How to Create High Concept Story Ideas

Most high concept stories are the result of a collision between two concepts. Two words that ordinarily don't go together can create an initial spark that sets the creative wheels in motion.

I've made a High Concept Generator tool to help you create your own ideas for high concept stories. It doesn't give you the complete idea for a high concept story; it generates a simple spark. Your imagination and hard work are required to get the fire to full flame.

Before you rush off to use the tool, let's go over the specifics of high concept stories and how to brainstorm story ideas for yourself.

What is a High Concept Story?

A high concept story has a strong hook. But what exactly is a hook?

A hook is something that creates immediate interest in your story. It is not a story twist at the end of the story but rather a fundamental story element that generates interest from the get-go. It creates some level of curiosity in people, which will, theoretically, lead to more enthusiasm for your project.

It's woven into the basic one-line description of the story's concept. Let's examine this in more detail.

High Concept vs Low Concept

Here are some one-line story descriptions that highlight the differences between high concept and low concept stories.

The first description is a standard plot, one we're very familiar with, and the second description adds an unexpected element to make it a higher concept idea. Consider these two examples.

  1. A killer returns to town to kill people. We've seen this many times before, and while it can be done well, nothing here is surprising in the basic description.

  2. A killer returns to town to kill people in their dreams. Now we have something unexpected, or at least it was before they made Nightmare on Elm Street. The addition of the dream element breathes new life into a standard concept.

Here's another example of a standard story and a high concept variation.

  1. A man must solve a murder. This is the basis of thousands of stories, and again, it can be very intriguing, but it is a low concept story. There is nothing unexpected in the set-up.
  2. A man must solve a murder—his own. Now, we, the viewers, suddenly have questions. How can you solve your own murder? How is that possible? The movie DOA is an excellent example of this particular concept.

A high concept movie should be able to be described in one line, a line that creates immediate interest in the premise.

Let's look at some more movie examples and discuss how you might generate your own high concept story ideas.

High Concept Movies

Here are some examples of high concept movies you probably know: Jurassic Park, Planet of the Apes, and The Matrix.

Let's break these down and show how they can be viewed as the result of the collision between two concepts.

Zoo + Dinosaurs = Jurassic Park
Apes + Intelligence = Planet of the Apes
Reality + Illusion = The Matrix

If you examine most high concept ideas, you'll see that the roots of the story are a combination of two contrasting elements. Two story elements that you would not expect to see together.

Typically, stories with a more fantastical underlying premise tend to fall into the science fiction category.

I am in no way saying that this is easy. There is a massive gap between ideas and execution that is tremendously hard to bridge. This is where the real challenge lies. The idea is just the beginning of a very long road.

Some of these concepts can be executed successfully in different ways.

If we look at the "reality + illusion" example above, we can see that "The Truman Show" works as well as "The Matrix" for this example.

The collision of two concepts must inspire some initial questions in your head. This is a key part in developing a great story concept.

The examples above should immediately trigger these types of questions and more:

What if we could bring back dinosaurs?
What if apes were as intelligent as humans?
What if your life was an illusion?

These questions should in turn trigger even more questions about your potential story. If the two-word combination doesn't intrigue you enough to start asking questions, then no potential audience will either.

Find a concept that fires you up.

Brainstorming a High Concept Story

We'll go through the brainstorming process to see how it might work. Let's start by imagining we used the high concept generator to create two words we're interested in. For this example, the two words are "heist" and "farm."

I'm interested in crime films, so "heist" is a good seed word. Most heist films take place in an urban setting, usually a bank or a museum, so "farm" is a good contrasting element.

Before we go too much further, this combination might be a bit more "mid-concept." It's certainly not a low concept story, but the hook may not be strong enough to fully qualify it as a solid high concept story. Nonetheless, I'm going to do my best to explore this idea.

Brainstorming the Heist Concept

One of the questions this combination raises is, "What is so valuable on a farm that it would be worthy of planning a heist?"

We can be a little loose in our interpretation of the word "farm" if it helps us. We could think of it as meaning any rural setting.

One of the ideas that popped into my head was the maple syrup heist in Canada in 2012. It's not bad, but it's probably already covered by some existing movie. But it leads me to the following question: "What other food products are also very expensive?"

Truffles come to mind. They can sell for thousands of dollars a pound. They grow in France and Italy. Maybe the Italian farm is also mafia-owned, but our would-be criminals don't know that.

What else can be valuable that's not a food item? A painting or other piece of art?

A small town business has a valuable painting (an early Picasso?) on a wall (is it a bank?), but no one in the small town knows that it's worth millions of dollars. Only our criminals know. They are passing through town when they uncover this fact.

Not bad, but what else is there? Could it be something stranger, like a secret recipe?

A rural warehouse that contains the recipe for Coke? You might have legal problems with that one. Maybe a corporation (or a rival family) has stolen a secret family recipe, and the family must plan a heist to get it back.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

I don't know that any of these ideas are great, but they illustrate the process you've got to go through to vet your thoughts - to crystallize them into an appealing form.

It takes a while, and you'll go down many dead ends before finding the right concept, so don't get discouraged.

High Concept Generator

Hopefully, this has been somewhat helpful. Now try the High Concept Story Generator to see if it can aid your imagination in pulling a winner out of the ether. Good luck!

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