Wednesday, February 07, 2007

High Concept Books

Writers try to keep abreast of what's happening in the publishing world. After all, it directly affects us. We read writing magazines, visit news websites, belong to writers' organizations. We notice what books make the bestseller lists, which ones are sold near the checkout counters at the grocery store, which ones get special placement in the bookstore. So, I'm sure we've all heard the mantra that mid-list authors are being squeezed out. Publishers want the "big book" or are looking for the "big idea."

But, what the heck is the BIG BOOK?

That's hard to define. But, over the next few days, let's try.

In the big novel, the stakes are high. Very high. That doesn't mean, though, that it has to involve the very future of the country or a race of people. It could be that one of the major characters in your book is in dire peril. But if it is only one person's life or future, usually that character is representative, either directly or subtly, of a larger community. The reader can see that the character's problem could easily be or become his dilemma. He wants that character to survive and triumph because it gives him hope that he, and humankind, will find solutions, redemption, or survival.

If you've read some of the best-sellers, you've probably noticed that the main characters are larger-than-life. Big novels have big characters. They do extraordinary, steel-emotioned, desperate, even outrageous things. They do what you or I hope we would do in impossible situations. Somehow, through their amazing inner strength, or their physical power, or their intelligence, wit, energy, daring, guts, and spirit, they transform themselves, and, in the process, us. Look at Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. She started off ordinary and became extraordinary.

Tomorrow, more things that define the big or high concept book.

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