Film people—producers, agents, managers—come by our offices quite often and when they do, we all sit around the conference table and listen to them tell us what they’re looking for this season. Lately, an interesting trend has surfaced. In our last several meetings, a Hollywood person has told us that all they need is a title. Often, they use Sh** My Dad Says or Go the F*** to Sleep as examples of titles that they can use to build a tv show or movie around. The first time I heard it, I thought, “Well, dang, that’s taking the high concept thing in a tragic direction.” I mean, it’s one thing to pitch someone the contents of a book by saying, “This story is Transformers meets Annie Hall,” but you’ll have to read the manuscript (or at least the coverage) to find out how that unholy pairing is possible. It’s quite another to have the title be both the pitch and the content.
You might think I’m about to launch into a screed about Hollywood’s ongoing jihad against our collective intellect, but you would be wrong. The title-as-high-concept trend does intrigue me. In fact, it has made me think about how much more entertaining query letters for books would be if, instead of a boring synopsis, authors included a succinct, pithy, immediately graspable description of their book.
Wikipedia tells us that “High concept narratives are typically characterised by an over-arching ‘what if?’ scenario that acts as a catalyst for the following events.” I confess, I’m a sucker for “’what if?’ scenarios.” If nothing else, it’s a fun parlor game to try to sum up your favorite books this way—e.g., “What if a sparkly vampire and a sullen high school girl fell in love?”
There’s also the Transformers meets Annie Hall approach, as mentioned above.
And, then there’s the title-as-high-concept. Snakes on a Plane anyone?
Applying any of these devices to commercial fiction is one thing but how about to literary fiction? Are literary novels high-concept proof? Can you guys send in your high-concept tag lines, either for your own work or published books that we’re all familiar with? There’s a DGLM mug for the best high-concept pitch I get….