, Sharon, thanks for your encouraging comments! I will use your words as ammunition against that pesky inner critic when he tells me I don’t really have a story of interest. Of course,I realize it will all be in the telling. You are right~ I need to Write On!

  2. I’m probably Odd Man Out here and I know this wasn’t the way I was supposed to do it, but I started with one premise, finished writing, and learned I had a better premise all along! Finding that nutgraph is really hard, but it sounds like you’re well on your way with a fascinating topic! Definitely pitch it — you’ll get some valuable tips and insights and that person-to-person interaction might be just the ticket you need!

    • Deb, thanks so much for the nudge to go for the pitch. It makes sense that at the very least I will walk away with valuable tips and insights. At least I’ll get practice in pitching. BTW , I’ve heard that rules are made to be broken! And I’ve never heard the term”nutgraph” but it seems perfect in describing the challenges of finding one’s story. Thanks for comments and the encouragement!

  3. Kathy, it is but natural for a writer to ask these questions. I have one thing to say,”yes” to all three Qs. You are so close now to finish this project before you will indulge in finding another one. After all that work and success, you do not/ should not have any doubts. Besides you have lots and lots of people..teachers, writers, friends an relatives who are walking with you…hand in hand.

    Let me know about the conference. I wish I could join you, but I need to finish this project I am involed in. Hope is the key. Dream is a vehicle to take us there.

    • Hi Smita,
      You always seem to nail down the best phrases: “Hope is the key. Dream is the vehicle to take us there”. I love that.I appreciate your insights and feedback. I actually feel like I am just scratching the surface with many more miles to go . I too wish you could be at that conference . I promise to keep you posted. Thanks for stopping byx. I am so very grateful for your presence on my journey!

  4. I feel as Sharon does, the intrigue of wanting to know the answers, why/what/how, someone from a perfect childhood made self-defeating choices, that really is a twist, and then rose above them.

    Did you read the memoir “Circling My Mother” by Mary Gordon? I’m reading it now but not sure I’ll continue. I just wondered what anyone else who might have read it thought of it. I haven’t read that many memoirs and don’t know quite what to expect. At this early point in my reading of this one, there are so many details, and I don’t find it “capturing” me (yet).


    • Thanks,Louise! Yes, I have read,”Circling My Mother” . It is a bit slow in the beginning but I ended up enjoying it . I suggest you stick with it as she does tie all those details together by the end. But you have brought up an interesting point about memoirs. If we don’t “capture” the reader from the start, we will lose them. It is a challenge to find the right “hook” to keep the reader turning the pages. You’ve brought up an interesting question and I hope others will jump in with otehr ideas on this. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Hi Kathy,

    As you say, “I am realizing through my memoir-writing journey how challenging this simple-sounding task really is.” The salient point is that you are “on a memoir writing journey” – and you can’t see the end from where you start. As you get more and more on paper, your concept will start to emerge from the character you are writing about. I know it doesn’t make sense. We are supposed to already know who we are. But the magic of memoir writing is that we learn so much about ourselves through the act of writing.


    • Wow, that is so true ,Jerry! I am finding out that the more I write, the more I learn about myself. I have also been pulling a lot of scenes from all the writing I did for your “Hero’s Journey” workshop a year ago. What a treasure heap that turned out to be. It has been like a gift that keeps on giving (sorry for the cliche’ but sometimes they do work as has been discussed on the Lifewriters Forum lately) I agree, memoir writing is magic. It seems to take on a life of its own and lead the way to the story that needs to be told. I appreciate your comments and insights. Thanks for stopping by.


  6. Hi,

    just came across this blog today. it’s very interesting and you’re an excellent writer.

    i would also like to draw your attention to it’s a site i have just started (went live on Monday!) that is dedicated to writers interested in self-publishing for digitial download and readers looking for something beyond the usual generic copycats and authobiographies by 20 year-olds you never heard of that litter bookstores.

    i hope you’ll check it out and consider uploading work there, and maybe help spread the word to your readers, who clearly know and appreciate a good thing 😉

    great blog. good luck with the writing!

    • Hi Dave,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Support for one another is so important for all of us in this challenging writing journey. I appreciate your encouraging and positive feedback and your link. Congratulations on launching your new site! The publishing industry seems to be changing daily and it looks like you have created another avenue for writers. I look forward in participating both as a reader and a writer. I see where you joined the Yahoo Lifewriter’s Forum, so welcome. It is a great group with lots of meaty discussions and good connections.

      Nice to meet you Dave. Good luck with your site and hope you’ll stop by again!

      Best wishes,


  7. Thanks Kathy.
    I agree, that supporting each other is really an important thing. Writing is such an emotional and involved process, and it’s for people who don’t write to understand exactly what a writer goes through.

    i spent so much time in the last year working on the site concept and the site itself, my actual writing and reading of blogs like this really diminished. now it’s great because promoting the site requires me to read and comment on sites and blogs like this, which are the kind of things i like to read anyway 🙂

    i’ll certainly be keeping up to date with the blog, and the lifewriter’s group (which i found through here, so thanks!) and i’ve already had a good email chat with jerry and sharon.

    you’ll have my business email from this comment thread – if you drop by the site and have any comments you’d like to make, i’m always looking for feedback

    • Hi Dave, Glad you connected with Jerry and Sharon on the Lifewriters Forum. I definitely will check out your site and will be in touch.

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