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.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.)
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.
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.
The late Helen Ginger (1952-2021) was an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She was also a former mermaid. She taught public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. Helen was the author of Angel Sometimes, Dismembering the Past, and three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series.