Crafting Your Copy in High Concept

As a screenwriter, you know that “high concept” is not only unique to the industry – it’s like the Holy Grail in Hollywood.

Yet, while it’s a term coined by the film industry, it can be usefully employed in other writing arenas. I got this idea from Lori Wilde, a well-known romance writer who applied high concept to her novels with much success (and wrote about it in her book, Got High Concept?).

So, I got to thinking …

Is it possible to use high concept in direct-response copywriting, too – in conjunction with all the other important skills screenwriters have that make it so easy to learn to write copy?

But before we jump into this topic, let me define copywriting. In general, it is “any writing that offers a product or service for sale.”

To be more poetic, direct-response copywriting tells a story that persuades your reader to act.

So, how can you take something like high concept and use it in a seemingly unrelated area (where it can potentially make you a copywriting success)?

High concept is the premise of your story. It’s that one sentence that describes it – ramped up to appeal to a worldwide audience who completely and immediately “gets it” and who all rush to the box office the first weekend it opens.

And, of course, the result will be instant, huge revenues for the producers.

That’s high concept.

So, how can you apply it to writing direct-response copy?

Good question, but I’m going to make you wait a little bit for the answer. In the meantime, delve into some of the ideas that Wilde suggests make high concept what it is.

5 Main Elements

There are five main elements to high concept:

  1. It has universal appeal.
  2. It’s different.
  3. It has instant emotional appeal.
  4. The story can be visualized immediately.
  5. You can say it in one sentence.

For example, can you guess which movie is based on the following high concept?

“A lone cop has to save the people on a Los Angeles bus that will blow up if it drops below 50 mph.”

Did you guess it? It’s Speed.

A Sympathetic Character

In addition to those five elements, great high concept stories feature a compelling character we want to win, to urge on to his goal, to get the prize.

So, what makes them compelling?

It’s a list of things … values, flaws, skills, beliefs, lifestyle, secrets and fears … combined. The ones you decide to pull to the front will determine everything about how your characters react and respond to their problems, and how the audience will react and respond emotionally, as well.

Ultimately, the audience has to care about the character you’ve created.

It isn’t all about plot …

So, how can you use this knowledge in writing better copy?

The Intersection

There are three aspects of writing copy where high concept can be readily applied:

In other words, it has the great commercial appeal of high concept.

  • The Big Idea – In copywriting, Mark Morgan Ford (under his former pen name, Michael Masterson) calls it, “the power of one.” He says that the best-selling promotions use a single, overarching topic. Similar to high concept, it’s that one idea that will touch and affect your readers the most.

    Understanding and mastering the Big Idea can propel you into copywriting fame, fortune and success. (And make your clients a ton of money … )

  • Salability – Great copy does its job – it sells – because it appeals to the greatest number of potential buyers, who all instantly hit the click button to purchase or drop their check in the mail.

  • Target Audience – Before you even begin writing, you have to know who you’re talking to. Your target audience has their own set of “values, flaws, skills, beliefs, lifestyle, secrets and fears.”

    You’ll want to find those attributes that best describe and define your ideal customer – your avatar – and write specifically to them. And you need to do this by evoking emotion, ownership and caring in such a way they cannot resist buying.

    In other words, you want your reader to identify with the character as himself, while you plot the plan for him in a way that leads him to a satisfying resolution … to seeing that he can win.

That’s what makes him hit the “buy now” button or get out his checkbook!

Okay, so you’ve applied these principles, and your copy is hot.

Now, let’s get it smoldering …

15 Techniques for High Concept Copy

In her book, Got High Concept?, best-selling author Lori Wilde suggests there are 15 “Ad Copy Techniques to Make Your High Concept Snap.” Take a look at her list and consider how you could apply them to both high concept screenwriting and copywriting:

  1. Convey a sense of urgency.
  2. Say something unique.
  3. Be ultra-specific.
  4. Use grabby, attention-getting words and phrases.
  5. Be aware of your target audience. (If you’re writing a mystery, use mystery phraseology; in copy, if you’re writing to a doctor, use medical speak.)
  6. Suck the reader in.
  7. Use concrete nouns.
  8. Use strong action verbs.
  9. Reread your pitch, not as an editor or author, but as a customer.
  10. Paint word pictures.
  11. Keep it as simple as you can.
  12. Play to the emotions.
  13. Illicit curiosity.
  14. Go for the visceral.
  15. If they cry, they buy.

After you’ve finished writing your copy and you feel you’ve made all the points you want, take some time to rake over every word and phrase using this list, looking for ways to refine your copy and make it stronger.

There’s just no room for lukewarm … in high concept screenwriting or high concept copy.

Lastly …

Remember that craft is craft, writing is writing, and storytelling is storytelling.

I once read an interview with Bon Jovi, who said he played at weddings because he always took the opportunity to practice his craft wherever and whenever he could.

Understanding and generating copy that fulfills a high concept definition will improve both your screenwriting skills and your copywriting skills.

You’ll jump to a whole other level.

As Michael Hauge, story consultant in the movie industry and author of Writing Screenplays That Sell says, “High concept movies are those whose titles, ads, newspaper descriptions, or online blurbs promise a peak emotional experience: big action …”

Yes, even their copy has to sizzle and sell!

And take note … somebody has to write it …

Why not you?

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: June 7, 2012

1 Response to “Crafting Your Copy in High Concept”

  1. Great ideas, I'm bookmarking this list. But...illicit curiosity?

    Guest (Dimitria )December 16, 2014 at 2:05 pm


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