What’s your book about?
That’s a hard question to answer. For some writers, it’s almost impossible. Even if it seems easy to sit down and type out 350 pages of a manuscript in a universe you created, knowing how to tell someone about it in a nutshell is a unique challenge that rises above long-form fiction.
Teasers. Elevator pitches. Interview questions. Even if you’re not working to impress an agent or publisher, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share your book with others. It’s a good idea to have a spiel ready at all times, just in case. That is where log lines come in.
What is a logline?
Loglines are traditionally affiliated with scriptwriting, and they’re a fast way to grab the attention of an agent or producer in a single sentence. These sentences have a more-or-less specific structure, as you can see from the graphic below:
The first element of most log lines is a note about the setting or the circumstance the book opens with. “After his wife dies from cancer…” “In a world where even the slightest whispers are recorded and kept…” “Alone in a forgotten mansion…” all work as openers.
The second element is your protagonist. You might have two protagonists sometimes (e.g. romance novels), but one is fine. A description of a character is usually better than a name because it paints a clearer picture. Examples of a character in a logline are, “a disillusioned heart surgeon,” “a bubbly high school cheerleader,” and “an ambitious advertising executive.”
The third and final element is the conflict. Keep the conflict as true as possible to your story, and don’t be afraid of teasing out the climax as needed. “Traps himself in his dream reality,” “is forced to take the family business into her own hands,” or “must dismantle a bomb on top of a skyscraper before time runs out.”
Not all log lines are well done. The one above, which I constructed in about thirty seconds for my book Stranded with A Space Marine, has room for improvement. But they’re easy, and they make a great starting point.
Having a functioning logline, no matter how mechanical, is extremely useful when crafting your elevator pitch and deciding how you want to present your book to readers. But how can you turn it into a piece of magic?
The bad news is that not every story has a “magic” logline possibility. If your story is extremely unconventional or experimental, or if you crafted it without much planning, it might not sink well into the three elements described above. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean that your book is broken or not salable, but you’d have a hard time if you were pitching to agents. It’s also a safe assumption that your book won’t fly off the shelves after you release it—frustrating but true.
There are two steps you can take to make sure that your books have the potential to wow people with a single sentence.
1. Write commercial fiction. This isn’t for everyone. You could be one of those writers who just can’t do it, and that doesn’t mean this is a lost cause. But commercial fiction is overwhelmingly easier to sell than literary fiction or experimental fiction. If you write in a popular genre—or even in a genre that isn’t popular but that is very distinct—you know what keywords and tropes are going to be popular. If your write to the expectations and hopes of your genre’s fans, you can draw people in by throwing all of the juicy stuff into your logline.
2. Write your logline first. Some authors craft compelling log lines and flesh them out to full stories after they’re sure they have a solid idea. This is one of the basic premises behind the Snowflake Method, and it’s a good way to stay on track even if you don’t plan everything out before you write. If you start with your logline, you can always feel free to change it according to the needs of your story. Just make sure to keep it snappy and interesting. You never know when someone will look over your shoulder and ask what you’re working on.
Do you craft log lines for your book? How do you explain your current project to potential readers? Please share your experiences in the comment section below. You can also click on the blue button below to join my Facebook group for self-publishing fiction writers.