Wednesday, April 01, 2009


A logline is a VERY short description of a script. It’s not used much for books, although some writers will include a version of a logline in their query letter. Since it’s a good exercise for writers, novelists should try their hands at writing a logline. It'll force 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. But both are compelling and would be hard for someone to pass up. (And they didn't, since they're both produced movies.)

It's good to include the protagonist (and goal), antagonist (and goal), and the big disaster or turning point. But it doesn't have to be straightforward.

Screenwriters often take their script and condense it into a 10 page synopsis, then squeeze that to 3 pages, then 3 paragraphs, then 20 words. Give it a try on your book. And remember, make it irresistible and complete.

No problem. Right?
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  1. Definitely saving the permalink to this post. Excellent tutorial.

    Hope you'll stop by Free Spirit today. I'm saying goodbye to blogging with a special farewell post. Health issues. Still plan on finishing my current WIP though, and will stop in here on occasion :)

    Marvin D Wilson

  2. Say it isn't so, Marvin! I, along with about a million others, will miss your posts. I hope you'll keep us up on your health.

  3. No problem? Huge problem!

    It takes me days on end to come up with a log line that halfway makes sense.

    They seem so simple, but my tendency is to overlook simple and go straight to complicated. Maybe I should keep the KISS Principle taped to my monitor.

  4. The next time you start a book, try writing the logline BEFORE you write the book. Sure, when you're finished, the logline may not be relevant anymore, but a logline is also a way to narrow your focus and get to the core of your idea. You're so right, Carol, writing a logline if faaaar from easy.

  5. I just tried writing a logline for my new novel, Diary of Murder:

    Dana attempts to prove her sister was murdered and nearly loses her own life and friend Sarah's in the process.

    I did it in 20 words and it's defintely bare bones writing. (Good Twitter material.) :)


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  7. You are right Jean.

    For those on Twitter, try out your loglines there, different versions, and see what kind of replies you get!

  8. Kinda like shortening to just the synopsis and then even shorter for the bookmark!!

    Most people do not realize just how challenging 20 words can be...

    L. Diane Wolfe

  9. It takes a lot of work, for sure. You want it to be fabulous, especially if you're going to use it to open a one-on-one with an agent or your query letter.

  10. Man, loglines are like poetry, tough to write--I'd rather do several chapters of a novel than work on a logline!

    IMBD has a lot of great movie loglines by the way.

    Love the informative and useful post, Helen, as so many of yours are!

  11. Ugh! I'm having one of those moments where my log line doesn't seem to master what my plot is all about. Hummm... Better go back to the keyboard.

    Lynnette Labelle

  12. Cut to the core, Lynnette. Ignore secondary characters and subplots.

  13. No thanks, Helen, lolol! It was all I could do to reduce one of my90k to a 25 word pitch and I did a process very similar to what you described. The good thing was, I was able to get H/H, conflict (I/E) goal and protag in there. I won't even mention the number of drafts, lolol! It was reduced to what I would call a tag line.

    It taught me a lot though. One thing was, if you can't identify those points then you really need to do some work in your ms--especially for Romance.

  14. This is a good exercise that I'm still working on - a twenty word blurb would sure be handy at book signings!

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  15. Hope you went out and celebrated, Sia. That's a huge accomplishment to get all that in. Share it with us sometime.

    What a great use for a logline, Jane. I like that idea.

  16. Jane's idea is great. You could even print them on a promotional bookmarker with your website info.


  17. That's a great idea Jenny.

    I know of authors who use business cards and the logline could go on the back, along with ISBN and title.

  18. Sounds like a blurb or something you'd say in a pitch to an editor to get them interested. Not easy to do, unless inspiration strikes.

    Morgan Mandel

  19. Excellent blog post. Lord knows I've agonized over trying to craft the perfect logline for my first novel. It seems so simple when you first think about it, then write down the 20-30 words and realize it isn't quite right. Not even close. :)

  20. It does sometimes seem that writing small is more difficult than writing large.


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