Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing Your Log Line

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on writing them, since I'm still learning myself. But for those of you who may not have given a log line/tagline a second thought, here are some broad pointers:
  • You've got to mention your protagonist and his problem/antagonist/conflict
  • You've got to give a sense of the story, make us want to read it
  • You've got to have a good title to go along with it
Here's something to think about: Has anyone ever asked you, "So, what's your novel about?" And you found yourself saying,

"Um..."

Or else you found yourself saying,

"Well, there's this planet seventeen light-years from Earth where everything exploded six millennia ago, right? And this transport ship that blew up and left debris in the atmosphere that was actually too toxic to breathe but people breathed it anyway...well, it left this gaseous fog that turned the inhabitants into these sort of mutant half-humanoids. So this seventeen-year-old named Ollum finds out that his great-grandfather was born on the transport, and--"

And your friend is snoozing.

A good log line answers the question, "What's it about?" And it only takes one or two sentences to accomplish this.

So here's a potential log line for The Taming of the Shrew, my favorite Shakespeare play:

A determined bachelor attempts to tame the shrewish daughter of a wealthy man by marrying her against her will.

Now, I wrote that off the cuff and it needs some work. I don't necessarily like the word "bachelor" because it's not strong enough. And yes, he's certainly determined, but there might be a better adjective.

It's got the basics bones of a decent log line, though. The conflict is right there--a shrew being married off against her will.

Feel free to edit, discuss, rip it apart in the comment box. Or write a completely new one for the same play. Those of you who are interested in participating in December's Very Special Thing will benefit from some practice, yes?

Myself included. (No, I'm not participating in the Very Special Thing. But I am trying to come up with two strong log lines right now. And not having much luck.)

Jump in!

16 comments:

  1. Your planet 17 light years from Earth made me laugh. That would be me. I'm working on a log line right now, and I detest it. My failure to come up with a compelling line makes me question my entire novel.

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  2. How long - words or sentences - should the logline be?

    I have seen 25 words total (eek-too short) and others define the logline as two sentences (50 words each, again eek-too long).

    Mine is just under 40 words, two sentences.

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  3. Kathleen - I'm so feeling your pain right now. Does the inability to put two sentences together about my book make the book crap? Ahhhh *tearing hair out*... it's a good lesson I guess! I'm off to practice. *sigh*

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  4. The logline formula I use is:
    "BOOK NAME is about DESCRIPTION OF MAIN CHARACTER who has to/wants to MAIN OUTER GOAL even though/despite MAIN CONFLICT."

    So Authoress, your example is perfect! ***Gold stars***

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  5. Gasp! Gold stars from THE BODGER? Yay!! ;D

    Huntress, I think content and cadence is more important than word count. Though, to be sure, succinct is always better.

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  6. Holly, that's awesome. I'm going to try it!

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  7. I had an editor change one of my old loglines into 2 sentences rather than one. We get obsessed with this tiny box we are forced into and forget everything we know about writing.

    I've learned having a story sentence (doesn't that sound better than log line) before I begin helps me keep the story on track. I have a 24 word story sentence that is helping me focus my revision.

    For a moment, don't think about plot. That isn't what your story is about. Think about what you want the reader to take away from your book. Think about the message you want to convey. Then think about how you conveyed it. That's your story sentence. It took me several tries, but once I focused on what I wanted the reader to get, the sentence wrote itself.

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  8. I'm in the midst of honing my log line this week. I have an "elevator pitch" meeting with an agent at a conference on Friday.

    It helped me a lot to figure out the theme of the book and get that into one sentence first. Then I turn the central question into a log line.

    I agree with Holly's formula too.

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  9. I took a fiction class offered by an author who suggested this formula:

    Situation
    Character
    Objective
    Opponent
    Disaster

    Her example: A powerful ring is at the center of a monumental struggle between good and evil and it's up to Frodo Baggins to dispose of it safely. Will the evil Lord Sauron seize the ring from Frodo, becoming all powerful and plunging the world into eternal darkness?

    I think it works pretty well, although I would modify the second sentence so it wasn't a question.

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  10. Frodo Baggins means nothing if you don't already know the story. It is better to use something descriptive, rather than a name. Same with Lord Sauron. For all I know, Sauron is just an evil man.

    Dispose is a bit weak. Destroy is stronger.

    I would say why the ring is important, in that it contains Sauron's power.

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  11. I've never really done a log-line, so the examples given are really helpful. How long can it be? Is there an upper limit word-count wise?

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  12. I'm the person who stands around saying "...uuuh..." when people ask me what my book's about. This has already been very helpful. I've just written 2 log-lines (using the 2 formulas listed above) and can hardly wait until they are polished enough to show someone

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  13. The shorter the better. The purpose of the log-line is to show them you can hone in on what is important and for them to see if it is something they'd be interested in. By showing them you can hone in on something, you show them that you can write tight. If you ramble in your logline, query or pitch, what is to say you didn't ramble in your book?

    25-30 words is about where you want to be. If you can do it less, great.

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  14. The funny thing about log lines is how important it is to avoid double entendre, as an example, why would a "determined bachelor" be marrying anyone, I thought he was determined to remain a bachelor.....

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  15. Have pared back to three sentences...still not happy...

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  16. Mines about a page!
    Where's my big eraser?

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