The Ins and Outs of Loglines

I’ve started revising my novel.  (Actually, I’m still preparing myself to get to work as I polish off a few short stories, but I’m starting on the ground work).  A while ago I talked about the elevator pitch approach to editing that I intend to use.  This approach requires that I write a one sentence summary of my novel: in a sense a pitch you could make if you had an editor’s ear for about fifteen seconds.

In the TV and film industry, and maybe with increasing frequency in the writing business, this is called a logline.  I’ve never actually written one before, so I did some research on what constitutes a good logline.  From a variety of sources, here’s what I’ve cobbled together.  Ideally, a good logline should: (1) have the title of the work (optional: the length), (2) identify the main character, (3) describe the character’s struggle, problem or antagonist, and (4) tell the consequences if the character fails.   It should be as specific as possible, be “action” oriented, and include details that would make the story interesting to the target audience.

That seem simple enough, right?  While it might seem easy on surface, it’s a lot harder than I expected.  Reducing an entire story into a single sentence is not only a challenge, but an art form.  All those beautify subplots and complications have no place in the logline.  That droll secondary character that steals the third scene…nope!…that cool gizmo thingie that saves the day…gone!  So much gets cut away, but of course that’s the point of the exercise: to figure out exactly what’s at the heart of the story. 

I’m not sure how to do that for a complex novel just yet, so I thought I would start with a logline for one of my short stories and then work my way up to something harder.  After many false starts, here’s what I came up with for my story “Thief of Futures:”

An on-the-run thief capable of stealing a person’s future must complete a final job for an amoral businessman before a killer finds his young daughter.

Wow!  That was actually quite hard to do, and I’m not even sure I like what I have.  I found it particularly challenging to bring out the speculative element of this story—it’s difficult to succinctly capture—and I’m not sure I did it effectively.  I also struggled with giving away too much plot information, because much of the attraction of a “last heist” story are the twist and turns of the tale itself.  I feel that much about the story is missing from the logline; but then, that’s point—only the core of the story should be there.  While my logline could certainly be stronger (any suggestions are welcome in the comments), I think it has captured the essence of “Thief of Future.”  If you haven’t read it already, do you want to read it now?

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About D. Thomas Minton

Writer of speculative fiction
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5 Responses to The Ins and Outs of Loglines

  1. Marc Schuster says:

    Great logline! I’d change “amoral businessman” to “evil tycoon.” “On-the-run” could probably use some work, too. “Fugitive,” perhaps?

    • “Evil tycoon” sounds a little over the top, but I like it. Why didn’t I think of “fugitive”?

      • Marc Schuster says:

        I thought it might be a little over the top, too. But I also wonder how important subtlety is in a logline. Then again, there’s also the issue of accuracy to consider. Is the guy really evil? Really a tycoon? Maybe he’s a scheming opportunist, or a Machiavellian entrepreneur? So many possibilities — and only once change to get it just right!

      • Yes, so many choices. The character is certainly more “evil tycoon” than “scheming opportunist.” So much to think about….It’s kind of fun, actually.

  2. Pingback: Logging a Couple More | D. Thomas Minton

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