Write It Now Part 18: Logline, the writer’s best friend

I figure a logline is one of the best friends a writer can have. A good one will help sell your manuscript to an agent or publisher.  What’s more, loglines are also brilliant writing tools.

A logline is a one-sentence description of a book. Its purpose is to tell the agent or publisher why the public want to read the book. To do that, the logline doesn’t recount the plot; it describes the character arc – in effect, the emotional effect of the book on the reader. It works for non-fiction, too, but it’s usually used for fiction. In novels or plays, the usual form is “[character name] has to [do something] in order to [achieve exciting goal] and so [develop as a character]”.

It has to grab the person reading it at once and convince them why they should represet or publish the material. The keys to writing a good logline are active language and being able to hone in on why people want to read the story.

“Halfling hero has to face dangers to drop a magic ring into a volcano.”

Uh…yay, but no cigar. OK, try this:

“Unwilling halfling has to find the courage to face the power of the Dark Lord in a quest to destroy a cursed ring that threatens the world.”

There’s character dynamic, purpose, drama, and the stakes of failure are clear.

Some books don’t render a good loglines, because they don’t meet the requirements of dramatic convention. Yet that convention, like it or not, is what sells. The only cure is to re-write the book.

Is there a way to avoid that re-work? Sure. This is where the logline comes in as a writing tool.

Got an idea for a book? A phrase – ‘In a hole in the ground lived a…’ for instance? Excellent. But don’t start writing the novel from that (yes, I know someone did…) These days the bar is slightly higher.

Sit down and write the logline. Make those the very first words you write on a book. Make it the real thing – grippy, dynamic, all the stuff you think you’ll need to sell the book. If it looks lame – well, that’s a good litmus test as to the book itself.

If you have a Good Idea half way through? No problem. Loglines can be revised. But it’s important to sit down and look at the whole structure of the book if you change direction part way. More on that next time.

Meanwhile, do you use loglines? Have you ever sold a story or book with one?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013 

Coming up: more writing tips, Neanderthal geek adventures with Amazon – and more.

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8 comments on “Write It Now Part 18: Logline, the writer’s best friend

  1. I’ve done some screenwriting work for Hollywood producers in the past. In the movie industry loglines are just as good as currency. I’ve seen huge multi-million dollar projects begin production on the basis of a one or two sentence logline. No script yet, just logline. Powerful stuff.

  2. painterwrite says:

    Love this! If you can’t sum up your book in a sentence, you or your book may lack focus.

  3. I start a project by coming up with the logline first. I’ve found that it saves me time and A LOT of revision headaches if I have a clear vision for the story before I start writing. I’m not a screenwriter, but I studied story with an accomplished spec screenwriter, Blake Snyder. Panster plotting is so not for me. ;-)

    • Story is story – whether on screen or novel. Good stuff! Apropos pantsing – yeah, me neither. The bar’s too high these days. It’s also clear to me that the ‘pantsing’ approach by various famous authors isn’t entirely as random as we might think – they invariably always have the whole story in their heads, including character arcs and the ‘pantsing’ revolves around the details – it’s not the ‘blank page start’ we might imagine.

  4. I keep learning new things about writing; now it’s log-lines. I knew I was supposed to have a powerful summary sentence, but had no idea that it had its own name. Then you talk about pantser. That sounds like someone that sits around in pants all day.
    I have a ton of story starts that range from barely more than a few sentences up to several pages. I’ve never outlined any stories, but read that was the best way to go. Now you’re saying a log-line is better?

    • Logline gives initial shape and direction – then planning develops the more detailed specifics. I’ve got posts coming up in this series covering this over the next few weeks. Yeah, I don’t like ‘pantsing’ much as a term – ‘seat of the pants’ writing.

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