What the heck is a logline? I asked myself as I reviewed the submission requirements for an agent near the beginning of my querying journey about three years ago. Google informed me that a logline is a one-sentence pitch, or hook. It should clearly state the central conflict in your story. The components of the conflict are three: the protagonist, his/her goal, and the antagonist. You also have to think about conveying the setting, tone (quirky? dark? both?) and uniqueness-factor of your story in only a handful of words.
In other words, when it comes to the loggo-lino, strip it down. We’re talking about doing surgery to identify the spinal cord of your story. Don’t tell the world the full background of your trauma-laden heroine, why she chose to be a vegan chef and why she’s always been interested in graphic design but feels held back and how her dog Spot is truly a comfort on all those lonely nights and how her freckle, if you look close, is actually a miniature tattooed map of the cosmos.
Actually, do tell me about her freckle, and then why it’s a problem. Like this.
When a vegan chef finds that her freckle is a miniature tattooed map of the cosmos . . .
yeah, that has a good ring to it. What next?
. . . predicting the end of the world, she must devise a plan to save the human race–in twenty-four hours.
I will call this novel The Freckle of Lisa.
And it will be a trilogy.
And it will be a bestselling trilogy.
And I will never write it.
The internet told me that, as an aspiring writerly person, I should have a logline ready to fling out in elevators at all the potential agents and editors I was going to meet at all the conferences I was going to attend.
SUMMARIZE MY GORGEOUS MULTI-DIMENSIONAL, DEEP, COMPLICATED NOVEL IN ONE SENTENCE? I screamed.
FORCE OVER A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS INTO ONE FREAKING SENTENCE? I screamed.
FOR A THEORETICAL EDITOR IN A THEORETICAL ELEVATOR IN A THEORETICAL LIFE WHERE I’M CHARMING AND BOLD AND ATTEND CONFERENCES? I screamed.
IT’S SHEER MADNESS TO EVEN–
and then I passed out because all that screaming renders one breathless.
Thankfully the field in the submission form was optional. So I left if blank.
It wasn’t until two years later that the logline came back into my life via the back door.
There I was, sitting in front of my computer and contemplating the insane and awesome event that is PitchMadness, followed by #PitMad on Twitter, and I realized that it was time to write a 35-word pitch for the two novels I was querying. And even more challenging: a 40-character pitch for the Twitter event.
I opened up a blank Word doc.
I stared at it for a while.
Clearly, I wanted to cover character, setting and stakes–stabbing (with words) the heart of the conflict–and leave room on Twitter for the genre and event hashtags. Wow, this was going to be hard.
And it was . . . but it also wasn’t.
At the core, it was awesome. Condensing years of work, two novels of over a hundred thousand words each, and plots that I had labored over for so long, into a handful of words–let’s just say the experience was like scrubbing down with a powerful loofah. It hurt a bit, but then you step out of the shower all steamy and pink with your new skin, and you feel great. Refreshed, clean, empowered and beautiful.
So I challenge you, whether or not you’re planning on participating in events like PitchMadness or PitMad, to write 40-word summaries of your projects. I liked what I wrote so much that (with slight changes) I sent out a fresh batch of queries with the zingy plot summary right at the top, and whaddya know, my percentage of full requests ratcheted up significantly.
Turns out that having a logline is productive even if you’re not bold, charming, attending conferences and riding in elevators constantly.
Now go forth and write loglines, my gorgeous writing friends! I promise you won’t be sorry.