How to write a story logline without going crazy

How to write a story logline without going crazy

I decided to try to write a logline for my next novel because I had wandered into mucky territory in working on my plot. I’ve attempted this for several of my earlier novels, but never successfully. I can write a 500-page novel, but a one-sentence summary? This turns my brain into a pretzel.

What is a logline?

Logline Examples

The term logline originated in Hollywood. According to some, film producers would get so many scripts to consider that they took to summarizing the story in one sentence and putting it on the spine of the manuscript so that they could easily find what they were looking for.

A more likely explanation, IMO, is this one, thanks to Ms. Google:

The term “logline” was first used in old Hollywood. The big studios would own hundreds of scripts, and the studio head would keep a log book that recorded concise summaries (or “loglines“) that described each script in the studio’s possession.

A logline (sometimes called the “elevator pitch”) summarizes the essence of a story in one sentence (sometimes two) between 20 – 30 words long.

How hard can that be?

Hard!

Why write a logline?

  • Writing a logline is a good way of discovering the core of your story.
  • A logline will help you keep focussed on that core while writing the novel.
  • A logline will be useful if pitching your book to an agent or publisher, should you need to do so.
  • A logline will be useful in marketing the novel once it’s published.

How to begin

I love anything that makes writing something seem easy, like this video on writing a logline:

According to this, a logline formula is, simply:

Character + want + obstacle

Easy, right?

Not exactly!

First step: Describe the main character

I’ve read that it’s best to use an (interesting) adjective + noun structure for any character mentioned in your logline, and to not use their names. (An exception to this last is to name characters of historical significance.)

Here’s Molly, the main character of The Next Novel (working title Raptor Girl):

A feral teen falconer with mysterious powers

Yes, I know: it doesn’t quite fit the two-word rule, but I’m going with it.

Her antagonist, young Master Pete, might be described as:

  • a predator
  • (or, simply) the Master

And the interesting adjective? Here are some I’m considering:

  • vindictive
  • vengeful
  • desperate

Although “desperate predator” is interesting, “vindictive Master” is clearer.

Next step: What does my protagonist want?

That’s the million-dollar-question, because my Molly (or any character, for that matter) wants many things:

  • She wants her father’s respect.
  • She wants him to come out of his depression, get over his grief.
  • She wants to save his life.
  • She wants to solve the mystery of her brothers’ death.
  • She wants to help her father fulfill her dead brothers’ last wish to compete in Queen Elizabeth’s White Falcon Gala.
  • She wants to escape Pete’s murderous vengeance.
  • She wants to save the lives of her raptors.
  • She wants not to be sent to the gallows for having saved them.
  • She wants to be a falconer, to live a life with raptors.
  • She wants to kiss the funny horse whisperer.
  • She wants to prove to the world that her white falcon is exceptional.

So: how to choose just one?

I began by looking for the one thing that might tie into several others.

This one might be key:

She wants to help her father fulfill her dead brothers’ last wish to compete in Queen Elizabeth’s White Falcon Gala.

Let’s give it the “why” test: Why does she want to do this?

Because:

  • It would help restore her father’s spirits.
  • It would honour her dead brothers.
  • It would prove how amazing her falcon is. (And what an amazing falconer she is, in turn, earning her father’s respect.)

So it’s a fairly central goal, except for one thing. Competing in Queen Elizabeth’s Gala could mean discovery by the Master, from whom she is fleeing.

Last step: the obstacle

So maybe this is the obstacle:

A feral teen falconer with unusual powers is intent on helping her father honour her dead brothers’ last wish by competing in Queen Elizabeth’s White Falcon Gala, although doing so could mean being sent to the gallows by the vindictive Master.

OK. Not bad, although at 41 words it’s far too long. Trimming it back will have to come. Loglines will change over time; they do not have to be written in stone.

Refining the logline

But now, how to refine it, make it better?

In Finding the Core of Your Story  Jordan Smith suggests two things:

  • some loglines need a phrase to set the scene;
  • using the word must or forced can add urgency.

