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.