Monday, December 19, 2011

Loglines for Books

This article first appeared on The Blood-Red Pencil on January 26, 2010.

A logline is a very short description of a script. If you’re going to pitch a script, you have to have a logline. More and more, though, writers will include a version of a logline in their query letter. Writing a logline for your novel forces you to get to the core of your book, to the nugget that will excite an agent, lure a publisher, and sell a reader.

In general, a logline should be about 20 words long and should capture your storyline.

The problem is that you rarely see actually loglines that short. Here's one I saw as a sample on ScriptShark:
A college freshman girl's arrival to campus spawns mysterious killings revolving around the football team.
Okay, from that we know the protagonist, where it takes place, and that it's probably horror ("mysterious killings", "spawns"). But we don't know what the protag's goal is or who the antagonist is. It fits the word count, but, in my mind, it's not complete.

Here are a couple of more (and I'm sorry to say that I've forgotten where I gathered these):
A playboy manufacturer rescues 1,100 Jews from certain death. Appalled by atrocities in Nazi Germany, he hoodwinks the Nazi brass and converts his factory into a refuge for Jews. Based on Oskar Schindler's true story.

A conscientious sheriff relinquishes his gun and job to marry a pacifist young woman, but on the way to the honeymoon they pass a band of outlaws riding toward their peaceful village to take it over.
Both of those are over 20 words and the second sample only implies the goal. Both, however, are compelling and would be hard for someone to pass up. (And they weren’t passed up, since they're both produced movies.)

Loglines are catchy and pitchable. All of them tell who the protagonist is, most tell the antagonist (which is not always a person) and what the goal or theme of the movie will be, and most of the time you can tell what kind of movie/book it will be just by the wording.

Once you have a logline, what do you do with it? You use it in your query letter - it can be your opening hook. You can use it in your pitch with an agent or editor. It’s a good conversation starter when you’re talking to someone about your book (the elevator speech that you need to prepare). Give it a try on your book. And remember, make it irresistible and complete.

If you have a logline for your latest book or book-in-progress, tell us in the Comments section. Here’s mine:
Angel Downe has a plan. After ten years on the streets, she’s going home to ask her mother why she loved her one day, then threw her out like garbage the next. To do that, she needs three things: her high school diploma, a car and a gun.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its twelfth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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  1. Loglines, as well as pitches for agent appointments, are difficult for me when I'm looking at my own material, but I'll been able to do loglines and short, short synopses for other writers' manuscripts with little trouble. I seem to get bogged down in the details of my own work and want to include too much information.

  2. It is difficult to strip away the extraneous to get down to the core of your own work. You might try looking at your synopsis and making it shorter and shorter and tighter with each write. If you start at 3 pages, take it to one, then to two paragraphs, then to one, then to two sentences then to one. Cut out side characters and their goals. Cut it to the very essentials.

  3. I used taglines in some of the promo material for my book "Blood and Groom". People got a chuckle out of them and they seemed to garner notice and convery the tone-style-plot of the book.

    Here are a few that I used:

    A fatal comedy of Eros...

    Haute couture homicide...

    Four funerals and a wedding...

    Always a bridesmaid, never a suspect...

    Malice, mayhem, murder and Manolos...

    Gives new meaning to “until death do us part”...

    Nancy Drew in a head-on collision with Sex and the City...

    Something old, something new, something borrowed, something dead...

  4. Excellent examples, Helen. Thanks. This subject is something I keep turning over and over in the back of my mind. I'll get it, but I'm not there yet.

  5. Those taglines are really cute, Jill!

  6. This is a great idea. I have been boiling down my pitches to fewer and fewer words. I love the idea of developing a logline as a response to the question, "What's your book about?" (Which I can never answer.) It's also the core around which both the query and the summary can revolve.

  7. It does take the pressure off trying to think on your feet. Pare it down to a sentence, memorize it and you're ready.

  8. When I was first learning to write loglines for film scripts, it was suggested to read the blurbs in TV Guide for an idea of how to capture the concept of a story. That helped, but I still find loglines the hardest thing to write. The only thing that makes them tolerable is that they are shorter than a synopsis, which is also a huge challenge for me.

  9. Really good idea. And keeping it as brief as possible forces you to get to the meat of your story - could be a good way to regain focus on a book that has stalled.

  10. Cool! I didn't know about loglines before. This is neat stuff.

  11. Loglines are not easy to do. They can make or break a sale.

    Morgan Mandel

  12. As practice before we worked on our own loglines at a writing conference, we came up with one for the Three Little Pigs as a class that still makes me smile: Three pigs. One wolf. A story of survival.

    I just wish they were as easy to write as they are short!

  13. A recent post I read on another blog boiled the logline down to these elements: Protagonist, goal, antagonist. Who is the story about? What is the goal? And who or what is standing in the way? And it is important to remember that loglines and taglines or PR blurbs are two different things. I used to get them confused all the time.

  14. If you think you're ready to submit but are having trouble boiling your book down into a concise pitch, you may need a developmental editor. Books whose structures are tight are much easier to synopsize.

  15. Okay, Helen, you asked. Here's mine for Headwind:

    If you’re on vacation, fly coach. If you’re on business, fly first-class. If you’re on a mission, fly with Mickey.

  16. I need to work on my loglines for my new stuff. Timely article. :)

  17. I like that Christopher. It makes me want to know more about Mickey and what kind of mission will take place in the book.

  18. Jill, my favorite on your list is:
    Always a bridesmaid, never a suspect...

  19. I like your blog post. Keep on writing this type of great stuff. I'll make sure to follow up on your blog in the future.

  20. The example from Schindler's List has all the elements, but it doesn't really convey the tone. To me it sounds more like an episode of Hogan's Heroes than the actual film. "Playboy" and "hoodwinked" suggest something lighthearted.

  21. I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand. I also found your posts very interesting.

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  23. I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand. I also found your posts very interesting.

  24. Helen,
    What is the difference between a log line and a PR line?

    Intellectually I understand the difference, but could you give me a clear example?


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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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