Kristen Lamb wrote an awesome blog post yesterday called “How to Tell if Your Story is On Target–What is Your Book About in ONE Sentence?” It’s awesome. Go read it (I put the link in there), then come back. Or just stick around, because I plan on hitting the high points and adding a few bits of my own.
The meat of Kristen’s blog is that every author needs a log-line. Don’t know what that is? It’s a one-sentence pitch that summarizes your story. It’s the one sentence you can tell people when they ask, “What’s your book about?” Don’t ramble on for 20 minutes giving a play-by-play of the plot. Give the log-line. Go to IMDB (that’s a website) and look up your favorite movies. Odds are, there’s a one-sentence summary to get you to watch the movie.
Here are some examples:
“The Green Mile is about the lives of guards on death row leading up to the execution of a black man accused of rape and child murder who has the power of faith healing.”
“A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land.” (That’s Maleficent, and I’ve heard nothing to great reviews about this movie so far.)
“A reluctant hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sets out to the Lonely Mountain with a spirited group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain home–and the gold within it–from the dragon Smaug.”
The log-line tells the core idea of your story in a way that is emotionally intriguing and piques a reader’s interest. It can take time to get it right. Kristen suggests trying it out on lots of people, even strangers in the coffee shop. If their eyes glaze over, your log-line isn’t ready yet. If they lean forward and ask when that baby will be published, you know you’re on track.
Here are the components of a successful log-line (according to Kristen–I didn’t come up with this on my own):
1) a protagonist
2) an active verb
3) an active goal
4) an antagonist
5) the stakes
Check it out in action:
Luke Skywalker (protagonist) joins forces (active verb) with a Jedi knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookie, and two droids to save the universe (active goal) from the Empire’s world-destroying battle-station (the stakes), while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia (another goal) from the evil Darth Vader (antagonist.)
Here’s another one, from the movie X-Men: Days of Future Past (which I saw last weekend and thought was pretty good):
The X-Men send (active verb) Wolverine (protagonist) to the past in a desperate effort (active goal) to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants (stakes).
Notice the antagonist isn’t mentioned in this log-line, but it’s kind of implied in “the event.”
Now let me try it on one of my own stories, Cassandra’s Curse:
Cassandra Christofides uses her gift of precognition to stop a sniper who intends to kill Cassandra.
I’m fairly happy with this one. The hard part is knowing what stakes to put in there, as the sniper kills a bunch of people in the book, but I thought the most pressing stake in Cassie’s mind is her own demise. This comes at the end of the book, though, so don’t use your log-line as the blurb (that’s the sentence on the front of the book or the paragraph on the back of the book that’s supposed to entire readers to buy/read the book).
Now try writing a log-line for your book. If you feel brave, share your results in the comments section. You might get some helpful feedback.
Questions? Comments? Frustrations? Share them all!