I used to try to teach from the perspective of an editor, but I found that my thinking was flawed. Why? Because editors are like building inspectors. We have skills best used on a finished product. We are trained to look for problems. Is that a good skill? Sure. But do building inspectors design buildings? No. Architects do. Architects employ creativity and vision to create a final structure. Hopefully, they will have the necessary skills to create and design a structure that will meet code standards.
Creativity and vision are not enough. Architects need to learn mathematics and physics. They need to understand that a picture window might be real pretty, but if they put that sucker in a load-bearing wall, they won’t pass inspection and that they even risk a fatal collapse.
Aestheticism must align with pragmatism.
This made me step back and learn to become an architect. When it comes to plotting, I hope to teach you guys how to have the creative vision of the designer, but with the practical understanding of an inspector.
In Lesson One, we discussed plot on a micro-scale. Lesson Two we panned back for an aerial shot, and discussed common plot problems that arise from a flawed structure. In Lesson Three we discussed the single most important component to plot, the opposition, and last week I gave you a tested method to make sure your core idea was solid enough to be the foundation for an entire novel.
So what’s this log-line thingy?
Basically, you should be able to tell someone (an agent) what your story is about in one sentence. That is called the “log-line.” Log-lines are used in Hollywood to pitch movies. In fact, a book that should be in every writer’s library is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a book on screenwriting, but every writer can benefit enormously from Snyder’s teaching.
In the world of screenwriting there is a tenet, “Give me the same, but different.” This axiom still holds true when it comes to novels. Our story cannot go so far off the deep end that readers cannot relate, but yet our story needs to be different enough that people don’t just think it’s a retread. We as writers have to negotiate this fine balance of same but different, and that is no easy task.
So let’s look at components of a great log-line:
Great log-lines are short and clear. I cannot tell you how many writers I talk to and I ask, “So what’s your book about?” and they take off rambling for the next ten minutes. Often why writers are so terrified of the pitch session is that they cannot clearly state what their book is about in three sentences or less.
Here is a little insider information. When we cannot whittle our entire story into three sentences that is a clear sign to agents and editors that our story is structurally flawed. Not always, but more often than not. Your goal should be ONE sentence. What is your story about?
A good log-line is ironic. Irony gets attention and hooks interest. Here’s an example:
The Green Mile is about the lives of guards on death row leading up to the execution of a black man accused of rape and child murder who has the power of faith healing.
What can be more ironic than a murderer having the power of healing? Think of the complex emotions that one sentence evokes, the moral complications that we just know are going to blossom out of the “seed idea.”
A good log-line is emotionally intriguing.
A good log-line tells the entire story. Like a movie, you can almost see the entire story play out in your head.
During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.
Didn’t you just see the entire movie play out in your head with that ONE sentence? Apparently Steven Spielberg did, too and that’s why he took Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park and made it into a blockbuster movie.
A good log-line will interest potential readers.
Good log-lines exude inherent conflict. Conflict is interesting. Blake Snyder talks about taking his log-line with him to Starbucks and asking strangers what they thought about his idea. This is a great exercise for your novel. Pitch to friends, family, and even total strangers and watch their reaction. Did their eyes glaze over? Did the smile seem polite or forced? If you can boil your book down into one sentence that generates excitement for the regular person, then you know you are on a solid path for your novel.
Yet, if your potential audience looks confused or bored or lost, then you know it is time to go back to the drawing board. But the good news is this; you just have to fix ONE sentence. You don’t have to go rewrite, revise a novel that is confusing, convoluted, boring, arcane, ridiculous, etc.
Think of your one sentence as your scale-model or your prototype. If the prototype doesn’t generate excitement and interest, it is unlikely the real thing will succeed. So revise the prototype until you find something that gets the future audience genuinely excited.
You Have Your Log-Line. Now What?
Your log-line is the core idea of your story. This will be the beacon of light in the darkness so you always know where the shore is versus the open sea. This sentence will keep you grounded in the original story you wanted to tell and keep you from prancing down bunny trails.
Back when I ran a novel writing critique group, every participant was required to tell what their story was about in ONE sentence before we ever started plotting. If the writer wandered too far off track, then we as his teammates knew to do one of two things. 1) Assist the writer in changing the plot to get him back on track. Remember the core idea. Or 2) Change the original idea.
The Fear Factor
Fear is probably the most common emotion shared by writers. The newer we are the more fear we will feel. A side-effect of fear is to emotionally distance from the source of our discomfort. The log-line will help you spot that emotional distancing and root it out early.
I have seen two behaviors in all my time working with writers. Either a writer will wander off down the daffodil trail because he is afraid he lacks the skills to tell the story laid out in the log-line, OR the writer will water down the log-line to begin with. Through future plotting the writer will realize hidden strength…then he can go revise the plotting or revise the log-line.
The best way to learn how to write log-lines is to go look at the IMDB. Look up your favorite movies and see how they are described. You can even look up movies that bombed and very often see the log-line was weak and the movie was doomed from the start. Look up movies similar to the story you are writing. Look up movies similar to the story you want to tell.
Solid novel log-lines will have 1) your protagonist 2) active verb 3) active goal 4) antagonist 5) stakes.
Here is a log-line I wrote for Michael Crichton’s Prey.
An out-of-work computer programmer (protagonist) must uncover (active verb) the secrets his wife is keeping in order to destroy (active goal) the nano-robotic threat (antagonist) to human-kind’s existence (stakes).
Hopefully you can see how this log-line meets all the criteria I set out earlier.
This log-line is ironic. An out-of-work programmer will uncover the robotic threat.
