Plot Busters – THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE – High concept?

We’re going to spend the next few weeks studying this incredible book. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson.

Okay, truth time. I put off reading this book for a long time– why? I’m not even sure anymore. I chose it specifically for studying structure to see if a fiercely character-driven and more literary book would hold up to structure. And I’m so glad I read it. So, let’s take a look.

Logline: (from the inside cover)

In the months after her sister dies, seventeen-year-old Lennie falls into a love triangle and discovers the strength to follow her dream of becoming a musician.

High concept or no?

Doesn’t sound it from this description, does it?

But I’m going to say yes. This is about something big. Death and grieving and survival. And that pushes it up into the arena of high concept, for me, anyway. You are free to disagree.

1. Does the character offer the most conflict for the situation?

Lennie lived in the shadow of her older sister, Bailey. And now she has to learn to live without her. I’d call that conflict. Not shoot ‘em up conflict but still powerful.

2. Does she have the longest way to go emotionally?

Yes. A very big yes. She wasn’t a particular strong person before her sister died. And similar to the above question, she not only has to overcome grief, she has to figure out who she is as a person. As an only child.

3. Demographically pleasing?

Again. Yes. A teen girl dealing with death. Many, many teens deal with loss. Almost anyone can relate to this story.

4. Is it primal?

I probably don’t have to answer this one. But any story dealing with life and death is primal. So, another big yes!

By definition and compared to other “big” stories, the logical person would say this book is not high concept. But, to me, this story was BIG. It was more than just a sweet romance or mystery. Through out the story, Lennie works through her grief and has to decide whether to truly live her life or not.

What do you think? High concept or not?

Come back next Monday for a look at Act I of this terrific book.

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30 Responses to Plot Busters – THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE – High concept?

  1. christine danek October 24, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    I have this book and haven’t read it yet. I know it’s good though (I’ve heard). I find this interesting. It’s simple, but still complex. Something I’m trying to do in my own writing.
    Can’t wait to check back.

  2. mooderino October 24, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Doesn’t sound like high concept. The themes are large (life, death etc) but high concept usually means a narrowing of the problem, not leaving it open ended like it sounds here. Not that it can’t be a good story dealing with those ‘what’s it all about’ type questions, and the actual story may have a very clear throughline (the threat, the stakes, the ‘enemy’…) but from the logline I don’t get any of that.


  3. Sheri Larsen October 24, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    I haven’t read it yet, so an answer to your question is hard for me to come up with. I find the topic of ‘high concept’ interesting. It seems it’s quite discretionary.

    • Laura October 24, 2011 at 11:59 am #

      I agree, the logline doesn’t do the story justice at all! The story itself was so big, but most would come to the conclusion that it’s not high concept. But I wouldn’t exactly call it a quiet book either.

  4. Stina Lindenblatt October 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    I have to reread the book after an agent compared my wip to the book. She was using it as a comparison for topic of grieving (it certainly wasn’t comparing our writing lol).

    I can’t wait to read the rest of your posts on the book, Laura.

  5. Creepy Query Girl October 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    I don’t know. I think high concept means it will appeal to a lot of audiences for a lot of reasons. Age, premise, hook, and some aspect that speaks to a lot of people should do it I suppose. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Matthew MacNish October 24, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    I haven’t actually read this yet, but I think it proves that internal conflict can be just as high concept as external.

  7. Susan Kaye Quinn October 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    I think this is a great example of a book that doesn’t seem high concept, but that can still find a BIG readership because it’s a powerful book (I’m going on your reaction, since I haven’t read it). High Concept is a shorthand, I think, a way that we’ve distilled down the idea of what should appeal to people. And it works – I wouldn’t pick up this book based on the description, but I would based on your reaction to it.

  8. Lydia K October 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    I liked this book. Part of me really enjoyed that the author incorporated poetry with the story and that was something unique for me.

    • Laura October 24, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

      Matthew I think you nailed it. The external plot isn’t high concept but the internal conflict/plot is. Thank you. 🙂

      Susan – I think for the longest time that’s why I didn’t read it! Because of the description. I thought it would be too slow. And it might’ve been in the hands of a different writer, but it’s the writing and Lennie’s story that made this BIG for me.

