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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

The Log-Line: Can You Pitch Your ENTIRE Story in ONE Sentence?

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

Today we’re going to chat about log-lines. Some of you might be wondering if I was trying to give you a heart attack with my title. Maybe you think this feat is impossible. AN ENTIRE NOVEL IN ONLY ONE SENTENCE?

Maybe something simple, plebeian and commercially formulaic *flips hair* but ART cannot be forced into a box.

Yes. Yes it can.

I know, I know. Your novel is over four-hundred pages with made up technology and wizards and folding space using enchanted Thigh Masters….

I hear you. Calm down.

A log-line is a lifeline that will allow you to pitch a novel (or series) in ONE—YES ONE—sentence. The log-line is going to save you time, energy, and sanity (save the crazy for the fiction).

We’ll get to how a log-line is going to do ALL this AND give you six-pack abs in only five minutes a day in a moment…

***Legal Disclaimer: Consult your psychiatrist before believing any writing tool will give you six-pack abs. The giant pink bunny in the corner lies, too FYI.

Anyway…

I used to try to teach story structure from the perspective of an editor, but I found that my approach was flawed. Why? Because editors are like building inspectors. We have skills best used on a finished product. We’re trained to look for structure 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.

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

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.

We’ve discussed how plot works on a micro-scale (scene and sequel). After that, we panned back for an aerial shot, and discussed how great stories–like amazeballs rollercoasters—are addictive by design.

I’ve also covered how the single most important component to plot is the opposition, and l even have a tested method to make sure your core idea  is actually solid enough to be the foundation for an entire novel.

So what’s this log-line thingy?

Basically, we should be able to tell someone (an agent) what our 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.

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

I cannot tell you how many writers 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. In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder relays stories of how he would take his log-line to Starbucks and ask total 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?

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

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.

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.

This is why so many first-time novels fall apart.

I can tell everything that is wrong in a novel with a single glance at the log-line. Conversely, I can tell a writer what precisely needs to be fixed by looking at the log-line.

Does the story have a core problem? Is it a large enough/interesting enough problem to merit a whole novel? What are the stakes? Is there a ticking clock or have we given the MC forever to get around to accomplishing the goal?

If you’re like me and botched your first (hundred) attempts to write a novel, RELAX. It takes time to develop the level of sadism required to write spectacular stories. Not everyone is a born psychopath like George R.R. Martin.

New writers (in particular) tend to shy from any source of conflict, but conflict is the life blood of fiction. Log-lines can show us our story is flat-lining and WHY.

One of the best ways to learn how to write log-lines is to go peruse the IMDB (Internet Movie Database). 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 6) ticking clock.

EXAMPLE: 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/ticking clock).

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.

Also, the MC doesn’t have forever to get around to stopping the threat. If he doesn’t ACT, humanity is doomed. Also, the price of failure and success is the same…everything he knows and loves.

It will interest potential readers. Considering it was a NYT best-seller, I think Crichton did okay.

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 or hook readers to BUY, 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!

If you’re struggling, I’m giving a class next Thursday, September 20th, Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis That SELLS.

Part of this class is my special recipe/formula for amazing log-lines to impress your friends and, hopefully an agent. The first ten sign ups will get ME repairing your log-line, shining it up the snazziest it can be for FREE. Grab your slot ASAP. You can register HERE.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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?

What do you WIN? For the month of SEPTEMBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***Chris Parrett is August’s winner. Please send your 5000 word Word doc to kristen at wana intl dot com. One-inch margins and 12 point Times New Roman Font, double-spaced. Congratulations!

***FYI: The Speculative Fiction Saturday has been moved to THIS COMING SATURDAY (9/15/18).

The software that powers our virtual classrooms kept crashing our servers #NotFun. Thus, we spent the entire weekend upgrading/updating all the tech and it looks fantastic!

I HIGHLY recommend The XXX Files Bundle (all three classes—world-building, character, advanced plotting—for the price of two). Speculative fiction includes sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, utopian, horror and basically all the weird stuff. Sign up and we can be weird TOGETHER!

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction
It will be FUN!

Upcoming Classes for September


Brand Boss: When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, Thursday September 13th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Purchase includes FREE recording of all three classes.

 


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


Pitch Perfect—How To Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, September 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn. Synopses are often requested by agents and editors and it is tough not to feel the need to include every last little detail. Synopses are great for not only keeping your writing on track, but also for pitching your next book and your next to that agent of your choice.

This class will help you learn the fundamentals of writing a query letter and a synopsis. What you must include and what doesn’t belong.

So make your writing pitch perfect with these two skills!

27 thoughts on “The Log-Line: Can You Pitch Your ENTIRE Story in ONE Sentence?”

  1. Kylie RaeKylie Rae

    Your blog always shows me more ways to push and challenge myself, and I love it. You’ve been so influential in my journey to being a better writer.

    Reply
    September 10, 2018
  2. Jan M FlynnJan M Flynn

    Thanks to you, Kristen, yes I can pitch my WIP in one sentence. A very clarifying task!