It’s emotionally intriguing. The main gatekeeper to the problem is his wife. This spells logistical and emotional complication to me.
It will interest potential readers. Considering it was a best-seller, I think Crichton did well.
So here is an exercise. See if you can state your novel in one sentence. It will not only help add clarity to your writing and keep you on track, but when it comes time to pitch an agent, you will be well-prepared and ready to knock it out of the park. Practice on your favorite movies and books. Work those log-line muscles!
What are some problems you might be having? Do you find you wander too far off your original idea? What are your struggles with remaining focused?
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Reblogged this on Wade Lancaster.
ACK! Darn you, Kristen. I don’t want to have to change my story just so I can create a decent log-line.
Just kidding. I’m still switching things around, amping up one part, dialing down another, sometimes throwing a scene out altogether, because I want to make the story the best it can be. Your blogs are helping. They remind me what’s important and what’s just an exercise in ego because *snort* I’m such a great writer.
Log-line, here I come. Again and again and again, until I get it right.
Very informative – now need to do my over for sure! Thanks Kristen.
Great post! Thank you for sharing. I’ve been able to make my story description “elevator pitch” length, but not logline yet. My main struggle is that I have a paranormal protagonist, whose body parts detach. There’s not a name per se for that (vampire, wereworld, mermaid…), but I can’t just say “falls apart” which connotes emotionally, and I can’t say “physical anomaly” because that doesn’t seem paranormal. I’ve toyed with “abnormal” but it seems too vague. Any thoughts on concise wording for that?
Amy: Why not try: “…whose body parts detach.
Well look at that! Haha, I suppose I could, that could still make a one-sentence logline. I just kept trying to think of way to say it in one or two words as adjective or noun, but I suppose a short phrase isn’t bad either. Thanks for pointing out that blind spot I had.
Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.
Amy: I thought the same thing as Frank… just using “body parts that detach.” That whole little phrase immediately perked up my interest in your story! Good luck!
Thank you DJ, I’m glad to hear that. I don’t know how I missed it, but its encouraging to know that works. I will definitely use that phrase for my logline now.
I’m formulating something new inside my head. A very basic logline for it is, “The Breakfast Club set inside an orthopedic hospital.” I used your suggestion and looked up the logline for the movie, so now I have, “Five teens, all with different physical limitations and backgrounds, meet in an orthopedic hospital for children, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.” Hmmm… I don’t think that works. I think I’ll stick with my original one for now, but your post has me thinking about it. There’s another logline percolating. I’ll put more thought into it.
I think I got it!
A dancer fears a potentially disabling surgery and meets four other teens with worse disabilities in an orthopedic hospital.
Oooh that sounds interesting! I’d be careful about “worse disabilities” though. That could be a matter of perspective. I once did a clinical rotation at an orthopedic rehab and there were 2 patients who were recovering from the same procedure. One was a chipper elderly woman who cheerfully did her exercises and the other was a 40 something man who complained anytime he moved at all. lol 😉 Instead of “worse,” you might go with “varying” or simply “other.” Just food for thought. 🙂
Thanks. The MC and one other are the only two who can walk. I wrote “worse” because my MC comes face to face with people her own age who have it worse than her but are in many ways not much different from her, but I can simply say “other.”
What is the GOAL? There is nothing active that I can see, just a lot of talking about disabilities which doesn’t sound like a good time to me. How about, “A dancer facing a potentially disabling surgery finds the courage to X after bonding with other teens in an orthopedic hospital.”
I like that. Thanks. There is no active goal in “The Breakfast Club,” which is why I struggled following its example.
But the CLUB is also the protagonist, much like Joy Luck Club. And each teen does have an active goal within each story, much like Joy Luck Club. The goal of each in the Breakfast Club is to move beyond stereotypes. They are not only suffering from living up to the stereotype, they are not reaching out because they are stereotyping those around them.
Great stuff, as always. Now I need to put it into practice.
A sweet, hard working man takes a business trip to Italy with his wife and daughter, and ends up having a hilarious midlife crisis with his beautiful young Italian assistant.
Um, I dunno…
Might make the protagonist unlikeable just from what I see here.
On a business trip to Italy, a happily married man struggles with a midlife crisis brought on by his beautiful young assistant.
Food for thought.
Run-on sentences are allowed, then? Or required?
Great log-line exercise, Kristen! I’ve been working with one that’s slightly different, but it’s great to add more tools to the toolbox.
My trilogy in three sentences.
Book 1: Can a Vampire with Down Syndrome survive?
Book 2: Can the Vampires make peace with the aliens?
Book 3: Can the Vampires survive on a planet full of predatory life forms?
This helps a lot. Breaking log-lines down to three parts makes it much less intimidating and mysterious for me. Thank you!
What happens if your active-verb and goal come out indirectly in your log-line? Should I rewrite it? I’m hesitant to post the premise of my WIP here since I’m only about 15 pages in.
I suggest you post the premise. Perhaps it’s a good thing that you’re only fifteen pages in.
Restaurant/Bar owner Archie White dotes on his youngest daughter, ten-year-old Frances, but the lifting of Prohibition puts her in imminent danger of her alcoholic mother, Mabel White.
Reblogged this on Lfaecp.
I’d like to think that a lot of writers (like myself) that think we can’t come up with a logline on the spot believe it’s less about flawed structure as it is “How the hell do I describe my book or trilogy in a single sentence that’ll actually make sense and not leave out something important?” We know what the book’s about, but we’re looking at it from the completed manuscript perspective, not the book jacket version. It’s a daunting request if you’re not prepared for it beforehand. 😉
A post-apocalyptic community tucked away in a cold northern environment. One of its leaders, Conor, must go back to the very roots of the demons that still haunt him, the nightmarish end to his family; even as his young wife, Maeve, an expert in potions and healing elixirs, must lead a group of armed guards on a separate mission. The warm season is short here, and so is the time they have to complete their journeys; else, all will be lost.