  9. Sarah Pearson October 24, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    I haven’t read this one yet, although I want to. It will be interesting to see if I agree with you 🙂

  10. Lisa Green October 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    See? And the way I think of high concept I wouldn’t describe this that way. BUT I can also see your point. Can you say “wishy washy”?

  11. Karen Strong October 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Looking forward to your analysis, which I always enjoy. I have put off reading this book as well, but I may have to move up to in TBR pile now. 🙂

  12. Karen Strong October 24, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    #fauxnano – Ha, loves it! 🙂

    As you know, I’m a plot chick and one of the reasons that I love advance plotting is that if I get stuck with a particular scene, I just skip over it and go to another one.

    And I think most people misunderstand advance plotting — it can change. My plot has changed several times based on how the characters evolve, so your outline isn’t written in stone, it’s a living thing!

    Good luck with Project Fun! 🙂

  13. Christina Lee October 24, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    oh oh oh so in love with this book!!! I’d say yes to high concept ( I think…maybe…what do I know)! O_o

  14. Natalie Aguirre October 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Thanks for sharing about this. Casey and everyone else I know who has read this raves about it. I should read it too.

  15. Leigh Moore October 24, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    ooo, very interesting, L. At first you’re right, it doesn’t sound high concept at all. But when you break it down like that, I guess it is…

    everyone keeps talking about this book. 😀

  16. Karen Lange October 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    I haven’t read this one yet, but from your description, I’d say it sounds like it has some big conflict. How could it not? Losing a loved one is usually an emotional thing. Given her circumstances too, it just sounds like it is turmoil waiting to happen.

  17. Heather Kelly October 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    I also didn’t pick this book up for the longest time–I love big concept, and the description for this book doesn’t do it justice. But when I did….

    This is one of my favorite books!

    I love it because it captures life. Life is messy. Life is about love, death, mistakes and figuring out how to live as ourselves. Awesome internal conflict. Big internal conflict.

    Me loving this book shows why we should all read in all genres. 🙂

  18. Jonathon Arntson October 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    Can I be blunt? The cover has prevented me from picking up the book. I just hate the cover so much. I need to find a hardcover and take the jacket off. That’s what I need to do.

  19. Lynda R Young October 24, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    Everyone seems to have a different definition of what High Concept is. It certainly doesn’t sound like it to me from the description. I’ve put this book on my TBR list.

  20. Leslie Rose October 25, 2011 at 12:32 am #

    Clearly high stakes, but based on the SAVE THE CAT take on high concept, I’d go with no. It is a primal topic that many teens may not yet have had experience with. Intriguing!

    • Laura October 25, 2011 at 3:45 am #

      Thanks everyone! This book might not technically be high concept, but it is in my book. 🙂

  21. Traci Kenworth October 25, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Death and grief are high concept to me, so I vote yes on your take. Looking forward to seeing more of your opinion on this book and others.

  22. Patti October 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    I haven’t ready the book and I guess whether its high concept or not depends largely on your own definition.

  23. Ghenet Myrthil October 25, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    I loved this book. I don’t think I would have considered this high-concept before but you make valid points!

  24. Margo Berendsen October 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    You make a good case, pointing out that this book fits the high concept criteria when initially it looks like it doesn’t.

    I’m fascinated and plan to read this book now. Sibling dynamics and loss – a powerful mix.

  25. Gail Shepherd October 25, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    I’d say NOT high concept. And it surprises me that the logline is so quiet and even (dare I say it?) hackneyed? You can hardly open a Y/A or M/G now where somebody hasn’t died: either the main character or her best friend or her mother or… And a love triangle? And, the big question is whether or not she’ll become a musician?

    I’m totally believing that this is a beautiful book (and I’ll buy it and read it along with you), but for me, this logline sums up why it’s so hard to sell quiet or literary fiction. It has almost nothing to set it apart from dozens of other books with similar plots and themes. My bet is: It’s all in the (most likely gorgeous) writing.

  26. Julie Musil October 27, 2011 at 2:06 am #

    I’m so glad you did this post! I didn’t think of it as high concept, and even had trouble picking out the structural elements. But now that you’ve broken it down, I can see where you’re coming from. See? You’re brilliant!

  27. Joyce November 1, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    I told you that this was a must read. SO glad you finally gave in! I can’t wait to read ACT 1 post.

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