“High-Concept” Fiction

I’ve read a few novels or stories that become too bogged down with world-building or what I call “concept obsession.” The former tends to happen in fantasy and sci-fi the most, and the latter can happen in any high concept piece. (Hence the term.)

I find a lot of high concepts intriguing. As a concept that is. I have a list of such concepts in my idea notebook. Yet one of the signs of a mature writer is realizing that not every high concept or intricate world makes for a good narrative. Narrative, plot, character, story and such are the keys to interesting stories for most readers, I dare say, and without those, you just have one long description of something you made up. It’s quite the temptations for author’s, especially new ones, to stuff their narratives with as much of the uniqueness to their story as possible, even if it doesn’t serve the story.

“It would be so cool if…” is usually not a sufficient building block for a novel, even a high concept one. Sorry. When you start a piece, make sure there is a solid narrative within your unique concept somewhere, that entails more than explaining how the high concept, or unusual world came to be.

Sad, I know. Your have an idea for a word where due to a virus, every single human birth is now a set of identical twins. You’ve explored the impact it would have on economics, population, religion, pop-culture. But if nothing happens to anybody interesting in this interesting new world, you’ll likely end up boring readers with details of how the world changed in each of those categories and more.

That’s not a story.

However, there is good news; you can always make an exploration of that world or high concept the entire reason for your writing. It may not be a story or a novel, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t creative. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it down. It just means, perhaps, that all you are writing any given time is say a handbook for the world you created, or a faux-academic paper on the “everybody has twins” thing. Such creations don’t need a narrative or a protagonist. You can delve into the hows and the whys until your heart’s content, and it’s fine.

Granted, such works are not likely to be published in the traditional manner. (Though you never know; it happens sometimes.) But you can always self-publish it if you want. Or you can just keep it for yourself as an exercise. Not everything you write has to be published, of course. Tuck it away in a drawer, and read it or add on to it as time goes on, as a way to explore you creativity without a deadline. And who knows? That collection of “facts” about your concept may evolve into a more standard story arc some day.

All this by way of saying that though you need to discern which of your concepts may or may not make a good novel, you need not totally forget about your concept even if you decide there is no novel in it somewhere. Creating is creating. Don’t shut that out.

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