I promised myself I would not post my long sentence with so many commas – but i did!
What I’m seeing is two stories. Conor and Maeve are co-protagonists but with different missions.
Yes, but they link up at the end. Is it not a good idea to have two stories? They think about each other as they travel their separate ways, which tells the reader (I believe interesting and conflicting knowledge) about the other. (love sees things differently than reality will will out)
Thank you for your comments.
OH, shoot! I noticed on a comment later on that you recommend NOT to name names. Ok, back to the drawing board.
Reblogged this on jean's writing and commented:
Kristen Lamb is serving up great lessons on plotting along by nailing down a good logline. I agree, one of my favorite go to books is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Now the question for me is… which logline do I use? I’ve written several for same story. Sigh…
Try your log lines on other writers and friends.
And anyone else you can corner. 🙂
Since you introduced me to this concept (a year ago?), I won’t even consider brainstorming a novel if it doesn’t have a compelling log-line first. This directly coincides with Larry Brooks” teaching that we must know the novel’s premise before we can write it.
Good point Sharon. It seems I have some catching up to do before I develop my books further… Loglines here I come.
This is an outstanding post – thanks Kristen. I am now convinced about how important the logline is. And what’s more, I think you have provided excellent tools and examples to help me to do it for my books. Thanks!
Reblogged this on matthewRstitt.com and commented:
Good common sense advise
I just finished the first draft of my novel. I am currently going through the first edit. “After a world-wide infection anarchy is the norm. Erik and a group of prisoners fight the infected to stay alive within a walled city that has become a prison.”
Who is Erik and why do I (the reader) care? What is he? Also, staying alive is a passive goal. I try to stay alive every day. Pretty much my #1 goal 😉 .
Two observations: You need a comma after the word “infection.” A log line does not name the protagonist.
Thank you for catching that.
“After a world-wide infection, anarchy is the norm. A scientist, trying to hide his identity, and a group of prisoners are trapped within the terror-filled streets of a prison city.”
You need GSU – Goal, Stakes, Urgency.Your scientist is the protagonist. I’d leave out the group of prisoners. If I visualize the scenario, I see a group of people trapped without a goal. Are they trying to escape from the terror of the streets?
A scientist, hiding his identity from the infected-maddened rulers of a prison city, must escape so he can find a cure and prevent the destruction of the human race.
Goal – escape and find a cure
Stakes – the human race
Urgency – time is running out
This is really great. You have just critiqued my 40,000 word first draft without reading it. I just realized my protagonist spent the entire draft wandering around without a real goal. This gives a lot to go on. My internal editor was screaming about this.
“After a world-wide infection, anarchy is the norm. A alcoholic scientist, trying to hide his identity, is trapped within the terror-filled streets of a prison city. He stumbles upon a young girl and her family to find a whole new world changing event is about to happen and they are the only ones that can stop it.”
Excellent post! I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. Logline for A Season for Killing Blondes – A brunette lottery winner never has an alibi when dead blondes turn up in dumpsters near her favorite haunts. Joanne 🙂
A lottery winner struggles to explain why dead blondes turn up near her favorite haunts. It’s not a log line but captures the essence of your premise. What is the winner’s goal? What stakes are involved? Where is the urgency?
Works for scripts too! “A ghost investigates his own murder: which of his loved ones just killed him – and can he prove it?”
I like it!
Thanks! It is proving a challenge to keep the script close to the logline though – it’s hard to be a proactive hero when you’re a ghost…
Thanks for this! I challenged myself to create a log-line for Blood Toy today. https://bkraine.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/blood-toy-in-one-sentence/
bk: I read your log line. It’s good!
Loved the post—so timely. I’ve been working on mine…thought I had it, but have now refined it slightly:
My series begins with two adventuresome middle schoolers finding themselves dealing with troublesome classmates, a sinister professor and befriending a strange creature who happens to be the guardian for a portal to another world.
Well, here goes:
The last Priestess must remember her past, and learn to control the power of her heritage, in time to save the people of Earth from being wiped out.
Remembering past is passive and nonspecific. Clarify.
Good point. I’ve been working on this for a week and I’ve got a big fat zero. Back to the drawing board.
The last Priestess must uncover her hidden past to claim the power of the holy amulet that will save humanity from being wiped out by a gruesome spiritual virus.
Great post. I immediately started thinking of my wip log line before I even finished reading this post. So here goes: The new witch in town must unravel the mystery of herself and fight against her hunters before she can attend school again as a normal high school girl.
“Mystery of herself” too esoteric and nonspecific for me. We are all unraveling the mysteries of ourselves. Why is hers unique?
I just came from a writer’s pitch session last week, and they described it as 20 words or less that you could repeat by memory in an elevator to an agent or editor. It really forces you to focus on the main ideas without getting bogged down in all the details.
Good tip – thanks.
This is the shortest I have managed so far (for my current book ‘The Secret Life of Eloise’)
A lady’s maid escaping from revolution-torn France is not afraid of using her wits and her body to get what she wants, yet will she commit murder for the man she loves?
Reblogged this on Emily Arden, author and commented:
This is my first attempt at a log-line. I did it for the book I am currently working on (nearly finished) – ‘The Secret Life of Eloise’.
