AS a teacher and writer I am often asked to give advice about generating ideas for a screenplay or novel.
What sorts of things should the writer look for in a concept to maximise its chance for commercial success?
In the absence of a crystal ball, use High Concept. Here are some of its components:
1. Ensure your story ideas contain high stakes. This sets the stage for a big story – Air Force One (The POTUS is held hostage on his plane, 12 Monkeys – a virus threatens to wipe out humanity.
2. Set your story in a unique or interesting environment – Hart’s War (Nazi concentration camp), Red Corner (Red China).
3. Pick the correct protagonist: Liar, Liar (a lawyer who has to tell the truth for a whole day).
4. Pick a fresh and powerful dilemma: John Q (a father takes the hospital hostage demanding they perform a heart transplant on his dying son).
5. Pick a unique strategy for your protagonist to pursue. Memento: A man who can only remember a few minutes at a time tries to track down his wife’s killer by tattooing his body with key words and instructions.
Of course, a hit depends on your getting so many other factors right too, but using these suggestions does enhance the commercial potential of your story idea.
I take my own advice in my own stories. Here’s a short description of my first novel, Scarab, which grabbed the number one bestsellers spot on Amazon.com and amazon.co.uk in its genre:
“Buried in a hidden chamber beneath the great Sphinx of Giza, lies the most potent secret in history. Older than the pyramids, older than Atlantis, it has the ability to change the world. Powerful men will do anything to posses it. There is just one thing standing in their way – the living Sphinx itself.”
The Level was my second novel:
“A man, suffering from amnesia, wakes up in a pitch-black room, tied to what feels like a wooden chair. He discovers he is being held captive in a derelict insane asylum stalked by inmates who are determined to kill him. Help comes in the form of a beautiful, mysterious woman dressed in a black burka who offers to show him the way out, if only he can remember who he truly is.”
Both ideas draw on high concept and make for intriguing reading.
Use High Concept to make your story ideas more commercial.