How to Create the High Concept Novel

By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

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Are you a novelist striving for a high concept story? Have you heard the term and not fully understood what it means? Worse yet, has an agent or

editor challenged you to create a high concept novel, and now you have brain freeze? Let me help you unpack what agents, editors, and readers are desperately seeking.

A high concept story is one that has potential to spread like wildfire, either within a genre or across a large audience. Think of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Hunger Games, Divergent, Forrest Gump, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, Les Misérables, and the list continues.

Rachelle Gardner writes, “High concept means the PREMISE of your book will get attention, before anyone sees even one word of your writing.”

Are you still scratching your head? What is this thing called a premise?
Do you know why you must write this?

  • What is the burning passion to spend hours perfecting your craft?
  • What is the moral truth to be explored, revisited, and turned upside down?
  • What sears your heart with a what-if?
  • What keeps you up at night and preoccupied during the day?
Begin now for a powerful premise.

Sometimes the premise can blow away an agent or editor in one sentence; sometimes it takes three. But it must be unique to the writer and to the story’s concept, something the writer has never written before.

Another element is how the premise affects you, and why you are the only one to write the story.

When you are brainstorming your novel’s potential high concept, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What is your distinctively different premise?
  2. How is your story original?
  3. Why are you the only writer who can pen this story?
  4. How are your characters intriguing?
  5. Is your story idea fresh and exciting?
  6. Are the plot twists super-unpredictable and yet believable?
  7. Will your story touch the hearts of cross-genre readers or a wide-niche market?
  8. Does your story entertain?
  9. Are strong emotions a part of the high stakes?
  10. Can your readers step into the closet of your character and emerge satisfied that they have lived a true adventure?

Now write your high-concept idea in one sentence. Make every word count. Don’t settle for the first draft. Refine what you’ve written. Let your passion swell. Give yourself time to ponder over ideas, and consider if this type of novel writing is for you. Come back to it. How has it changed?

When I wrote Deadly Encounter, I believed in my premise. What if a woman is riding her horse and stumbles onto a dead body, a wounded dog, a drone, and a motorcycle?

Perhaps your story idea falls within the high-concept criteria. I hope so! If you believe in your premise, then get started with the groundwork of making your novel idea the next bestseller.

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DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect

an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at

Revealed! The Secret to Publishing ~ Ruth Logan Herne

The Secret Revealed
Ruth Logan Herne

There is no big secret to writing. There is no easy path for 99% of us, there are no short-cuts, and there really isn’t a lot of money that needs to be spent because the secret to becoming a published author isn’t much of a secret at all: Write, write, write.

Hi, I’m Ruthy, and I’m a pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps woman who has raised six amazing kids, all college educated with multiple Ivy League degrees among them. Between the six, they’ve attained myriads of awards and accolades and all the pomp and circumstance their waitress mother and grocery store worker father could give them. We might not match them in education, but we taught them three important things. To love God, to reach for the stars, and to never quit.

I have no fancy degrees after my name. I have no capital letters or sheets of parchment, but what I do have is a God-given talent and the tenacity to stick to the long-range plan. And that plan, once my kids were fairly well launched, was to become a multi-published author with books that boost women with faith, hope and love. With over ¾ million books sold, I am living my dream, but there were no secrets in this amazing and wonderful success… think milk-the-cows-daily hard work, and a true love for what I’m doing!

  1. Believe in yourself: Embrace your desire, your goals and your talent. Read what you love, and then write the kind of books you love to read! Often there’s a direct relationship between the kind of author style that ‘speaks’ to you, and your untapped talent. I realized I gravitate to storytellers. English veterinarian/author James Herriot, LaVyrle Spencer, James Michener, Karen White and many others.

  1. Study craft books if that’s your style of learning. It is not mine. I don’t read craft books, I don’t open them, and when well-meaning people send them to me, I donate them to others. Trust your own personal learning style, but you can only do this if you’re not afraid to listen to criticism and adjust as needed.

  1. Write, write, write. I write 1000 words/day, every day. I’ve done this for years, and did it long before I got “The Call”. Now that I’m semi-retired, I write more than that, but while working a full-time job I wrote 1000 words/day, every day. That is 365,000 words/year. If you take out Sundays, that’s 313,000 words/year. That’s over three full-length novels and five of my Love Inspireds. That’s a lot of books!