“A lady’s maid escaping from revolution-torn France is not afraid of using her wits and her body to get what she wants, yet will she commit murder for the man she loves?”
I found it really useful to do this, although I read somewhere that it should be nearer to 20 words (this is 32), so shorter is presumably better. Oh well – any feedback gratefully received.
Escaping from revolution-torn France, a lady’s maid uses her wits and her body to get what she wants but must contemplate murder for the man she loves.
good job – thanks Frank!
Yes! I try to do the log-line when I plot. I’ve read Save the Cat and have used some of that in my writing.
Reblogged this on Romance Done Write and commented:
Kristen always has great advice on writing. I totally agree with writing a log-line to nail down the simplest way to summarize your book. Read on, there’s some great stuff here!
Hello Kristen, I would appreciate your feedback on my log line. This is still in the works because there are some words that aren’t quite right. Here goes:
An exiled 17th century French woman must create a home across the ocean in New France where she is forced to live and endure long, freezing winters, some violent natives, and food shortages otherwise she will have a troublesome, short life like many other exiled women who died.
Thanks for this immensely helpful series. It’s saving me from a muddled manuscript with lots of problems.
p.s. This story is based on my French Ancestors who came to Canada. Should I include that as an introduction to my log line?
I think your logline needs to tell us why she is forced to live in New France.
Try this: Forced to endure a brutal existence, an exiled French woman must overcome violent natives, freezing temperatures and food shortages or else face certain death.
Frank, I wrote & rewrote mine wondering what parts of the story to leave out. Your version of my logline is the basic skeleton to the story and satisfies all the requirements. Thank you! ?
You provide helpful perspectives for many of the loglines in the comments. Do you have a logline for a WIP? I would love to read it.
Kristen – As an expert in loglines, I would love to have your perspective! ?
Actually I do. I am finishing a book called “The God Code” and the log-line is:
A white hat hacker must uncover the truth behind a rash of abductions in order to stop a black magic priestess from redesigning the human race in order to destroy the notion of free will and sell it to the highest bidder.
Wow, what an excellent article! Thank you for the advice, it is much appreciated. It made me think of the log line for my book Bliss & Despair immediately, but it is not easy! Here is my attempt:
A young artist discovers her old journal in the attic and embarks on an emotional journey to uncover the reasons behind a bizarre connection she shared with a perplexing loner classmate in order to save her sanity.
I have enjoyed this series immensely. Here is my log-line for my novel in progress called ‘Spirit of the Jaguar’:
During the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire one woman’s faith and courage spurns the might of the conquistadors. After 400 years, another woman discovers her story and the revolution to restore the country’s heritage begins again.
The novel has been written as two books but if I self-publish they will be in one volume.
Thank you for helping me fill the hole in my doughnut of a story… Because of you I’ll have a pastry or a book once I’m done!
I love this post. Very inspiring. I play with different log lines for my novels all the time, trying to find just the right one and just the right structure without being vague or misleading. An observation here: In the log line you sight above “The Green Mile is about the lives of guards on death row leading up to the execution of a black man accused of rape and child murder who has the power of faith healing.” The structure of this sentence is faulty and misleading: “lives of guards on death row” suggests the guards are on death row like the prisoners. And “leading up to the execution” … what is leading up to the execution? There’s no logical subject for this action. And the “who has the power of faith healing” modifies “child murder” suggesting that it’s the child who has the power of healing. This is the challenge in writing effective log lines: they must be clear to the reader as well as emotionally intriguing. (I’ve not read The Green Mile and didn’t see the movie)
I didn’t write that one. IMDB did 🙂 .
I’m certain you didn’t, Kristen. I would rewrite it this way: Prison guards discover a black man’s faith healing powers as he faces execution for raping and murdering a child.
You should work for IMDB! 😀
Thank you, Kristen.
Great article! I’ve had trouble trying to condense my plot into a one line and this has put my struggles into perspective. Away to more editing! *swoops away sobbing*
Great job! I always have a hard time with the log-line pitch for my works. The person that spends ten minutes talking about their story, yeah, that’s me. This gives me hope, hehe, that I can get it out well. Thank you!
Haha! Thanks so much for that funny evening, when I tried myself on a log line that wouldn´t scare any readers away… 😉
Here it is:
When Alex meets a strange girl, she has no idea that she faces her own shadow, who has come to guide her back home, where darkness is lurking and where the Lord Of The Shadows can´t wait to get control over the Heir of the Light…
Well, originally it´s written in german, and I tinkered with it for hours.BUT!! I had some really interesting ideas where it will lead me, once I am able to put the whole thing into one sentence…
Thanks, Kristen! Damned good job!
This is extremely useful for me Kristen so thank you. I am half way through my novel but this is a great exercise for me to do at this point in the process. Thanks again! Mark
Blinded by a desire for freedom, a woman will do anything even becoming enslaved to an even worse master.
Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
What’s your log line?
UGH!! That’s rough, how about: The desire for freedom leads a woman to enslavement by an even worse master.
I’ve always had a seriously rough time with breaking down stories into simple parts. Your post has clarified this for me! One question for you though, Kristen…I’ve written a historical fiction story and wondered how one fits the time period in there? Is it best to start the log line with the time period or does it matter? Here’s what I’ve come up with…
Determined to make her own path in life, Cathryn Quinlan, a disgraced captain’s daughter in the midst of the Napoleonic War, must come to terms with who she is, in order to save the ones she loves from almost certain destruction.
Hi Carrie: First of all, your protagonist is not named in a log line.
Try this: A disgraced ship captain’s daughter struggles to redeem herself in order to save her loved ones from the destruction of the Napoleonic War.
