Thursday, September 25, 2014

Words of Wisdom From Our Logline Guru

The how-can-she-be-so-amazing Holly Bodger, after having critiqued this week's 40 loglines, offered to write up her thoughts to help you all as you continue to grind your loglines into submission.  Of course I immediately took her up on it.  Here are her golden nuggets:

1. The point of a logline is to explain what your character wants and why it will be difficult for him to achieve it. It helps to pepper in a few interesting details about your character and setting, but only if they are necessary. A logline is not supposed to summarize your plot or explain your concept.

2. PLEASE SAVE MY SANITY AND DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS IN YOUR LOGLINE! If someone said, “What’s your book about?” you would not answer with, “What do YOU think it’s about?” Well, maybe you would, but if you said this to me, I’d want to fling poo at you. Questions are great for taglines. Save them for those.

3. A lot of loglines seem to be confusing the goal and the need. The need is the thing the character wants before the book starts (ie, a friend). The goal is the thing the character decides to go get at the beginning of the story. While the goal must fulfil the need, it is not the same thing.

4. Speaking of goals, they must be tangible. The goal is the thing that, when reached, means the story is done. The reader will never know when the character “reaches inner peace”. They will know when the character finds out who killed his dog. This is not to say that finding inner peace is not important. This is what I meant about the need. Your character NEEDS inner peace and finding out who killed his dog is the GOAL that will accomplish this.

5. BE SPECIFIC. You have 2-3 sentences to show agents why your book is special and special is in the specifics. Half of the books in my library could be defined as “girl who wants to find love”. You need to show why your girl is different and why her journey to find love is not like the rest.

6. Finally (and this is the most important one), remember that loglines are hard to write for everyone (including me)! I firmly believe that you can pants an entire novel as long as you have a perfect logline. If you cannot make your story fit into the required elements of a logline, then maybe you need to re-think whether or not your story has the required elements, full stop.


  1. Loglines are crazy hard but these tips make it so much easier! Thanks, Holly for taking the time to help all of us get better at them. :) You and Authoress are all kinds of awesome!!

  2. Just wanted to thank Holly for this excellent and clear summary. I keep getting tangled up in the details of my story. This analysis really helps me understand and select what is needed.

  3. Golden nuggets. Pearls of wisdom. This is so helpful on so many levels. Thank you!

  4. Thanks, Holly and Authoress. Holly's comments and the others I received were super helpful. Just when you think maybe you've got it, you realize it can be that much better! Cheers! Looking forward to reading Holly's book--it sounds fascinating!

  5. Thank you, Holly, for your wonderful logline tips and for critiquing each and every one of them this week (and for the upcoming logline events). You and Ms. Authoress are two peas in a very special pod, reserved for the very talented and extremely generous. We love you!

    PS~ Congrats on the upcoming book! I'd pick it up for the fantastic cover, but I'd read it because it sounds so good!

  6. Many thanks to both of you for the opportunity and the helpful tips.

  7. Thank you so much for all of your time and your helpful insights, Holly! I think it's an excellent point that writing a logline is also a useful exercise for taking a good hard look at a novel to make sure there aren't any fundamental weaknesses in the plot structure or the character's motivation.

    I'm really trying to get a handle on crafting loglines so I can also help other writers with them (as well as writing my own!), and I admit that now and then your comments leave me scratching my head. Usually what puzzles me is when it seems like you're asking for too much. That is, when most of what's already in the logline appears to be necessary information, it seems that if the author took your suggestion regarding clarifying a particular element, the logline would inevitably become too long and cluttered . . .

    Is there any chance you could select a couple of the loglines here (ones that you felt were pretty close but not quite there) and show how you might add clarification of some details without making them too unwieldy? Or do you perhaps have some examples on your blog that might help to illustrate that? (I sure hate to ask you for anything more when you've already spent time critiquing forty loglines!!!)

