Sometimes all you have is one or two sentences to sell your story, and if that opportunity is used by a really great logline then you have a better chance of piquing an agent/publisher/reader’s interest.
I personally like to try and write a 1 – 2 sentence logline before I do any project. I recommend you consider trying this too. It’s a great way to distill your ideas into the absolute bare minimum of words, and then you can build out from there. Note: Because a lot of agents/publishers request log-lines/taglines if you query them, it works in your favor to already have one honed and ready!
What is a logline?
A logline is a short, catchy summary of a novel, short story, movie, or television show. Some sources will advise you to use under 15 words, others afford you a whole sentence OR two. But when you’re limiting the entirety of your story to a just a few words, you have to make sure every single one of them counts. That’s where loglines can shine, and where they can be very, very difficult.
Many agents and publishers will require a logline if you query them, in addition to your query letter, synopsis, bio, and comps. Ensuring each of these aspects is as well written and succinct as possible can make or break your pitch and its ability to catch someone’s attention.
“When a family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter, a ghostly and sinister presence influences a loving father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific visions from both past and future that forbode the family may not make it out alive.”Stephen King, The Shining
Not to be confused with a ‘tagline’…
A tagline is a witty slogan or catch phrase, it isn’t meant to convey the actual contents of the story. It’s supposed to be snappy, catchy, and intriguing.
“In space no one can hear you scream.”Alien, 1979
As you can see, a tagline doesn’t have to tell you anything about the story itself. It just needs to hook you into considering reading/watching it.
But why start with a logline?
Because they can be incredibly hard to write. Sure, the concept is simple: distill just the important parts into the absolute bare minimum.
But the execution can be very, very difficult.
So if you spend months or years meticulously planning, creating and writing an epic story, with A, B, C, D, E, F, G+ plots and dozens of characters and themes, you may find it nearly impossible to reduce it all to a sentence or two. When you’re agonizing over your Submission Package (the materials required to query an agent or publisher) and you get to the logline last, it can block your progress for long periods of time.
In fact, starting with the logline and building out from there, can help you keep your story focused–right from the very beginning. I try to craft at least a rough draft of a logline before I write the first word of a book.
So how do you do it…
There’s lots of different advice and recommendations on how to do it, but I found this suggestion from a user on the Absolute Write forums to be very helpful:
- Shorter is better.
- Try for less than 15 words.
- No character names. Better to say “a handicapped trapeze artist” than “Jane Doe”.
- Tie together the big picture and the personal picture.
- Which character has the most to lose in this story? Now tell me what he/she wants to win.
This is not set in stone! Some of the best loglines use names, or are longer than 15 words, but you really don’t need hundreds of words to get your point across. And utilizing descriptors instead of names helps build that story better with the word constraint you have to work with. But that user’s advice is what I usually refer back to when I’m writing a logline, and I find it’s just as helpful as the formulas/equations already out there.
Details you want to include.
- Focus on the protagonist.
- Hone in on emotions.
- Convey tone.
- Be specific!
Basic formula for writing a good logline.
Of course there’s actual formulas 😀 The most basic is just: protagonist + protagonist’s goal + barrier/conflict. That’s the bare minumum, and then expand from there. For example…
[protagonist] + [inciting incident] + [protagonist’s goal] + [central conflict]MasterClass, “Screenwriting Tips: How to Write a Logline”
When [INCITING INCIDENT] happens, [OUR PROTAGONIST] decides [TO DO ACTION] against [ANTAGONIST].AJ Unitas, StudioBinder.com, “How to Write a Logline Producers Won’t Pass On [with Logline Examples]”
Those are the basics.
For example: “A twelve-year-old sole survivor of a plane crash struggles to find a place in a world without his family.” Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano.
You don’t necessarily need to write out the whole thing, but start with the basic idea, and then expand upon it. Protagonist (A twelve-year old) + goal (find a place in the world without his family) + barrier/conflict (sole survivor of a plane crash).
Now put it into action!
List your Protagonist, what they want, and why they can’t get what they want. That should take up just a few words of a sentence.
I’ll use an example from one of my unpublished novels: “A divorcee (protagonist) grieves the death (barrier/conflict, but not really) of her beloved cat and wishes she could have her back (goal)”. There, that’s basic, right?
Let’s expand upon it…
“A grieving divorcee (character) wants to keep the duplicate versions (inciting incident) of her dead cat who keep showing up at her house (central conflict), but she needs to figure out how to close the rifts between their parallel worlds first (conflict).”
That’s 36 words. I prefer my loglines to be shorter, but I’m notoriously long-winded so this isn’t bad for a first draft… And listen, it’s not perfect. I’m not a perfect writer. But it’s solid enough, and it gives you an idea to work off of.
Once you’ve got a logline, you can expand from there! Create synopsis, query letters, and anything else your creative heart desires.
Did you find this blog post helpful? Do you have as much trouble as I do writing short, concise summaries? How essential do you think Loglines/Taglines are for novels?
Tell us in the comments below, or tag us on social media #MotleyWritersGuild or via our individual author handles (mine is @EmVanMoore on all socials).
The Motley Writers Guild’s – Em Van Moore
If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to The Motley Writers Guild for notice of new blog posts and writerly news, as well as promotions and unique content only available to our valued subscribers!