Oh, Frank, you’re a lifesaver! Your rewrite is awesome but it made me realize that mine wasn’t clear! “Struggles to redeem” got my brain out of its funk and onto something that more closely fits the story (I hope!). How ’bout this?
In the midst of the Napoleonic War, a disgraced captain’s daughter must learn to curb her caustic tendencies before war and a sadistic stranger take away everything she holds dear.
Caustic is not the word you’re looking for. Also, what kind of captain is her father? I like the sadistic stranger (antagonist.) What does she hold dear?
There is a saying in the screenwriting world: If you can’t write the log line, don’t write the screenplay. I think this applies to novelists, too. It’s not easy to write a 75,000 word novel only to find that it has no through line because you didn’t write the log line first. Once you nail your log line, pin it where you can see it as you write.
Hopefully, Kristen has gotten to you guys early in your career because it can be nightmarish if you have written novels or screenplays that collect dust all because you didn’t write the log line.
Think of log lines as wake up calls.
Yes, I agree! Reverse engineering is nightmarish. Lesson learned for next book. Log line FIRST! How about this one…
In 1808, a disgraced sea captain’s daughter must come to terms with her past before she lets war and a sadistic stranger destroy her family.
One question for you Frank…who are you? You’ve been extremely helpful to not only me but others as well. I appreciate it more than you know. 🙂 Thank you.
Hello again, Carrie: Glad to help. I am a screenwriter and a wannabe novelist. I read and digest Kristen’s posts because she has a firm grasp on the subject matter. Her passion for writing comes through loud and clear. As I read the comments in Your Novel in One Sentence, it is obvious that some of the writers lack the passion to “get it right.” I see your passion for the sea captain’s daughter. You want to “get it right.”
So, let’s talk about your revised log line. You need to change “…before she lets war and a sadistic stranger destroy her family.”
Try this: A disgraced sea captain’s daughter must come to terms with her tarnished past before war and a sadistic stranger destroy her family.
Or: A disgraced sea captain’s daughter must reclaim her reputation before war and a sadistic stranger destroy her family.
Or: A disgraced sea captain’s daughter must reclaim her reputation and confront a sadistic stranger before he destroys her family.
Or: In the face of war, a disgraced sea captain’s daughter must reclaim her reputation and confront a sadistic stranger before he destroys her family.
Hopefully, the young lady’s reputation was sullied by false accusations. As the protagonist, we have to like her and seeing her fight for her honor will make us root for her. Also, the sadistic stranger has to be a real bad-ass.It is the actions of the antagonist that force the protagonist to act. Don’t let the young lady be passive in her quest to save her family. You have a lot of conflict built into the logline. Use the conflict. Keep raising the stakes.
If you have to re-write your novel, do it. Don’t be afraid to chop, cut, add, delete. I guarantee you will be excited because you now know what your story is about. Remember, all writing is rewriting. Helingway said that. He also said that the first draft of anything is crap. Rewrite!
You have your whole writing future in front of you and you are equipped with an arsenal of writing weapons. Use them.
Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.
I think the first one is the most accurate description. Adding “tarnished” sets it off perfectly. Power word! (spoiler: she sullied her own reputation)
A disgraced sea captain’s daughter must come to terms with her tarnished past before war and a sadistic stranger destroy her family and her future. (past/future=irony?)
Yes, Kristen has been incredibly helpful. Down-to-earth, funny, humble and brilliant. Her posts are always on target and seem to come when I need them most. I’m getting ready to pitch at the PNWA writer’s conference in July and just started working on the log line when her post came in my inbox. I’m learning a ton and always rewriting to make it better. I’m never happy…I might need therapy. 😉
Who do you screenwrite for? (did I say that right?) What kind of novel are you writing?
Hi Carrie: Now you’re cookin’. Good job on the log line. Remember, when you pitch the log line, just say it as written. Whatever you choose as the log line, don’t change it last minute. Memorize it and tell it to your family, your friends, the cashier at the grocery store, the mail man, etc. You wrote it, now own it. Look in the mirror and recite your pitch.
So, you want to know who I am and what I write. I think I mentioned that I am a script reader for a London based production company. My job is to review scripts. I get to pass on it, consider it for further development or recommend it. I am the gatekeeper. If I pass on it, it goes no further. I write the log line even if the script has one. I develop a budget on the considers and recommends. I do a complete synopsis of the script. I also analyze the script geography. How many locations and where. BTY: We need Kristen to do a post on writing a synopsis for a novel. I also give script notes which is the fun part. I can praise the script or blast it to smithereens.
My critiques are fair and balanced, just call me Mr. Fox. LOL
Good luck with your pitch. I would love to read about the young lady who sullied her own reputation. Sounds like my kind of woman. But seriously, your protagonist is edgy and flawed which is want you want. Remember to tape the log line to where you can see it when you write.
If you have any questions, I’ll try my best to answer them.
Your job sounds fascinating, Frank! I love London. …and all of England…and Scotland. Can you tell it’s my favorite place? LOL Good reason why my protagonist is an English woman on a British warship.
Thank you once again for all of your invaluable help. Seriously, I feel much more confident going forward and am actually not intimidated by the pitch anymore! I will take your advice to heart.
And yes, Kristen should do a series on writing a synopsis! After learning about the one sentence log line, I think the parts would be similar just in more detail.
Have a great weekend!
Hi Carrie: I see you found me on FaceBook. I confirmed your request. Keep pitchin’ and keep writing. Frank
I’ve been struggling with this for a while. The first time someone asked me what my novel was about, I realised I couldn’t create a single, clear sentence. This is when I knew I needed to rethink my structure. That was over 9 months ago.
