Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday’s Writing: Creating Loglines

womanwritingWhat is a log line?  It’s the essence of your entire novel – or movie – boiled down to one or two sentences.

Sound crazy? Well, it’s not. Loglines have a lot of impact on your writing, as well as being a great device for when you’re in the elevator with the publisher, editor or agent whose attention you need to grab in 50 words or less!

The following is an excerpt from my book, Naked Writing: The No Frills Way to Write Your Book                !Naked Writing Cover
First of all, be brave. Write down your novel idea. How long is your description? A few pages? A page? Three paragraphs? A couple of sentences?
If your answer was the last option, a couple of sentences, then you're in luck. That's exactly what I want you to do - boil your entire story idea down into two or three crisp, bright sentences. This usually sets students off into groans and moans, but later when they realize what a valuable exercise it is, they're delighted.

Why should you express your idea in so few words? Several reasons:

1) You want to know how strong your idea is. Will it last the course?
If you are able to write it down in two or three sentences, and it still makes sense and sparkles brightly, then you can be fairly sure you've a workable idea. If not, it might be that you need to set it aside until other parts of the puzzle pop into your head.

I always keep an ideas file on my computer. I used to just scribble down notes, but in the end I had several purses crammed with bits of paper, receipts, and paper napkins, all with unintelligible scribbles that once were great ideas. I still scribble down ideas when they come to me - but as soon as I can, I type them into my computer file. Funnily enough, by the time I do this I have a lot more detail for the idea.

Antidote for a Weak Idea: Set it aside in your Ideas File, and read it every now and again - strengthening additions will occur to you. Look at your file to see if any other ideas can be merged to form a stronger whole. Ideas do not arrive in our heads fully formed, sometimes they come in bits and pieces and the smart writer is alert enough to capture them as they arrive.

2) Now you have this one paragraph mini outline. It keeps you focused on your story. Write it out on sticky notes and apply to your computer monitor, your diary - even the bathroom mirror if you dare!

3) This short form is your pitch to an editor or agent. In screenwriting, it's called a 'logline' and is used to capture the attention of producers and directors. In our case, we're going to nurture this simple paragraph, use it at the beginning of query letters and as the basis for the synopsis which is our selling tool when the book is finished and ready to do the rounds of publishers and agents.

See how useful this logline is? So how do you do it?

Take the most important part of your idea, add the names of the two main characters, and describe the problem they must overcome. Here are some examples from well known books:
Consider these:
A young couple fall in love and vow to remain together despite the opposition of their families and an edict from the ruling prince, but a misunderstanding brings about tragic consequences - Romeo and Juliet

A rebel leader goes up against the might of Rome, is betrayed by his own people, and is martyred. But his teachings of love and peace live on and are still celebrated 2000 years later – Jesus Christ, The New Testament

A man and woman struggle against powerful opposition to solve the riddle of an ancient code and find a precious artifact. They learn the truth about it, and in doing so they learn the truth about themselves and fall in love. But they face a dilemma when they find the artifact and realize the dangers it could pose. - The Da Vinci Code

A man whose family has worked a piece of land for generations believes it should be his, and is willing to kill to hold onto it. But his stubbornness results in the death of his only surviving son and he is left to question the true value of the land he so coveted - The Field.

Try it – I guarantee when you see how much this exercise clarifies your novel or non-fiction idea, and how useful it can be as part of your pitch, query letter, and later on, promotion, you’ll learn to love loglines!
                             And here’s a bit of shameless self-perf5.000x8.000.inddpromotion: My latest romantic suspense, Another Man’s Son, is now out in print. It’s part of the delightful Lobster Cove series from The Wild Rose Press, and you can read the first chapter on my website here.


  1. Ah, you've made sense of what often proves to be a painful exercise. I suspect it would be good practice for me to write these for past works and whenever I begin a new one, as a kind of touchstone. My problem is, I don't really write my books--they write me! Thanks for the interesting post.

    1. Glad it helped, Laura! Thanks for commenting.- you're right, writing a logline is great practice. I find the easiest time to write them is when I'm well into the writing - that time when you know enough about your story to understand its essence, but also to benefit from seeing what it's all about :-)

  2. I find loglines difficult, perhaps because I tend to be long-winded! But I agree they are very useful, especially if I ever find myself in an elevator with an agent.

    1. Nice to hear from you, Jana! Actually, I think writing loglines gets easier the more you do them - like 'training' your brain to think in that minimalist way.Here's hoping that you find yourself in an elevator (or elsewhere) with the agent of your dreams and a perfectly impressive logline!