Tropes, Log Lines, and High Concepts, Oh My

writing-2Amy here. I don’t do many blogs on the writing craft. I feel I have so much more to learn that I could ever give back, but when I heard the word “trope” I knew I’d have to say something about it.

Earlier this month, Cynthia Cooke presented a workshop for our local RWA chapter on tropes, log lines, and high concept.  I had heard of log lines and high concepts, but trope? What the heck is a trope?  Off to Google I went.  A trope is a figure of speech. So? What does that have to do with writing?  Well it can help a lot.  Tropes are also known as hooks.

captain-hookHooks are good things. They pull the reader into the story. You don’t have to have just one, but a couple will work too.  Saggy middle? You might be able to fix it with a hook.  Cynthia gave us a website that I’ve been having fun with called This is a wiki site of all the different tropes in TV shows.  It has a special section on Romance novels, but I’ve been having fun with all the different varieties of tropes.  This is great for brainstorming for your plot.

Log Lines.  I’ve been reading screenwriter craft books for years.  I have both Michael Hauge’s books; even blogged about it here at Teatime.  I also have Story by Robert McKee, and both Alexandra Sokoloff’s books: Screenwriting tricks for Authors and Writing Love. Why? Screenwriting cuts to the bare bones of the story. It teaches how to infuse the story with emotion without all the narrative.  But we are writing stories, there’s supposed to be narrative. True, but mine had too much. These books helped me solve the saggies in the middle and build a better story.

loglineBack to log lines. Log Lines are the one liners used to sell movies. It’s one sentence that states what happens in your story. They are a pain in the butt to do well, but if you do it well, you have a good start on your story. It tells us who the story is about, what his goal is, and why he can’t have his goal.  Sounds easy doesn’t it.  Give it a shot. I couldn’t do it. I’m still trying to do it, especially for this new manuscript I’m working on.

A high concept takes this a bit further. What makes your story different? Does it have mass audience appeal? Is your story problem strong enough to carry the story? Are the stakes high enough for your character?  All of these are tests for a great concept. Why write this first? Well, if you nail this, you nail your story.  Alexandra Sokoloff has a great blog on premise to help with this.

That appealed to me. I’m a plotter. I generally know more about what happens in the story before I really know the characters.  This usually bites me when I’m about half way through the draft and my characters suddenly decide they don’t want to do what I tell them to do.  Then it’s down the rabbit hole I go. Or I’m completely rewriting the draft a dozen times to make it better. Frankly, I’m tried of taking a year to write one book. Too many stories are in my head.

400x400_concept_mediumHaving a strong concept and getting to know my characters up front will hopefully keep me from tripping into rabbit holes.  Notice the word “hopefully.”

This blog just touches the very tip of the iceberg with these concepts. You can attend whole conferences on these.  In fact, I’m interested in taking one of those. I did stumble upon some great websites while researching this blog.  So for more information, check out these as well as the ones listed above:

Hooks and Log Lines:

Great site on screen writing: Check out his blog on Blake Synder’s beat sheet from Save the Cat.

Speaking of Blake Snyder: His blog is great! His book Save the Cat! is great and a fun read.

Rachelle Gardner on high concept:

Thanks to Cynthia Cooke for her great workshop for Carolina Romance Writers.  I’d have never ventured into this topic had I not learned so much from her. If you get the chance to hear Cynthia talk on this subject, jump on it. She’s amazing.


16 thoughts on “Tropes, Log Lines, and High Concepts, Oh My

  1. Amy, glad to know I’m not the only one who’s somehow gotten into Romance writing after consuming books on script/screenwriting! It was actually while reading McKee’s book that the thought first pinged through my head, “Hey…i could do this.”

    Thanks for all the links – lots to explore! And you are certainly not alone in constantly herding cats with story ideas, while struggling to finish just ONE at a time!

    (btw – If you ever have a chance to attend McKee’s 1-day ‘Love Story’ seminar, I thoroughly recommend it. For a crinkly old guy, he does ‘get’ romance. And you’d never guess that he gets teary-eyed every time he watches the ending of ‘Bridges of Madison County’!! #truestory)

  2. When I did Entangled’s NaNo bootcamp, they provided an extensive list of tropes, since they wanted us to nail our concept. I saved it for use after the bootcamp ended, and whenever an idea or set of characters get stuck at the idea stage, I pull it out the list and see what trope can turn the idea into a concept and then a plot.

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