Now, I believe my structure is firm but because it is a multiple POV, it is still challenging to narrow the complexity of it to one sentence. I guess it’s ‘back to the drawing board’ time but I shall be bookmarking this for future purposes…
I always appreciate usable, straight forward techniques to improve my writing–the hardest of which can be blurbs, log lines, the query, etc. Thanks for this. I’ve got it bookmarked and will be reading and rereading this often.
I haven’t written my logline yet, but I’ve been thinking about it during the process thus far. In my head, I have it down to two sentences. I’m not sure if I can get it down to one though. I’m glad that I, at least, have it lurking inside my brain because I don’t think I’d be seeing the path of my WIP very clearly otherwise.
Hi Glynis: My advice is write the sentences that lurk in your head. Just put them on paper and don’t show them to any one. Re-read Kristin’s blog and internalize what a logline should look like. Play with your preliminary log line. When it looks like a log line, post it here. I’ll read it and help you – promise.
Great information, and I plan on developing a log-line for all my existing ms. The log-line for my young adult novel currently titled “Into the Fire” is:
“A high school girl risks everything to untangle the web of deceit surrounding the deaths of her father and uncle before threats on her life are fulfilled.”
Is this too vague? Thanks for any feedback.
Sherry: You are very close. Try this: A high school girl must untangle the web of deceit surrounding the deaths of her father and uncle or else the threats on her life will be fulfilled.
Thank you for your critique.
Ugh, this is so me!
What a great topic. It has inspired me to think about the next book in my series ‘Sebastien’s Penance’.
‘A Catholic priest struggles with his feelings when asked to shelter a young noblewoman from the French Revolution’
Struggling with feelings is therapy not fiction.
Good point. I was thinking the ‘struggled with feelings’ was a bit weak – I will think some more on it – perhaps something like ‘A priest faces danger and emotional tumult…’ Thanks for sharing your insight Kristen.
It was difficult for me to settle on a goal. There are so many things HAPPENING that I had to really think about the one thing that would bring THIS book to an end. The current WIP is the first book in a series so some of the things that are happening will carry on into future books, which means they’re not really the goal for this book. So, here’s what I have…
“On a mission from Odin, the leader of a team of supernatural bounty hunters must resist his attraction to his client and defeat the group of dark elves who want to use her genetics to open the World Gates and conquer the Nine Worlds.”
My problem with this is that I have always been bored by log-lines and book and movie blurbs. As a reader, I always found them completely unhelpful in deciding what book would be good. They are one cliche after another. I can easily put my story in a sentence that fulfills all the requirements. It just doesn’t sound like anything my readers or I would want to read. It sound trite, stereotyped and devoid of inspiration or emotion and yet the story is described as “gripping” even by readers who say they “never read” the genre. I understand that log-lines are necessary in certain situations, but I feel like a tone-deaf person trying to judge what makes good music. If I’m bored stiff by the log-lines of books and movies that I love most, how can I tell if my log-lines are good for people who actually like to read log-lines?
Here’s an example, “Self-styled outsider Aranka Miko fights to free the children of a mythical non-human race being tortured in the laboratories of the mind-control cult that secretly runs modern society.”
That fulfills the criteria and sounds like a boring, cheap-thrills movie. I’ve never seen a one-sentence description that conveyed any useful atmosphere or emotion, which are the reasons I personally read and the reasons my target audience reads. (And I’m not talking about anything overly literary, just books with a little emotional depth.) I recently read a fantastic historical fiction novel that is the best I’ve found in the last two years, and based on the log-line I never would have read it at all. The log-line was all cheap thrills and cliche and the book was quite the opposite.
One-sentence log-lines, at least based on this formula, may appeal to adolescent males, but that doesn’t actually mean they have universal appeal or that you can judge a good story on that basis.
I like historical fiction. Why not share the title of the best you’ve found in the last two years?
Do you not open a book and skim through a few pages?
One-sentence log-lines, based on the formula, are written to appeal to movie producers and publishers.
I always get in trouble when I try to be brief. 🙂 Which is why I often don’t and then I get in trouble for not being brief. 🙂
The book is The Circle of Ceridwen: http://www.amazon.com/Circle-Ceridwen-Book-One-Saga/dp/0985458240/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432191245&sr=1-1&keywords=circle+of+ceridwen
The description starts off: “Young women with courage. Swords with names. Vikings with tattoos. Warfare. Passion. Survival. Sheep. And Other Good Things…”
Okay, cute surely but it’s misleading. Would you ever guess that you will not actually SEE a battle in this book. You will hear about some but not see any. This sounds like it is a book for teenage boys. It is not. It has emotional and historical depth and incredible research. The women don’t have swords, at least not in the first book. The fact that some of the Vikings have tatoos is mentioned very briefly and isn’t a big focus. What good does this kind of description do besides attract the wrong readership?
I only read the book by chance because it was on a free promotion and so I downloaded it and then I happened to (once in a very very great while) actually look through my KIndle for a book to read and picked this out at random. I never would have bought it based on the description. And it is excellent.
I do read the first few pages if I am looking for a book. The problem is that I am almost never looking for a book. Neither is anyone else these days. People have so many recommendations from friends and so many books already on their devices that the practice of readers actually browsing and looking for something to read that fits their interests is a dying phenomenon.
But the point of the log line in this case is for YOU, not the reader. It might be for the agent. But again, not the reader. Too many writers just slap down tens of thousands of words and have no idea of the simple core of their story. Sure if I sold Lord of the Rings as “A naive and innocent race treks through danger to drop an evil ring in a special volcano” it sounds trite. But the log-line isn’t replacing the half million words of the trilogy.
