The Hunt for the Big Idea: How to Find an Idea and Make it Feel Important to Your Reader

  • Looking for big ideas? You may want to procrastinate… strategically!
  • My 3-step procrastinating process for hunting down big ideas (that involves cake).
  • What is a “high concept” and why is it important?
  • Why reading books about screenwriting can help you find your “uniquely familiar” big idea.

I’m working on a new project for a health expert in the diabetes niche, which means… 

I’m on the hunt for a Big Idea.

It cracks me up how after all these years, whenever I start a new project, I circle back to the same basic principles:

  1. What’s the Big Idea?
  2. What’s the problem you solve?
  3. Can you prove it?

We’ll talk about the other two questions at another time, but for now, I’m idea hunting, so here’s what I did…

I grabbed my go-to strategy which is: 

Do something completely different.

Some people call this procrastinating, but I like to think it’s a much more elevated technique. 🙂

My version of “doing something completely different” involves me choosing from a list of activities and books that I’ve collected, knowing that I’d get to them in the elusive “someday.”

The activities and books have to be cool.

They have to be at least as appealing as other procrastinating activities… like eating chocolate ice cream while watching TLC reruns.

And they have to be somehow related to writing or persuasion.

Strategic Procrastination

So yesterday’s “Strategic Procrastination Session” involved 3 things:

1- Enjoying a piece of only slightly stale chocolate cake (Judge not. My daughter made it and she did a great job.)

2- Watching a YouTube video of a live British mentalist show. Very amusing, and got my brain firing in all new directions.

3- And reading chapter one of a book on screenwriting. 

The book was interesting because it was written from the perspective of a script READER. 

This guy was sick and tired of reading lame scripts, so he wrote a book on how to be interesting, just to make his job more tolerable. 

I respect that.

Why I read books on screenwriting

Even though I have no desire to write a film script, I read lots of books on screenwriting. Why?

Screenwriting teaches you to start in the middle of the action, which is a useful tool for writing compelling copy.

Here’s how I found this particular book:

My friend is a copywriter who also writes fiction.

She heard great things about a 1979 screenwriting book that had long since gone out of print and had become terribly hard to find. 

Luckily for us both, a quick Amazon search revealed that it had been reprinted this year. (Presumably by popular demand.)

The book shared an interesting twist on Big Ideas.

Big Ideas in film lingo are called, “high concepts.” 

A high concept is what you and I know as the logline. It’s often printed on the movie poster or repeated in reviews and Netflix descriptions.

If you can name a movie based on its one-sentence description, then you know the movie had a killer high concept. 

An example would be, an alien makes friends with a young boy, but still wants to call home… that’s E.T.

Or, a boy goes back in time to make sure his parents fall in love… that’s Back to the Future.

The counterintuitive reason why new ideas need to sound familiar, if you want them to become Big Ideas

The book explained that high concepts need to be “uniquely familiar.”

What does that mean?

First, let’s quickly define unique as new. 

(Although you could also define it as “one of a kind,” which would be more accurate. But for the sake of argument, assume new things are unique just because they’re new.)

The newness appeals to intellectual curiosity.

Brain stuff.

Second, let’s define familiar as “feels like family.” 

(Not a bad definition since familiar and family have the same root word.)

The familiarity appeals to emotional resonance.

Gut stuff.

Third, put those ideas together.

How to craft Big Ideas almost out of thin air

To craft a Big Idea, you need an idea that appeals to the reader’s heart and brain at the same time.

Which means…

  • Your idea doesn’t have to be fancy.
  • It doesn’t have to be complicated.
  • It doesn’t have to be high brow.

It just has to be ONE idea, that’s new (or presented in a new way) that feels comfortably familiar.

Now I don’t know about you, but suddenly I feel much better about the hunt for the Big Idea.

The takeaway is: 

Look for something you’ve felt before… that you can present in a new way.

You don’t have to wring your hands, stare at the walls, or bemoan the fact that all the good ideas are taken.

Go by feel.

Look for things that spark the “oh wow” effect.

And then try to connect the feeling to the intellectual spark.

And most of all, have fun!

What’s next: If you’d like to discover how a former 9th grade Algebra teacher/SAHM helps multi-million-dollar businesses increase sales with simple “teach for action” techniques, then go to