by Laura Drake @PBRWriter
I’m teaching a submissions class for the Lawson Writer’s Academy the whole month of August. I’ll cover a buttload of material, from where to look for agents to email query formatting as well as polishing your query until an agent will need sunglasses just to read it.
But today, I just want to discuss the most critical part of your query—the smallest part—the logline.
Yes, your plot summary is important. So is your bio. As is your greeting (be sure to spell the agent’s name right!)
I love loglines. There’s no better feeling than pulling together words that capture the spirit of your book in a perfect, compelling way.
Have you ever noticed that loglines are only fun to come up with when they’re NOT yours?
There’s a reason for that.
But first, there’s some confusion about taglines vs loglines, so let’s start there.
A tagline is a catchy ‘movie poster’ phrase.
A logline is a 25-word (or so) synopsis of your book.
Examples illustrate the difference clearly:
Tagline – Don’t go in the water.
Logline – After a series of grisly shark attacks, a sheriff struggles to protect his small beach community against the bloodthirsty monster, in spite of the greedy chamber of commerce. (from J. Gideon Sarentinos)
So WHY is it so hard to write loglines for your own books? You’re too close to it. A logline is a concise, yet sweeping portrayal of your novel’s genre, conflict, characters and emotion. Did I mention in 25 words? Yeah, no pressure.
There are formulas to come up with loglines:
- At Filmmaking101 Joe Lam says it must have 5 parts: Protagonist, genre, inner conflict, outer conflict, and climax.
- Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat! says: It must contain a type of hero, the antagonist, the hero’s primal goal and it must have irony.
- Some say, all you need is a character with a goal and a conflict.
- WHO (character) / WHAT he wants (Goal) / WHY he can’t have it (conflict)
- Template: “This is the story about a _____ who ________ so ________ only to discover _________
All those work. They’ll give you a perfectly workable logline. A workmanlike logline.
But to me, that’s only a place to start.
THEN you need to add what Margie Lawson calls,
Something that make readers say, ‘Ohhhhh…”
- Use Backloading: If you haven’t yet attended a Margie class (and if not, you seriously need to – trust me) backloading is taking the most important word in your sentence, paragraph, scene or chapter, and placing it at the end.
- Example: Smoke rolled into the sky, spreading over the dairy like an angry fist.
- Use Power words: Very simply a word that carries power. In the above example, ‘angry’ and ‘fist’ hold power, because they evoke emotion.
- Don’t use names: Don’t waste your precious 25 words on names. Use the opportunity to tell us more about the character, with adjectives. Which is more compelling:
- Lucy Bollingmo – or – A free-spirit debutante with a problem with authority
- Glitzy McDaniel – or – a rapid cycling bi-polar clown
- See what I mean?
- A tough principal takes revolutionary measures to clean up a notoriously dangerous inner-city New Jersey high school. Lean on Me
- A meek and alienated little boy finds a stranded extraterrestrial and has to find the courage to defy authorities to help the alien return to its home planet. ET
- Naive Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to. Midnight Cowboy
- In a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs, a cop struggles on the lam to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed. Minority Report
- A comedic portrayal of a young and broke Shakespeare who falls in love with a woman, inspiring him to write “Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare in Love
- An archeologist is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. Raiders of the Lost Ark
It could be as simple as an intriguing title. 40 Year Old Virgin – Who wouldn’t want to read on to find out about that?!
Personally, I’m a fan of using an intriguing line from your book. It can be a good intro to your voice.
This is the line I used in my query for my novel, The Sweet Spot:
The grief counselor told the group to be grateful for what they had left. After lots of considering, Charla Rae decided she was thankful for the bull semen.
From Her Road Home:
You can’t outrun nightmares on a motorcycle – Samantha Crozier knows because she’s tried.
Get the idea? Seem impossible? It’s not. Think about your book. SOMETHING was intriguing enough about the idea to make you spend months writing it. What was that? What was Different? Fun? Compelling?
If you’d like, post your logline in the comments, and we’ll work together on it!
Laura Drake is a New York published author of Women’s Fiction and Romance.
Her romance series, Sweet on a Cowboy, is set in the world of professional bull riding. Her debut, The Sweet Spot, won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award. She also published a four-book small town romance series with Harlequin’s Superomance line. Her latest women’s fiction released January 2016.
Laura is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.
Laura began a video blog for writers, answering their burning questions. You can watch all the episodes HERE. If you have a question you’d like her to address in a future episode, leave her a comment!