I can tell if a new writer is going to have a disaster just by listening to the log-line. Verbs are often key. Passive verbs make crappy books. New writers don’t get that they need to limit the number of protagonists. Etc. It is easier to fix the one sentence early than write the whole book and realize there are 100,000 words and no story.
Thanks for responding to this comment. Also, passive antagonists make for crappy movies.
Novelists should take note of the new trend in the film business which is the optioning of screen rights for novels. I am at this moment, looking for novels to turn into screenplays for a London based production company. It’s a long process: find a novel with four or five star ratings based on many reads. Talk with the production company about what I’ve come up with. If they like it, I get to write the screenplay for no pay at this point. If they like the screenplay then they negotiate for the film rights to the book. If the movie gets made, I get paid.
So, my advice: write active protagonists and show me, don’t tell me. Master the art of character dialog. Tell your story through what the characters say. There are some authors who write their novels as if they were screenplays. Watch movies with the sub titles activated. You will be amazed at how liitle is said, one character to another. Also, many movies now have a feature called Descriptive English. An off-camera narrator describes the on-screen scene. It opens up the world of description. One of my favorites is REAL STEEL with Hugh Jackman.
Reblogged this on Christina Anne Hawthorne and commented:
The log-line…I must admit, not having a proper one, one that’s clear in its purpose, is a bit like running through the forest blindfolded. You’re going to be doing a lot of painful tree hugging.
I get it, the log-line IS for you, the writer. I recently pitched to several agents and wow, was it ever a good practice/exercise. I had my log-line ready and by time I approached my last agent I had already revised my log-line to make it better. It worked well, I was pleased with the results, but when I came back home I found that my log-line could be refined even more to work better for ME.
Log-lines keep me on track when my story starts to digress. I post it on my computer, always in sight. It reminds me of what it was I wanted to say when I started the whole darn story, and it’s a good idea to review your log-line from time to time to make sure your plans are still the same. Because characters have a tendency to run amok and ignore the writers original idea. They need to be tamed from time to time.
By the way, just as an aside, I really enjoy reading the comments from that Frank Fusco fellow. He makes good sense. 🙂
We are really blessed on this blog. I have very loyal followers and AWESOME commenters.
Ooh! Love how clear you make all of this, Kristen. Thanks!
I like the idea of asking crit partners to state their logline before they start their novel. It will help them write and us to understand their story.
Loglines are like adult jigsaw puzzles condensed to become pre-school whole picture puzzles.
Can you tell I was a teacher before I was an author? Great post.
This post was great – the easy structure of a “Log Line” made it clear. The idea of asking strangers what they think about a book or movie by telling them the Log Line is a super way to see if I am on the right track. Thank you so much.
Great help this post has been for me Kristen. I will illustrate how the post has benefitted my own log line efforts with a before and after. I have a novel entitled The 23 Club. Log line:
Before: Emerging from Dubai’s iconic development projects, The 23 Club is a contemporary and full on multi-cultural landscape story.
After: The 23 Club is about a man building a garden in a lifeless sand desert and his struggles with white collar mercenaries and the unforgiving desert itself.
The efforts made me ask, perhaps I might adjust or tweak my log line, that is tailor it to the specifics of each agent query?
I’m glad to came across your post Kristen, and I’m not alonte for sure. It is a massive participation.
Now, here is my line:
“A bastard soldier desperately need to prove to be better than his stepfather and stepbrother while fighting against his own demons and the dutch invaders”
All protagonists are fighting personal demons. Why should we care?
You are right, it is a vague statement. Before reading your post I had this one:
““A bastard soldier, desperately seeking for acceptance and a meaning of life slowly turns into a murderer and an assassin to achieve his goals.”
Vitor: Let me give this a try:
An angst-ridden soldier, failing to prove himself worthy to his stepfather and stepbrother, loses his self-esteem causing him to become an assassin and a murderer.
Okay, but what is the goal? What is the ticking clock, the stakes? What is the plot problem? This is interesting but still too vague. You are telling me there is a trip involving a Ferrari (specific) but no idea where we are going (goal). It doesn’t matter if I am traveling by truck or Corvette, what is the journey? I have no idea who the antagonist is or even what the plot problem is.
“A bastard soldier, desperately seeking for acceptance and a meaning of life slowly turns into a murderer and an assassin to save his city from the dutch invaders.”
After all, the dutch are the BBT of the story, shaking up the status quo and pulling the protagonist out of his comfort zone.
And Frank, I’ve loved your line, but for now I’m sticking with broad concepts and “inelaborate” adjectives because english is not my mother language. I can work out a better line once i get it right.
Thank you both!
Reblogged this on scribblings007.
Here’s my attempt:
Two old friends who haven’t seen each other in over 10 years, but while he’s in a laying in a coma, they both learn lessons in loyalty, life, and ultimately love.
I see a statement not a story.
Or How’s this:
A coma patient learns lessons in loyalty, life, and ultimately love through his estranged childhood friend
He’s still unconscious.
.. My thought is, coma patients experience a wide variety of experiences. Some of them- can hear everything happening in the room, visit places etc, so does it still imply he can’t learn? Hmmm
Yes, but this seems more like you being clever. For instance, I once had a writer who wanted to write a thriller from the POV of someone born blind. This took away the largest sense of a novel’s action—SENSE OF SIGHT. Was it an interesting idea? Sure. But it wasn’t FOR THE READER. For most readers, trying to enjoy a story through all senses they are not accustomed to relying on was a formula for misery. And I sense that is the same with a coma patient. It seems like those sections would be arduous and do we really need it? How we can REALLY relate isn’t through being in a coma, it is the horrifying experience of seeming to wake up and our life as we knew it is GONE. That is the real story.