  1. Envision your success. Visualize your work ethic. Stay focused and turn off the negative voices of doubt. Command your own ship and chart your own course. Do you know how many folks told me that farm kids don’t end up in Ivy League schools? I didn’t listen. Do you know how many people told me that poor kids from hovels can’t succeed? I didn’t listen. Do you know how many folks thought I was crazy, a waitress with a dream to be a published author? (shakes her head, laughing) I did not listen to any of that. Instead, focus on the positive people who share your dream and support your goals. They may not be the closest people to you (and often aren’t!) but that doesn’t matter. They will cheer each minor step of your journey and that’s a huge blessing.

  1. From Good Will Hunting: (Matt Damon as Will, talking to a Harvard guy): “And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an bleepin’ education you coulda got for a dollah fifty in late chahges at the public library.”

I had no money when I started this gig. I had two jobs and six kids—four in college and two still in high school. I babysat for a lovely group of cute kids every day, eleven hour days, and then went to the restaurant (and then a bridal store eleven years later) to work at night. I took every romance out of the library that I could get my hands on, and they didn’t stock a lot. I read and studied timing, pacing, plot and began writing at four AM every day. And I learned. Now that might not work for everyone, because here’s the biggest and best advice I can give you, re-stated.

  1. There are no short-cuts. There are no gimmes. There are no hand-outs, and the best habit you can develop is the self-discipline to write, write, write. And then edit and write some more. But here’s the thing…(leans closer)… if you love this gig? If you love it the way I do, because you’ve waited all your life to do it and now you are? Then you’ll do it because on the very worst day, I still have the very best job on earth. And I couldn’t be happier!

About Ruth Logan Herne

Multi-published, bestselling author Ruth Logan Herne is living her dream with over ¾ million books in print. A mother and grandmother, she lives on a small upstate New York farm with her husband, dogs, cats, chickens and a revolving door of small children and their parents in and out of the house. She can often be found hiding in a nook or cranny, scribbling away.

Keep up with Ruth Logan Herne at, on Facebook (ruthloganherne), on Twitter (@ruthloganherne), or on Pinterest (ruthyloganherne).

About Back in the Saddle

The Prodigal Is Coming Home 

It’s been a long time since Colt Stafford shrugged off his cowboy legacy for shiny Manhattan loafers and a promising career on Wall Street. But when stock market manipulations leave him financially strapped, the oldest son of legendary rancher Sam Stafford decides to return to the sprawling Double S ranch in Gray’s Glen, Washington. He’s broke, but not broken, and it’s time to check in with his ailing father, and get his legs back under him by climbing into the saddle again.
He doesn’t expect to come home to a stranger pointing a loaded gun at his chest— a tough yet beautiful woman that Sam hired as the house manager. Colt senses there’s more to Angelina Morales than meets the eye and he’s determined to find out what she’s hiding…and why. 
Colt’s return brings new challenges. Younger brother Nick has been Sam’s right-hand man at the ranch for years and isn’t thrilled at having Colt insert himself into Double S affairs. And the ranch’s contentious relationship with the citizens of Gray’s Glen asks all the Stafford men to examine their hearts about what it truly means to be a neighbor.  And as Wall Street recovers, will Colt succumb to the call of the financial district’s wealth and power—or finally the courage to stay in the saddle for good?

Creative Characterization – Like a Good Neighbor ~ by Shelley Gray

Characterization: Like Meeting Your Next-Door Neighbors
By Shelley Gray

I’ve often told people that creating characters is a lot like meeting new next-door neighbors. Whenever new neighbors have moved in near us, I seem to go through a four-step process. At the risk of seeming like a nosy neighbor, I thought it might be fun to compare the process of characterization to starting a relationship with the folks next door.