    Thanks again for your feedback and for the sage advice in his post -- and thanks to Authoress for being a great hostess! :)

  8. Oops -- that was supposed to be 'advice in this post', not 'his'. I take it there's no way to edit comments here once they're posted... (At least, I haven't found one yet!) :D

  9. LC: It's very hard for me to write a logline for a book I don't know (because I don't know the details that are missing which is often the problem). When people email me for help offline, I often have to ask a whole bunch of questions so I can get to the real goal or stakes (I am happy to do that for anyone email is on my website!)

    The point here is to make you focus on your character. As much as you might want to tell us about your whole invented world of robot monkeys, this is not the place to do it. Sure, you can throw in a word or two about a robot monkey, but that's about it.

    In terms of a good ones, I don't want to post something without someone's permission, so I'll write one for my own book.

    5 TO 1

    While Sudasa has never wanted to marry the boy who wins her tests, she accepts that it's the one thing that makes life fair for the people in her country (THIS IS HER NEED. SHE WANTS TO GET OUT OF THIS MARRIAGE BUT DOESN'T SEE HOW THIS WILL BE POSSIBLE. THIS ALSO GIVES A SLIGHT TIDBIT ABOUT THE SETTING). But when Sudasa discovers that the five boys in her tests weren't randomly selected after all, she must decide (THIS IS HER GOAL...TO CHOOSE A BOY) if she'd rather please her family by choosing the despicable rich boy they want (OBSTACLE #1 - SHE HATES HIM), or face their wrath by choosing a poor boy they don't want (OBSTACLE #2 - SHE DOESN'T WANT TO DISAPPOINT THEM) and who strangely also doesn't appear to want her (OBSTACLE #3 - HE DOESN'T WANT HER).

    A couple of notes about my own logline (which may be lame because I literally just wrote it now):
    -my book is set in a country formed from a part of India that has separated into its own country in order to solve the issues of gender imbalance. This is my main concept and setting but I don't say it here. I would say it in a query.
    -my book has 2 POVs but I've only given one because it's enough to create intrigue. We're not looking for a summary of the whole book. Just something to make the agent want more. Yes, it is really hard to leave out the tidbits we love. That's when I say to take the advice of James Scott Bell and remember that people will wait a long time for something they are interested in.

  10. This has been so helpful! Thank you for your critiques and for this blog post. Really, really appreciate your time and assistance.

  11. Thanks for all the advice, Holly. I'll be sure to work on my logline for the next submission period. But I do have one question. At the end of your advice article you say "pants" your novel. I'm assuming you meant that as a metaphor for making sure the story is complete. Is this correct? Thanks, Sarah

  12. Sarah, Holly was referring to a "pantser" -- someone who writes the story organically as they go -- as opposed to a "plotter", who plots the story before drafting it. To "pants" means to "write by the seat of one's pants" -- no blueprint. :)

  13. Thanks for the logline breakdown using your own book, Holly! It's fun to see the 'anatomy of a logline' demonstrated in that way -- and your book sounds very intriguing. :)

    I assume your next step would be the same as what I do after coming up with a draft of a logline, which is to figure out what you can cut and tighten to get it down under 70 words or so. (Out of curiosity, I checked and the one you put together is 84 words as it is.)

    As I said, the thing I'm finding tricky is when an author has gone through that process and their logline already looks pretty good, but then someone else points out that some element -- like the stakes, for example -- isn't clear enough. In trying to add something to a logline that's already been tweaked and tightened down to the right length, it's pretty tough not to go right back to it being too long and wordy!

    But if I understand correctly, you're saying that even though it may have looked like the logline was close, there must be something in it that really doesn't need to be there. And once you cut it, there will be room for the missing element that's more important.

    I'm thinking that in many cases it may be easier to start over from scratch when that happens, and to try to stick fairly close to the formula in order to focus on the necessary pieces. (I'm sure some people would hate that suggestion after they've spent ages polishing a logline -- but on the other hand, getting more practice should eventually make the whole process easier!)

    Thanks again for all your help. :)