    Reply
    September 10, 2018
  3. Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

    “1) your protagonist 2) active verb 3) active goal 4) antagonist 5) stakes 6) ticking clock.” Just the sort of practical, meaty advice that’s really useful at times like these!

    Here’s the log-line I came up with before I started my WIP: An irresponsible young coachman must hunt a strange curse to its source before its ill effects darken his life and his world forever.

    Alternate ending: “before he loses his last chance to grow up and win the girl he loves” but that overlooks the larger, albeit less personal, stakes.

    Room for improvement – what’s your diagnosis?

    Reply
    September 10, 2018
  4. Cat DubieCat Dubie

    Thanks for the breakdown on Log Lines. Your explanation is much clearer and more helpful than the other sites I visited for this information. Now I have my work cut out for me!

    Reply
    September 10, 2018
  5. Tonette JoyceTonette Joyce

    I have written and been published, but I have yet to submit queries for my started novels.I am determined to wrap one up soon; (I am recovering from surgery).
    I am friends with many published authors of novels and am actually on a shared blog with several. Most of them go nuts at synopsis time, yet I can’t imagine why. Your “one-line” approach is wonderful and I easily came up with one for my nearly-finished story.
    The rest of your advice is spot-on. Thanks.

    Reply
    September 11, 2018
  6. Rick MillerRick Miller

    I really dig your advice and clearly explained process. I often struggle with the seemingly simple things.

    Reply
    September 11, 2018
  7. Brian PopeBrian Pope

    Good Stuff! You prompt me to go back and look at my log line again. Always room for improvement, right?

    Reply
    September 11, 2018
  8. MARIA T D'MARCOMARIA T D'MARCO

    Okay — post is stupendous, as always! But — that hat!!! How cool is that?? Mouth open, staring, getting in close to carefully inspect – then squealing with glee…
    Hoping all my lovely author clients read this post, as it deftly trumps (oops, sorry) my explanations of log lines (and synopses).
    Thanks! :o))

    Reply
    September 11, 2018
  9. Ramshah AkbarRamshah Akbar

    Never knew log line could be done without thinking my life is over.

    Reply
    September 12, 2018
  10. JohnJohn

    Here is my logline: I teach couples how to stop fighting forever and how to have a sex life beyond their wildest dreams. The title of the book is Sex Education for Adults Secrets to Amazing and Happily Ever After Too

    Reply
    September 16, 2018
  11. Chuck JacksonChuck Jackson

    This is a great idea and it gets us to focus on the meat and potatoes of our story. I would assume you could use this same basis and criterion for writing a book blurb.

    Reply
    September 17, 2018
  12. ColonialistColonialist

    Thought-provoking indeed.
    I am now going to hide in a cellar and emit steam while I try to dream up a log-line for my latest.

    Reply
    September 17, 2018
  13. Ellen BuikemaEllen Buikema

    Reading your blog make me want to rewrite the log-line for my WIP. I’m still sweating over it, but I believe I am close!

    Teenage Jack, damaged from years of emotional abuse, struggles under the weight of his mission to safely transport his abandoned younger brother and sister on a journey across the country with only an address, feigned courage, and the help of hobos.

    Reply
    September 17, 2018
  14. R CootsR Coots

    I was giggling at the mention of G. R. R. Martin being a psycopath because the only way I’ve been able to sum up the world (not so much the log line) and get my point across so far is: Game of Thrones in space, with fewer weddings. Not saying I’m up to his quality, but it’s designed to ward off people who expect a gentle world/universe XD

    As for my log line though, it kind of grows out of my original premise. “A man in charge of an interstellar fleet finds two women in cryo and has to decide if keeping them alive is worth losing his life and control of the fleet” (Original idea being “jackass finds women in cryo, makes decision to get them out, could now die for it. Are they worth his life to keep alive?)

    Reply
    September 18, 2018
  15. Bjørn LarssenBjørn Larssen

    The problem I am struggling with is that I have two timelines in my novel. In 1920 an old man tells a story that took place in 1885. I can summarise the 1920 part in one sentence, the same with the 1885 part, but unless the logline is a very long and convoluted sentence I don’t know how to do both…

    Reply
    September 19, 2018
  16. Sean CarlinSean Carlin

    I’m a screenwriter and exponent of Save the Cat!, and I understand how tricky the Art of the Logline is to master. It’s important to keep in mind that a logline — in addition to being a single catchy sentence — should convey the following five elements: the protagonist, the source of antagonism, the conflict/stakes, the setting, and the tone/genre. Consider: With the Second World War looming, a daring archaeologist-adventurer is tasked by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant — a Biblical artifact of invincible power, lost for millennia in the desert sands of Egypt — before it can be acquired by the Nazis. You know exactly which movie that is without either the title or the name of its famous protagonist, because it includes all the necessary elements without an iota of extraneous detail.

    Reply
    September 19, 2018
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