Step 1: Peek and Greet. When someone new moves in, it’s human nature to take a quick peek at them. You form a first impression. You look to see about how old they are, if they have kids, if they look friendly.
When I begin a new book, I concentrate on physical information such as hair and eye color, ethnicity, age, glasses, scars, etc. I keep track of things in a spiral notebook. I write each character’s name at the top of a page and write down the characters’ basic information as I create it. Sometimes I even cut out magazine pictures and tape them in.
Step 2: Go Visiting. A few days after a someone new moves into our neighborhood, it’s customary to give them some cookies or a loaf of bread. Usually, we end up visiting for a couple of minutes and learn basic information about them—jobs, where they moved from, do they seem warm and friendly? Standoffish? Grumpy?

I ‘visit’ with my characters when I’m done with the first three or four chapters. During this time, I’ll go back over the part I’ve written and add information about each character. Of course, a big part of all that is developing their goals, motivation and conflict. I try to do this with every character in the book, not just the main characters. I figure if someone wanders into my book’s pages, I need to be kind enough to give them a personality and backstory.

Step 3: Bus Stop Talk. When my kids were little, all the moms would usually congregate at the bus stop and visit until the kids hopped on the bus. This was the best way to get to know other moms better. We discovered who got up early and looked like they were ready to conquer anything by eight am. We learned who worked out all the time. Who was patient with their kids. Who kind of wasn’t. You get the idea.

Around the time I’ve written a hundred pages, I revisit my characters to make sure that I’ve gotten to know them pretty well. If the characters seem flat, I spend sometime ‘fleshing’ them out. I give my characters likes and dislikes. People are interesting because they have quirks. Sometimes they’re big quirks, like a fear of some sort. Other times, I create favorite foods, activities that they like or don’t like, favorite sayings or words. Habits, too. For example, maybe a character always checks in with her best friend or mother at nine o’clock every night. Yep, I do my best to add all this in my spiral notebook, too.

Step 4. You Now Know Your Neighbors Next Door! Usually, by the time the new neighbors have lived next door for a couple of months, we’ve sized each other up. Sometimes we’ve clicked. Sometimes not so much. But usually after four or five months, we know each other pretty well. We have a relationship now.
By the time I’m three-fourths of the way through a manuscript, the plot is set, I know my characters, and I know exactly what is going to happen to them by the time I type The End.
This is the time to really check the whole cast of characters to make sure no one seems superficial or forgettable. Little adjustments are made here. Sometimes it’s giving someone a new name, sometimes it’s writing a little bit more of a backstory or giving them a red bike or car or coat. I basically try to give each character the opportunity to shine, even if it’s in a not-so-nice way.

If you’ve never taken the time to really get to know your characters, I hope you’ll give this method a try.

And if you happen to get some new neighbors sometime soon, I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know them as much as your readers will enjoy getting to know the characters in your book.


Shelley Shepard Gray writes Amish romances for Harper Collins inspirational line, Avon Inspire and historical romances as Shelley Gray for Harper Collins Christian Publishers. Her novels have been Holt Medallion winners and Inspirational Readers Choice and Carol finalists. Shelley’s novels have appeared on both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.  
To date, Shelley has published over fifty novels for a variety of publishers. Her novels have been highlighted in the Philadelphia Enquirer, Washington Post, Time Magazine, and USA Today. She has also been interviewed on NPR as well as numerous regional radio stations.

He Said, She Said (Using Tags in Dialogue)

He Said, She Said

Are you using too many tags in dialogue?

[This post has been adapted from its original version by Linore Rose Burkard on The Writers’ Alley blog)

I look at portions of work by newer writers, it is common to find them
doing one of two things when it comes to dialogue tags: Using
too many or  not enough. Both tendencies adversely affect writing,
make readers cringe, or tell an editor or agent to stop reading. Since
we want people to KEEP reading, how we do avoid both pitfalls? 

let’s look at the problem with using too many tags (A dialogue tag is
when you follow dialogue with something like “he said,” “she laughed,”
etc.)  The first rule of thumb when adding a tag is to ask yourself,

Is it Necessary? 
tag is only necessary when you need to clarify who is speaking, or to
show a reaction that might otherwise be missed. If you insert tags when
they are not needed, you are using too many. This makes the writing

tell if you are using too many tags, backtrack a paragraph or two when
you’re editing your work, and try the dialogue WITHOUT the tags in
question. Does it still work? Still make sense? Can you easily tell who
is talking? If the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, then you don’t
need the tag. Cut it.

