Wednesday, June 13, 2007

high-concept plots

The past week has been light on writing and adrift on planning, and not so much planning as contemplation. Time to get going on a new novel. The finished one is out in the ether looking for an agent, and I need the bones of a new dreamtime. I tend to recall stories as either character-driven, or plot-driven, though the best ones generally had both elements. A good author/teacher like John Dufresne, in “The Lie That Tells a Truth,” suggests setting your character in motion and just watch what happens. Get it down. That would certainly get a story started, but not having anything for a plot is daunting. Then there are the writers for whom the plot is all consuming. “What I’m Reading Now,” a blog by Allisa Lauzon is a wonderful collection of her YA book reviews that I’ve been following lately, and the biggest thing that seems to hook this reader is most often the plot. Some are so pumped-up and bizarre that I’m just going to have to read them to see if the author really pulled it off. Here’s a terrific example of a high-concept plot from “I’d Tell You I Loved You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You,” by Ally Carter:
"From the outside the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women appears to be a boarding school for rich and snotty young women. The school, however, is actually a training school for future spies. Cammie is a Gallagher legacy and the daughter of the school's headmistress. By her sophomore year, she is already fluent in fourteen languages and knows how to kill a man seven different ways and is starting her first covert operations course...”

The concept is almost outlandish—and yet, it’s totally intriguing. Is it going to be tongue-in-cheek, or serious stuff? Ally has another spy-themed book in her credits, so she probably knows the genre; I’ll just have to read this one to see. Another high-concept plot I found intriguing was “Blue Bloods,” by Melissa De La Cruz:

“The most powerful and elite families in New York City are hiding a secret- a secret that their children are about to discover as they are inducted into The Committee. They are Blue Bloods- an ancient race of Vampires. Schuyler's life changes dramatically when her invitation arrives to join The Committee. She soon discovers that they are hiding things- especially after a young Blue Blood turns up dead- her life force completely drained. An interesting new take on a vampire novel. Blue Bloods moves quickly, capturing readers’ interests from the beginning.”

A belief in vampires today is a rational stretch, but the concept has a long history in storytelling, books, movies, and TV, so that the readiness to suspend disbelief is already at work for the author. Here, Melissa has a great plot, but she’ll have to work a lot harder to keep the reader wrapped up in the “fictional dream,” as per writing guru John Gardner. I love the ambition of her setup and I’ll read this book, too.


Bruce said...

Interesting how both plots play with reader expectations... undermining them in ways that are provocative, to say the least. A boarding school that secretly trains spies, and "blue bloods" who are secretly vampires. Plus... the notion of secrets revealed... always a reliable way to draw readers into a story, don't you think?

Jack said...

Those hooks/high-concepts were such good demonstrations of the sort of story material that fairly jumps out of crowded columns of reviewed books. Other books might prove to be more worthy reading gems, but these are probably more apt to be tried by readers. I'm wishing these authors success in delivering.

Emmly said...

Interesting to know.

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