Writing Lesson 3.19 – Say What…?

I just read this headline:

Icebreaker Makes Push to Reach Iced-In Alaska City

and my caring nature*, couple with my earnest desire to be reassured of the imminent safety of my stranded fellow countrymen, forced me to click and read the article immediately.

*ahem, yes, sarcasm…but really, I DID click.

Within three paragraphs I learned that Russian barges are cutting through the ice at a rate of about 5 miles per hour to sell Alaskans some oil because they might run out before Spring.

Say what? Where’s the fast-paced drama, the life-or-death stakes, the selfless sacrifice to save mankind?

I feel a little duped, click the big X in the corner. Screen closed.

That’s what happens with all too many books, I’m afraid.

Picture yourself at your local bookstore. You walk in, and the smell of java and fresh ink makes you a bit giddy. You wander the aisles until a cover catches your eye. Maybe the title is clever or the artwork is arresting. Either way, unless this happens, you don’t pick up the book. You just walk right by. Same thing happens if you’re browsing Amazon for an ebook. You scan the lists of titles and thumbnail images. If nothing catches your eye, it’s as if the book did not exist because, for you, it didn’t.

But something DOES catch your eye. Giddiness becomes anticipation. What next? You read the book’s description and take a peek at the first page or two.

A good story needs a high concept–a compelling need to conquer an obstacle before a looming deadline.

And that’s why the story above lost my interest. It seemed to be purely a commercial venture. The ships are well equipped to cut through ice, and they’re in no particular hurry. No one is in any immediate danger of freezing to death.

Ho-hum. The book goes back on the shelf.


  • Analyze a favorite thriller or adventure story (book or video). What’s at stake? Why can’t the hero just walk away or call 911 and wait for the authorities?
  • Take a cold, heartless look at your current writing project. What’s at stake? Why can’t your hero walk away? What compels him (or her) to fight through?
  • The American patriot Thomas Paine said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Recognize that few people leave the comfort of normal life except for the fear of loss or hope of gain.

In telling a story with a high concept you will not have to preach to inspire and encourage moral greatness in your readers.

The lessons will unfold naturally from context and be all the more memorable. Everyone needs a hero.

About Lynn Dean

Lynn Dean dictated her first story before she could write and continued to write stories, illustrate them, and bind them into books throughout childhood. As a homeschooling mom, she enjoyed passing a love for writing to her own children and ten years of co-op students.

Read more about Lynn.

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