This is such great feedback! ! Thank you for making me out my brain to work on this, obviously I need that log line class??? I’ll stop trying to be clever. So my question is, with the log line, do you have spoilers? Or not, or is the point to hook someone’s interest without out spoilers. Iunderstand it’s different than a synopsis. .. The book has been through 6 beta readers with great feedback, is plot driven, and more women’s lit than romance, I’m just struggling, since I’m not sure about spoilers maybe?
I don’t know because if you have already written the story as-is? I don’t know how to fix it. But a sample log-line might be:
When an esteemed architect, father and husband wakes up from a ten-year coma to find his life no longer exists, he pairs with the childhood friend who never gave up on him to rebuild what he lost and forgive the family who abandoned him.
Now we have a clear protagonist and clear and active GOALS. The log-line itself gives us a sense of stakes because we know what he LOST simply by the description of the character. At the end of the story, if he is in a halfway house with no job and still not talking to his estranged wife and kids, he has failed. Does this help?
I think you are afraid of revealing “spoilers” because the idea is being “clever.” I am assuming you are not wanting to reveal that one of the characters has been in a coma until later?
Additionally, if a main character is in a coma you have stripped away conflict. Conflict is birthed from DECISIONS and a comatose patient is by definition unable to make choice.
I’m not giving up. .. So heres another lame attempt?
The local fire chief doesn’t believe in coincidences so when he awakens from a coma and realizes the only person in his life whose ever really been loyal to him, was never there, he tries everything in his power to make amends. The only problem is, he’s already broken her heart twice.
NOW we are getting somewhere.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh goody! !!! Thanks. .. I’ll keep working on it
But HOW? And one main character being unconscious is going to be tough to pull off in a novel. Now, if a person awakens and their life as they know it is GONE, that’s another (and far more interesting) story.
OK I’ll keep working on it, he is definitely awake through most of the novel. ..
Katrina: What lessons in loyalty, life and ultimately love are learned by a person who is unconscious? Your use of the word “coma” eliminates his ability to learn anything at that time.
Reblogged this on From Novice To Novelist and commented:
Check out this post from Kristen Lamb about writing your novel in one sentence. The advice she gives has really helped me get to the root of my novel and better understand what my story is about. This is a great read for any writer!
I think you have a great blog with awesome advice for writers. I reblogged this post over on my blog https://fromnovicetonoveslist.wordpress.com/
I’m still in the plotting processes of writing what looks like a trilogy, and I was wondering if I need a log line for each book.
I’m at the planning stage of a little horror novella and I’m researching all kinds of things about planning a novel, which is how I came across this very helpful post. I will try creating a log line, which I think will help me to streamline my story idea. Thanks for posting this!
I got a lot out of your article and applied it to my logline. What do you think? Pauline Hetrick. Pauline.firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Chance Angel
A misunderstood angel must find true love for a never married woman, an angels worst nightmare, if he wants to gain his last chance at getting his wings or be sent to limbo forever.
Hi Pauline: May I suggest the following:
With his chance of earning his wings evaporating, a misunderstood angel must find true love for a never married woman or else spend eternity in limbo.
This has been so helpful in giving my story focus! I’m writing a YA fantasy romance, and I was struggling with the heroine’s goals and what was at stake for her, even though I had the hero’s already sorted out. But since I alternate between the hero and heroine’s POV in my story, I ended up with two loglines from each of their perspectives. How should I consolidate them?
“When a half-human huntsman discovers that his only friend—whom he’s fallen in love with—is one of his targets, he must decide whether he will execute her before she learns the truth or tell her himself, even if that means she will abandon him forever.”
“A recently orphaned young woman flees her village to escape the painful memories of her family’s unexplained deaths and to rebuild her life. She befriends a half-human outcast who aids her on her journey, but struggles with her new feelings of love when she discovers that he was their murderer.”
I just began writing a fantasy novel that has been in my head for fifty years plus. Even after carrying it that long, I had no idea about a clear, concise log-line (or even what a log-line was) until I read your blog. Thanks . . . and here’s my first try: On a world of magic, a resourceful young Sagaci girl fights her kin for survival in a battle for control of family resources.
Better but resourceful is not emotional. Doesn’t give me a feel for who she is or why she might fail. A regular person who has not read the book has no clue what a Sagaci is so it doesn’t mean anything. The log-line needs to make us nervous. Also what is the ticking clock and the stakes? What happens if she fails? Who is the antagonist and what precisely is the story problem?
For instance. just riffing this because I don’t know your story: A young girl chronically ill from an evil curse must defeat her power thirsty and now vastly powerful uncle who stole her family’s powers and riches for himself before the curse that’s killing her spreads to her family and then into the land destroying them all.
Thank you for your response. I see now what is required, or I think I do. My thinking is too narrow, too focused on the words, not the story. Forest vs trees syndrome. I was writing steak. You’re giving the reader sizzle. Again, thank you, and you’ll be hearing from me here in Conroe.
I hope you are okay ((HUGS)). It’s a common issue with all of us. We are too bogged down in what we know and ALL the details important. We forget they don’t know what WE know (I.e what a Sagaci is). Give it another go (with your actual story not my riffing) and I will look at it 😀 (((HUGS))).
On a mythical low tech world, a tenacious young girl fights for survival against her evil aunt’s rival clans in a battle for control of a high tech artifact capable of mass destruction.