So, giving this a try:

After the suspicious deaths of her two brothers, a feral teen falconer with unusual powers must help her broken-hearted father honour her dead brothers’ last wish by competing in Queen Elizabeth’s White Falcon Gala, although doing so could mean being sent to the gallows by their vindictive Master.

Now to test it, to see if it follows the formula

Main character:

After the suspicious deaths of her two brothers, a feral teen falconer with unusual powers must help her broken-hearted father honour her dead brothers’ last wish by competing in Queen Elisabeth’s White Falcon Gala, although doing will likely mean being sent to the gallows by their vindictive Master.

Goal:

After the suspicious deaths of her two brothers, a feral teen falconer with unusual powers must help her broken-hearted father honour her dead brothers’ last wish by competing in Queen Elizabeth’s White Falcon Gala, although doing so will likely mean being sent to the gallows by their vindictive Master.

Obstacle:

After the suspicious deaths of her two brothers, a feral teen falconer with unusual powers must help her broken-hearted father honour her dead brothers’ last wish by competing in Queen Elizabeth’s White Falcon Gala, although doing so will likely mean being sent to the gallows by their vindictive Master.

The interesting thing about this exercise is that it solved a few plot problems. Before, competing in the Gala was something that happened almost by chance, which didn’t feel logical, much less dramatic. Also, the danger of discovery by Master Pete was never even considered. Now that possibility adds tension.

Plot problems outstanding

There are many outstanding plot problems to be solved, including solving the mystery of her brothers’ death and how to dispense with the vengeful Master.

Also, perhaps the one hook that’s most of interest to potential readers is that Molly will become Queen Elizabeth’s Master Falconer.

You can see how challenging it is to write a logline!


Useful references on writing loglines

Finding the Core of Your Story: How to Strengthen and Sell ...

Finding the Core of your Story by Jordan Smith

Learn How to Write a Logline for Your Screenplay Once & for All

10 Tips for Writing Loglines

Save the Cat! Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwriters ...

I’m a big fan of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and I’m looking forward to reading Save the Cat Strikes Back, which I understand has a chapter on loglines.

Speaking of Save the Cat, this post on logline templates for specific genres as defined by Snyder looks interesting. I’ll be exploring it soon.

In other words, more to come.

Eagles, red kites and an Elizabethan wedding: a round-about way to come up with an idea for a scene

Eagles, red kites and an Elizabethan wedding: a round-about way to come up with an idea for a scene

Yesterday I began searching for my next raptor to paint and I was captured by this lady, named, appropriately, “Imperious.”

I wanted to find out the breed of this bird and to know if it might be one my character in The Next Novel might have had experience with. In other words, what was this bird, and was it common to Elizabethan England?

http://raphaelhistoricfalconry.com/img/Team-Raphael-Falconry.jpgI’d discovered Imperious on the website of Raphael Historical Falconry, and so I wrote to them. This morning, I had a long email from Emma Raphael, giving me a full and very interesting explanation. (People are so very generous with their knowledge!) Imperious is a Golden Eagle hybrid, and Eagles were rarely seen in Elizabethan England. In fact, there was only one recorded, in the ruins of an old castle near Chester, and was persecuted by farmers who feared for their young cattle.

The beauty of the Red Kite

The wild raptor most associated with Elizabethan England, Emma went on to explain, is the Red Kite.

Free photo: Red Kite, Bird Of Prey, Milan - Free Image on ...

(The red kite might be a scavenger raptor, but it is so beautiful! I believe I may have found my next painting subject.)

Emma went on to explain about red kites in Elizabethan England:

They were at their highest population levels ever at this time because of the spread of human settlements and all the open rubbish pits found in towns and villages in which they scavenged. They flocked in their hundreds and could be seen wheeling around the skies like crows whistling and calling.

She suggested I look at the painting “The Wedding at Bermondsey” — a painting of a wedding in Elizabethan London. From a detail of the painting, red kites can be seen in the sky.

Emma goes on to explain that …

The royals throughout the period hunted kites with Gyr Falcons because they were so numerous and there are lots of accounts of “kite hawking” in Londonshire, Cambridgeshire and Huntingtonshire.

Cambridgeshire is the initial location of The Next Novel, and so here, with a simple inquiry about Imperious, I have a wealth of scene possibilities.

