You sit down at the lunch table and the lady next to you asks, “What is your book about?”
You stutter and ramble, string together an incoherent paragraph together that basically sums up any number of similar books. You know, you’ve heard them before, maybe even come up with a few.
- A girl starts a new life and it’s her first day of high school.
- A boy just got fired from his job and his life is terrible.
- A woman spends her last hours at the bedside of her dying husband.
- On and on they go. But there’s something missing and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Most of the time, when people tell me about their books, they tell me all about what their character is like or the really cool story world they’ve created. But they leave out the part that makes their book a story.
What is it the character wants? And what stands in their way?
When you’re telling people about your book, wouldn’t it be awesome to have a short sentence that cuts right to the heart of the matter and sets your story apart? In the movie world, that sentence is called a logline. In the literary world, we often refer to it as the elevator pitch.
In the future, a teenage girl volunteers to fight to the death in gladiator-style games to save her sister.
Recognize it? Does it make you want to read the book or see the movie? It worked for millions of Hunger Games fans.
So how do you write one that really catches a reader’s attention? Or even a super agent’s?
5 Tips for Writing Killer Loglines
- Practice: Write loglines to movies you’ve seen. Try coming up with a catchy logline for both blockbusters and flops. Practice on your novel or short story, too. Come up with as many variations as you can think of until you find the right one.
- Write it First: I know Seat-of-the-Panters won’t like this, but the more you have a vision about your story and can identify why you’re writing early on, the clearer your writing will be. Having a logline from the beginning will help you stay on the novel path and avoid the hundreds of bunny trails along the way. And it will help you finish your first draft sooner. Remember, the logline is not written in stone. As you discover more about your story world, you can always tweak it or change it entirely.
- Word Count Matters: Twenty-five words or less–no more! Your goal here is to sum up your story in one sentence (two at the most if you have a really complex plot).
- Identify the Elements: Make sure you know your character. Who are they at the beginning? What do they want? What stands in their way? You don’t have to be wordy or elaborate. In a logline, less is better.
- Formula: I’ve found this template to be a lifesaver, but feel free to adjust it to what works for you.
World Set-up (if using an unusual setting) + Character + Goal + Obstacle = Logline
Next time you sit down at the table and someone asks what your novel is about, you’ll have the perfect words. What if it’s an editor or agent at a writing conference? Who knows? Maybe your killer logline will grab their attention.
How about you? What logline tips have worked for you?
Rachelle Harp is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Intentional Novelist, as well as an avid coffee drinker. Her speculative fiction has appeared in Havok Magazine and her non-fiction in Chicken Soup for the Soul. She’s a finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest, a Zebulon Contest Novel winner, and a Novel Rocket Launch Pad Novel Contest grand prize winner. Read more at rachelleharp.com or follow her on Twitter.