Five Steps to Tame Your Logline

Loglines are hard. It’s true. Creating those snappy compressed bites of your story can feel more draining than writing the entire story itself. No one said they were easy but they are essential. Here are a few tips on how to create a great logline for your story.

  1. Start with one page. Get out a blank sheet and challenge yourself to say all you can about your story on that single page. If it’s your first try, this will seem impossible but be assured it is not. Try to ignore that naysaying voice on your shoulder and just write. Start with the opening. Jump to the ending. Then insert the middle as best as you can. Write as if you are speaking to a friend you’ve met unexpectedly on the sidewalk. In fact, talking it out often helps. You’ll fill that page in no time. Once you’ve reached the end of paper/screen, stop. Resist the urge to continue writing. Now is the time to find out what can be sacrificed in order to get all of what you want to say to fit on that single sheet of paper.
  2. Once you have your page, notice what you had to leave out in order to make the story seem complete within your constraints. You probably lost entire subplots and characters that, while  are important to the whole work, didn’t enhance the shortened version. Being able to identify these aspects is a good skill to develop. A very, very good skill.
  3. Read through your single page to find even more opportunities to trim. The goal now is to cut what you’ve written by half. By now, you’ve eliminated characters and sequences of events. Now is the time to go for verbiage. For example, you might want to shorten, “In the sleepy little farm town known as Marcus, Iowa” to simply, “In Marcus, Iowa,” or “In Iowa.” Be ruthless with your red lines; do what you must but KEEP THE FLAVOUR in your effort to employ fewer words. Remember: a lifeless, generic summary is NOT the goal. Keep what makes your story yours. (At this point, you’re probably retching from performing the unholy opposite of creative expression but remember that this is only a tool to get your real story into readers’ hands. To that end, the more concisely you can render the whole, the better.)
  4. Getting shorter still. Put your red-lined page aside and start fresh with a new sheet. Rewrite your edited synopsis and marvel at how you’ve managed to tell your story in a way that retains its meaning and still makes sense in 500 words or so.
  5. Repeat steps 2 through 4 until you have a single paragraph of approximately 100 words that introduces your main character, the setting of your story, the main conflict your character faces and also conveys the beginning, middle, and end of your piece. If you need a refresher, read “The Logline: Your New Best Friend” for more details on your endgame.

Finished? Good work. Now go make yourself a cocktail to celebrate the blood, sweat, and tears shed in condensing your much-loved and hard-wrought tale into a reduction of its glorious self because now you are able to tell anyone about your story, have them understand the broad strokes without their eyes glazing over, then bask as they beg mercilessly to read the entire thing. Congratulations.

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  1. This is great! So many people try to write in their heads, and this can create a terrible wall. Put it all down (within reason), then cut. After all, it's not like you're using a typewriter! (Oh please, don't use a typewriter…)

    I have not tried this with the logline, but a trick I've used with other short/concise-writing challenges is to create a survey. I set myself specific questions to answer. I then fill in the answers. And then I take the answers and form them into something more reader-friendly. It's crude, but it gets me moving.

    bekbek says:
  2. I hadn't thought of this post as a writing exercise, actually. That's something to consider. My intention was to offer a tool to writers who need to create pitch materials for an existing long-form project (or, in my case, adapt an existing novel) but now that you mention it… Nice one, bekbek.

    dianejwright says:

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