The charm of men in bloomers

Additionally, ” Wedding at Bermondsey” is a painting I could get absorbed in for some time. The details are delicious. The 16th century is new to me, and I confess that men in bloomers are charmingly captivating.

Wedding at Bermondsey, Joris Hoefnagel, 1569-71 | Historic ...

Why Do Only Women Have to Dress Well?

 

Belgium artist Joris Hoefnagel painted “Wedding at Bermondsey” some time after his visit to the UK in 1569.

Using Scrivener: the good, the bad, and the hopeful

Using Scrivener: the good, the bad, and the hopeful

I’m using Scrivener right now to write my next novel and most everything else I need to write … a speech, a workshop, etc.

Notice I said “right now.” It’s a bit of a love/hate relationship so far. For the short pieces, I jump in frustration to Word fairly quickly … only to recall why Word frustrates me. That said, the newest Word for Mac has an amazing feature — “Insert Online” pictures —which makes crafting an illustrated blog post a breeze. I’ll be using it for blog posts, for sure.

Ergonomic necessities

I love trying new systems (a new To Do List method, new Exercises, etc.), but I’m in systems overload right now. Back problems have forced me to change how I even go about writing. No more cozy in bed for hours with my latte and laptop. No more sitting with a notebook on my lap to write. Now I have to do what I’ve been told for years I should do: get up off the &%*# couch.

In short, I’m learning to adjust to a sit-down/stand-up desk, learning to put a 30-minute timer out of reach so that I have to move to turn it off. In short, there will be no more losing myself for hours in a cramped position while writing, but moving, moving, always moving.

There are often benefits in making changes. For example, I’m learning to dictate while moving. Yeah!

So end of the world? Hardly.

Plotting on Scrivener

Which brings me around to the initial subject of this post: an intriguing YouTube video on plotting with Scrivener. Every day I look for an article on writing to post to my Flipboard magazine. I always read the article to see if I feel it’s worthy, and this one absorbed me for quite some time. I’ve downloaded the template (the download link is toward the bottom of the page), loaded it into Scrivener and am going to give it a try. I’ll let you know what I think — once I stop moving, that is.

Organizing Scrivener to Plot Your Novel with Allan L. Mann

World Falconry Day celebrates women falconers

World Falconry Day celebrates women falconers

Today, November 16, is World Falconry Day. This year the theme is specifically on female falconers, historically and currently. This is significant because traditionally falconry has been a male realm.

I’m in the research stage of writing a Young Adult novel about a young woman falconer in Elizabethan England, so naturally this caught my eye.

If you haven’t watched the award-winning documentary The Eagle Huntress, do! It’s amazing.

This video, too, is also about women practicing falconry with eagles:

The women talk about how hard it was at first. I’d like to know: Hard in what ways?

Bed-bound promo, website craziness, and Scrivener awe

Bed-bound promo, website craziness, and Scrivener awe

I’ve been bed-bound for over a week since a minor knee operation to repair a meniscus issue. I’m not going to whine about it! In fact, I’ve discovered that I’m the perfect candidate for this type of life.

On the bed beside me are:

  • my Mac Air;
  • my Levenger notebook (calendar etc.);
  • a Circa notebook fat with my To Do lists;
  • another notebook (a Semikolon Mucho Spiral Notebook for the stationery curious), where I’m thinking through The Next Novel;
  • a three-ring binder for scene sheets (@ Story Genius), which I’m really using as a support for my mouse pad and mouse);
  • my Kindle;
  • an iPad;
  • and a stack of magazines (The New Yorker, Real Simple, and Bookmarks).

Beside the bed is my walker (required for just a little longer!), a water bottle, clock, and iPhone. Moisturizer, lipstick, post-its, pencil, pen, pills. Snacks, tissue. Basic clutter.

Everything I need, in short, right where I can reach it. The only problem with this rat’s-nest life is that I can’t climb stairs (yet), can’t get up to my office.

But for now, I’m making great use of this time.

Website renovation

With every publication, a writer needs to update his/her website with information about the new book, a new media kit, author events, and a new author portrait throughout.

