If you’re a script writer you know what loglines are and you will likely have heard of the famous “Save The Cat” book by Blake Snyder.
I’ve only just started reading it and have already discovered how important a good logline is, not only to a script, but for novel writing too!
If you aren’t able to come up with a good logline for your novel, then there may be something not quite right about your story, or something that could make it SO much better, and so much more marketable to both publishers and readers.
So what is a logline? Basically it is a sentence or two telling the audience, or your reader, what your story is about. For film it’s the blurb that you read in the movie listings that helps you decide what movie you want to go see on Saturday night.
In his book, Snyder says “If you can’t tell me about it [your story/script] in one quick line, well, buddy I’m on to something else. Until you have your pitch, and it grabs me, don’t bother with the story.”
So what if you’ve already written your story, but you don’t have a good log line?
A writing friend of mine used Snyder’s logline idea for her story and discovered that her novel didn’t have high enough stakes, so she changed it and voila! It became a much more exciting novel than it was been before. She found the missing piece she needed to take her novel from being good to great!
Here are the four elements you need for a logline
1. Who is the main character?
2. what is his goal?
3. what is stopping him from achieving his goal? (aka the antagonist)
4. what will happen if he doesn’t achieve that goal? (what are the stakes)
Let’s briefly look at these elements.
1. Who is the main character?
Can you tell me who your main character is without saying his name? For example,
-A young refugee mother of two…
-a recovering alcoholic retired physics professor…
-an teen-aged alien boy from the future…
2. What is the main character’s goal?
In any good movie the main character must have a goal, so why not in a novel too? The goal could be obvious like “to find a friend for the end of the world” or not so obvious like dealing with “turning forty”. But I recommend that it be more obvious than not. Let your reader want to keep reading to see if your main character reaches his goal. One of my favourite movies is A Birder’s Guide to Everything. The main character’s goal is to once again find the extinct duck he saw and take a picture of it and become famous. But there is so much more going on in that movie. Yet the goal keeps the film moving forward. In fact, it can be said that each ‘scene’ should have a mini-goal of its own and each character in your story should have his or her own goals, even if it’s silly or not directly related to the main story. The main character’s mom might have a goal of losing weight, and whenever we see her she is trying something new to further her goal. Your characters are better when they are proactive, whether or not they ever succeed in reaching their mini goals.
3. What is hindering your main character? (or who is the antagonist)
The antagonist could be an evil villain, or it could be the main character’s inner struggle with self-esteem or social anxiety. It can be anything that inhibits your main character from reaching his goal, although there’s something to be said about a good antagonist (which is a whole other topic).
4. What will happen if your main character doesn’t reach his goal?
Will the world end? Are your stakes high enough? What happens if the dinosaurs escape Jurassic Park? The world will be in danger! What happens if your main character doesn’t reach home? Will someone die? Will he lose the heart of his beloved? Even if it isn’t the end of the world as we know it, it should still be the end of your main character’s world, if he doesn’t succeed in reaching his goal. He HAS to succeed!
My latest teen fiction novel Hamster Heaven** doesn’t have the end of the world, but Kati’s world comes crashing down on her when she thinks she’s lost David, lost her hamster and lost her faith too.
I’m currently working on a shark movie script. I was struggling with the story until I read about loglines and how not having a good one may mean you don’t have a good enough script yet.
So check your log line, or if you don’t have one then make one! Can you describe your story to a publisher in the elevator in the time it takes to go up a couple of floors? (research ‘elevator pitch’ for some great advice). And if you can, will that description hook the publisher enough to ask you for a business card? (if you don’t have business cards, make them!)
I must mention the importance of irony, because Snyder feels it is crucial and so it may well be! In his book “Save the Cat” he says “insisting on irony in your logline is a good place to find out what’s missing [in your story]. Maybe you don’t have a good movie [or novel] yet.”
Here is a good example of irony in a storyline: A landlubber sheriff tries to kill a giant shark to protect his family and seaside resort town. – Jaws
The irony here is that the sheriff is scared of the water, he’s an unlikely candidate for saving the town from a killer shark.
Is your main character a big and strong guy fighting an army? Maybe you can change him into a shy girl who can’t fight. But she leads an unlikely gang of misfits into victory over an overwhelming army of strongmen.
I know what it feels like to realize you have to do a rewrite of your novel and change plot lines. But don’t fret. A good logline is worth the rewrite. It may be as simple as increasing the stakes and rewriting some of the action scenes. In the end you’ll have a better story that is easier to market and has a hook that will get you more readers!
Try this fun way of writing a logline. Fill in the blanks:
In a world, where __[something terrible is happening]___ , one man ___[or woman: main character]____ must ___[overcome odds]____ before ____[the end of the world, or someone’s world]___ .
I’ll try one:
In a world, where a new alien life form is taking over mankind, one man, nerdy computer gamer Joe, must find the antidote to the alien virus, before everyone in the world dies.
Now you give it a try!
Happy writing everyone 🙂
**Hamster Heaven can be read on wattpad for free, updated weekly at http://www.wattpad.com/biancarowena