What’s the harm, you may ask, in making certain your reader knows who is talking? That’s what tags are for, after all, right? But here’s what happens: Using unnecessary tags makes a work feel stilted; not only does dialogue suffer, but the pace SLOWS.  A reader may not know why exactly, but they’ll be fidgeting for you to get on with it. If you do this routinely, the reader will groan. Don’t make your reader groan! 

Is Something Missing?

the other hand, if you fail to give enough clues about who is
speaking, this too, will make for unhappy readers. They will feel as
though they’re missing something, and this is frustrating. They will
have to go back and try to figure out who is saying what. When
your characters are really strong, there will be occasions when you can
omit a tag simply because the spoken words are so distinctly
characteristic of that person, it would be redundant to use one. But
be sure about this; use a critique partner or two to make sure. If it
turns out that readers are confused, then you need a tag. Keep it in. 

Is it Character-Driven?

There are occasions when it’s right and good to use a tag even though the reader knows who is speaking.  This may sound counter to what I said earlier, but the key here are the words, character-driven
This means that it is important for the reader not only to know who is
speaking, but to know HOW the character is saying or thinking a thing. 
In other words, you want to clarify an emotion that isn’t altogether clear from the spoken dialogue. In some cases you may need to
specify the tone of voice; or an accompanying gesture the character
makes while talking. 

would caution you not to do this often, and again, use critique readers
or beta readers, or an editor to take a second look when there is any
question about this.
be sure not to overdo it.  Having a heroine who sighs heavily once a chapter is probably fine; any more than that and the reader will
be sighing heavily.  

emphasize the point of using too many tags,  I leave you with an old
poem by the humorist Franklin P. Adams. (He makes the point perhaps a little too well!) 

    Monotonous Variety
(All of them from two stories in a single magazine.)

She “greeted” and he “volunteered”;
    She “giggled”: he “asserted”;
She “queried” and he “lightly veered”;
    She “drawled” and he “averted”;
She “scoffed,” she “laughed” and he “averred”;
He “mumbled,” “parried,” and “demurred.”

She “languidly responded”; he
    “Incautiously assented”; 
Doretta “proffered lazily”;
    Will “speedily invented”; 
She “parried,” “whispered,” “bade,” and “mused”; 
He “urged,” “acknowledged,” and “refused.”

She “softly added”; “she alleged”;
    He “consciously invited”;
She “then corrected”; William “hedged”;
She “prettily recited”;
She “nodded” “stormed,” and “acquiesced”; 
He “promised,” “hastened,” and “confessed.”

Doretta “chided”; “cautioned” Will;
    She “voiced” and he “defended”;
She “vouchsafed”; he “continued still”; 
    She “sneered” and he “amended”;
She “smiled,” she “twitted,” and she “dared”
He “scorned,” “exclaimed,” “pronounced,” and “flared.”

He “waived,” “believed,” “explained,” and “tried”; 
    “Commented” she; he “muttered”;
She “blushed,” she “dimpled,” and she “sighed”;
    He ‘ventured” and he “stuttered”; 
She “spoke,” “suggested,” and “pursued”;
He “pleaded,” “pouted,” “called,” and “viewed.”

O syonymble writers, ye
    Whose work is so high-pricey.
Think ye not that variety
    May haply be too spicy?
Meseems that in an elder day
They had a thing or two to--say.

So-do you struggle with proper use of dialogue tags? Or have a pet peeve about them? Share your thoughts in the comments with the rest of us! 

Linore Rose Burkard (a.k.a. L.R.Burkard) wrote a trilogy of genuine regency romances for the Christian market before there were any regencies for the
Christian market. Her books opened up the genre in the CBA. She writes
YA Suspense/Apocalyptic fiction as L.R. Burkard, not only to keep
expanding boundaries for her readers, but to explore deeper themes. Married with five children, she home-schools her youngest daughter, preferably with coffee in one hand and wearing pjs. Her latest book, PULSE, takes another leap from the usual fiction of CBA writers with cutting-edge apocalyptic suspense.