I didn’t have time to get an author portrait taken this year (I tried a selfie, with poor results), so I’ve used one James Brylowski took of me five years ago.

“Problem is, books are written slowly, and aging happens all of a sudden.” — from a wonderful article: The Agony and the Ecstasy of taking Author Photos.)

Having neglected my website for years, I discovered a number of problems. Fortunately, I was able to find a great website person through Fiverr.com who is helping me. We have quite a bit to do yet.

(Frankly, I don’t know how authors who publish a book a year manage.)

An important part of getting my website more reader-worthy was setting up my Media page. Following the directions of Tim Grahl (see below), I learned to code my Media page so that high-definition images would be automatically downloaded with just a click. I’m fairly stoked that I was able to do this.

Also, on Fiverr.com, I found someone to turn the book cover of The Game of Hope into a 3D image (see above). For $5!

Easy Outreach with Tim Grahl

When it comes to marketing, I’m a fan of Tim Grahl, He’s experienced, down-to-earth and realistic. I’ve taken a few of his online courses, and they’ve always been worthwhile. Right now I’m following a new one he’s testing out, “Easy Outreach.” Basically, it’s about how to get interviewed on podcasts, but the detailed system he outlines would apply to any outreach: to blogs, vlogs, or podcasts, etc.

An important part of the process is to identify suitable podcasts and to study them before making a pitch. (I’ve discovered a number of wonderful podcasts in the process.) I’m kind of excited about putting this into practice. I ordered a USB Yeti mike, and already have one podcast interview scheduled for the fall.

I’m ready! Who knows where this might lead?

Finally learning Scrivener

I’ve promised myself that I would write The Next Novel on Scrivener. I’ve taken stabs at learning it before, but I’ve always ended up confused and frustrated. It’s a complex programme! I was on the verge of giving up when I came upon a Udemy Scrivener 3 course for Mac. It had excellent reviews so I went for it. It’s been fantastic. I have questions almost every day, and the teacher responds to every one. I take it bit by bit, and immediately apply what I’ve learned, so hopefully it will stick. I’m finally understanding why so many writers love it.

Additionally, I’ve been developing my next novel following the guidelines in Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Puzzling over how to get Cron’s scene card templates into my Scrivener project, I Googled “Story Genius Scrivener” and found a wonderful article by Gwen Hernandez on WriterUnboxed: Using Scrivener with Story Genius. Bingo! She even included a downloadable Scrivener template with scene card templates (and much more).

Watching movies, reading and listening to books and reading magazines …

And then, of course, there have been wonderful movies to watch: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Call Me by Your Name; and, last night, Lady Bird. All were simply great. Of the three, I found Call Me by Your Name the most enchanting, swooningly European.

And then, of course, books, books, books! In addition to books on writing, I’m reading The Burning Girl by Claire Messud and listening, on Audible, to an amazing performance of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

A hard life, eh?

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Last day in the bunker; looking forward, looking back, looking side-ways

Last day in the bunker; looking forward, looking back, looking side-ways

Today is my last day in “the bunker”—my lovely basement office in our Ontario home. I have another lovely office awaiting in Mexico, but this one (shown above) is my favourite, and I always feel a little sad leaving.

It’s said that “home is where your books are,” and that makes this place home: we’ve books everywhere here.

As soon as I finish this post, I will close the door on this office  until next spring. I’ve tidied it well this year.

On the 1st of November, a little jet-lagged and travel weary, I will unpack my lovely office in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

SMA office

As soon as I have my printer up and running, I will print out THE GAME OF HOPE (working title of The Next Novel). I’ve been thinking about it a lot and am ready to plunge into the next draft.


Other things going on:

I’ve enrolled in Witches, Plagues, and War, a free on-line course in Historical Fiction, offered through  amazing Coursera.org. There are over 15,000 enrolled worldwide. Mind-boggling.

But the main thing is the quality: the course is fantastic. I’m learning and loving it.

Check out all the other Coursera offerings: are they not amazing? I want to drop out and go to school! I want to work toward that long-ago impossible dream of getting a PhD in Comparative Lit!

Maybe when I’m 80 …