Hollywood can teach novelists something very valuable: how to create a novel logline. Ads for movies use loglines all the time. It is the heart of the story boiled down to its very essence.
One of the best ways to find the center of your novel is to use only one sentence, aka logline, to describe it. This will not only serve to keep you focused on the story as you write it, it will also help you to pitch your novel to potential agents or publishers. Think of this one sentence as your twenty-second selling tool.
Try to pare the story down to one sentence. Though it may seem difficult, if not impossible, it is an excellent exercise for you to pinpoint the main plot of your novel.
Generally, you want to describe your story in 20 words or fewer. And keep the characters generic (don’t use the names of your characters).
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Examples of Loglines
The one sentence for Gone With The Wind might be, “A spoiled southern belle must learn to readjust to life after the Civil War.” Of course, this doesn’t begin to touch on all of the subplots, but it gives you an overview of the story.
For the Harry Potter series it might be, “An orphaned boy discovers he’s a wizard and must use his newfound powers to battle evil.”
One sentence to describe Twilight could be, “An ordinary teenage girl falls in love with a vampire and must sacrifice her normal life to be with him.”
An Art Form
Learning to condense your story in one sentence is an art form. Research one sentence book blurbs in newspapers or on the internet to see how effective one sentence can be. Write your own one-sentence descriptions for books you’ve read.
Once you have the hang of it, try it on your own novel. You might begin with several sentences, but as you whittle away at them and cut the unnecessary information, you’ll be able to come up with a sentence that is the heart of your story.
Forming the Logline
In your logline, you must include:
Ask yourself: What does my protagonist want more than anything for this story (goal)? What will happen if he/she doesn’t attain that goal (stakes)? What and who (antagonist) stands in the way of him/her attaining the goal (conflict)? Where does this story take place (setting)?
Keep practicing until you have the tightest sentence possible with all the pertinent information.
A retired policeman in New Orleans, must find the serial killer targeting nurses before his daughter is the next target. (Murder Mystery)
An aspiring accountant with a tattered heart, a jaded speech therapist, and a matchmaking grandma–what could go wrong? (Romantic Comedy)
A cynical social worker, a cowboy-turned-software-developer, and the devious bridesmaid who’s determined to come between them at a beach wedding. (Romance)
Try this on your own novel and see what you come up with.
Take your story-in-a-sentence and post it next to your computer or near your desk so you can keep it in eye shot while you write. You’ll find that it keeps you centered on your story.
I return to my logline many times during the course of writing my story to make sure I’m staying on the target and I haven’t gone off on some tangent that doesn’t have anything to do with my core story.
Every story needs a main character/protagonist, a situation, a goal and a problem. You want to communicate that about your story to readers/agents/publishers. Keep the focus on your main story and your main character.
You’ll also find that you can use your sentence in your query letter when the time comes to send out your novel to potential publishers or agents. You can whet the appetite of industry professionals with a well-written sentence.
You can also use this logline if you self-publish on your product page. Make it interesting so it will catch the eyes of potential readers
Now it’s your turn.
In (setting) (protagonist) wants (something) more than anything and if she/he doesn’t obtain it (conflict), (this disaster) will happen.
It may take you an hour or it may take you all day, but see if you can describe your novel in one sentence.
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