Ah, loglines. Some call them "tag lines" or "hooks". They are a one to two sentence pitch written to sell our story to readers, agents, and publishers in a snap read. Loglines are possibly as important as the query letter and synopsis. Every manuscript needs one, as do movies and TV shows. So how the heck do you take the thousands and thousands of words of your story and shrink it down to a logline, efficiently conveying your manuscript to make someone bite?
It's not as hard as you may think.
When I wrote my first logline, it was for a writing contest in which my logline was all the judges were going to see of my story. I agonized over it for days. I literally had (and still have) pages of logline attempts, none ever seeming right. With only one chance to impress, I entered one of my attempts with a scowl, a deep hatred for loglines fully formed. At that time, they felt like devices of torture, only created to drive writers insane. Unsurprisingly, I didn't place in the contest.
After that, I made it a point to conquer the dreaded logline, refusing to be a slave to its Rubik’s cube way. Now I am passing along all I've learned. The light bulb has clicked on, folks, and loglines really aren't all that awful to write. I can't promise it'll click for you the way it did for me, but I'm going to do my best to break it down and help you master yours. Practice makes perfect, especially with the write tools.
Firstly, if you haven't already written your story, but have the plot/general concept worked out, write your logline NOW. I mean it. It is so much easier to write your logline before being weighed down by the subplots, characters and back stories we all believe need to somehow fit in it. In the conceptual stage of writing, you have the main plot worked out already. That's all your logline needs. No added details to muddle it.
If you're where I was (writing a logline after finishing your manuscript) then it's a little more complicated, but not by much. It's still the marrow of your story, the main plot, you need to convey. If you don't know what that is, your manuscript may need examining. You should be able to quickly identify your main plot.
The logline should consist of the following:
- Main plot line
Yes, 5-6 key points to try to include in your logline. Think there's no way it can be done? Think again. Below, I've provided both famous book and movie log/tag lines in which the writer has successfully done so. Remember, brevity is key here and these writers have managed to hook us using very few words.
Twilight: "When seventeen-year-old Bella leaves Phoenix to live with her father in Forks, Washington, she meets an exquisitely handsome boy at school for whom she feels an overwhelming attraction and who she comes to realize is not wholly human.”
The Hunger Games: "In a future North America, where the rulers of Panem maintain control through an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss's skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister's place."
The Mortal Instruments, City of
: "Sixteen year old Clary Fray discovers, after her mother's kidnapping, that she belongs to a world of Shadow Hunters, a nephilum force protecting humans from downworlders (vampires, werewolves, and faeries)." Bones
Pirates of the
Caribbean: "A 17th Century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England's daughter and reclaim his ship."
The Godfather: "An Epic tale of a 1940s New York Mafia family and their struggle to protect their empire, as the leadership switches from the father to his youngest son.”
See? It can be done. In need of some more examples? Pick up books published recently (past 5-10 years) and take a look at the copyright page. A lot of newer books include the logline (noted as a summary) there. You can even research loglines in TV Guide, just look at the show description and there they are, short and sweet, to the point, but enticing enough to make us want to watch.
Lastly, try to incorporate these while writing your logline:
- An adjective about the protagonist
- An adjective about the antagonist
- A relatable goal
Make it intriguing so that the reader says "This sounds great, I need to read more!" instead of "Eh, I’ll pass”. Having a fantastic, catchy title that's spot on will also help sell your work.
A fun practice exercise? Try to write a logline for a book or movie, and then find the official one and compare. How close were you? Depending on your results, you should know exactly where you and conquering your own logline are just by this exercise.
Next week, I’ll be hosting a logline critique round to give you the opportunity to polish your logline and show me what you've learned. I'm really looking forward to seeing what you've got! Questions? Drop me a comment, tweet or an email.
Now, go forth and write your epic logline!