My story "Valentine" appears with three other wonderful love stories by authors and Kameko Murakami.
For those of you with published books, do you have a good logline? Back in my screenwriting days, the logline was the most important marketing tool I had. Have 10 seconds in an elevator with someone? Pitch them your story in one sentence. If you can't do that, you don't have a story.
Now that I'm writing books, that still comes up. How many people find out you're writing a book and say, "Oh, really? What's it about?" How do you answer that question? If you have a good logline, you can answer them easily. I would argue that being able to write a good logline will also help you write a better story -- if you're stuck on some part of the writing, stop and try to write your logline. Breaking the story down to its very essence can sometimes help you see where your blocks are.
When I look at some of the books on Amazon, some of them are missing loglines. I want to know right away what it's about. Instead, I get a meandering paragraph that might give me a few teasing ideas about the book. I'd love to see novelists be able to "sell" their books the same way screenwriters do -- with a compelling sentence.
The attached article lists 10 great tips for writing a good logline. I've copied most of the text here. You can see that it's geared toward script writers, but change the word "script" to "novel" and I think it still applies.
1. A logline must have the following
- the protagonist
- their goal
- the antagonist/antagonistic force
2. Don’t use a character name
It has no intrinsic information and so is a useless word. Instead, tell us something about the character. [what's his occupation? What kind of person is he?]
3. Use an adjective to give a little depth to that character
This is your chance to show some character. Beware of cliche, and also of the power of irony. It’s helpful if the characteristic you describe will have something to do with the plot. [Irony is wonderful here. Is he a warrior who's afraid of water? Is it a housewife who doubles as a CIA agent? What makes your character interesting?]
4. Clearly and quickly present the protagonist’s main goal
This is what drives your story and it will drive your logline too. Make sure that the goal is present early in the script – if you don’t make good on your logline’s promise early enough the rest of the script won’t get read.
5. Describe the Antagonist
The antagonist should be described in a similar, but preferably shorter, manner than the hero. If the hero faces a more general antagonistic force then make it clear that they are battling something, not just life’s bumps and buffets.
Here's an example from a logline for Jurassic Park: A family struggles to escape a remote island park whose main attractions—_genetically restored dinosaurs_ —have been set loose by a power failure.
6. Make sure your protagonist is pro-active
He or she should drive the story and do so vigorously. A good logline will show the action of the story, the narrative momentum that carries you through the script. In some cases the protagonist will be reactive, but note, this is not the same as passive.
7. If you can, include stakes and/or a ticking time-bomb
These are very useful narrative devices that add urgency to your script. If they fit in easily, include them in your logline.
Some scripts operate in a world with different rules to our own and require a brief setup to explain them, e.g. most science-fiction stories. Others have a protagonist whose personal or psychological history is crucial to the story and needs to be explained. Again, be brief.
- In a world where all children are grown in vats…
- Driven to a mental breakdown by an accident at work, an aquarium manager…
9. About the ending
Do not reveal the script’s supercool twist ending, even if it is the next The Usual Suspects. The story, and thus the logline, should be good enough to hold up by itself; a surprise ending should be a lovely bonus found when reading the script.
10. Don’t tell the story, sell the story
Create a desire to see the script as well as telling them what’s in it. Loglines are like poetry, every word counts. Tinker, test, and tinker some more.
Want to pitch me your story in one sentence or less?
Try it here in the comments. We can all help each other create succinct, compelling loglines. Give plusses to your favorite ones. If your first attempt bombs, try again. The best way to learn to compact your story into one sentence is to practice often. What's the essence of your story?
Feel free to link to your book AFTER your logline. This should be good practice with pitching those stories to potential readers.
And oh, Vickie... the smell of AquaNet is equal parts the smell of feeling pretty and feeling horribly inadequate. You nailed it.
- Cameron D. Garriepy | Writer of FictionsAuthor, 2006 - present
- BlogmuttFreelance Content Blogger, 2011 - present
- Write on EdgeEditor, 2011 - present
I also recently founded Bannerwing Books, a fledgeling independent publishing imprint. My goal with Bannerwing is to offer my experience and skills in self-publishing to other independent authors, and to harness our collective energy for the benefit of all.
- Middlebury CollegeMusic, 1995 - 1999
- Cambridge School of Culinary ArtsProfessional Chef's Certification, 2002 - 2003