Friday, 13 June 2014

Log Lines - One Sentence Summaries and Why They're Important

I read a very interesting blog post by Kristen Lamb the other day. It was about log lines, specifically the ability to summarise your story in at one sentence. Now I’ve never put much stock in that idea, preferring to have a much longer paragraph. But then I wrote a log line for a story I wrote for work and I realised how helpful it can be. Once I tried to apply it to several of my WiPs though I realised exactly how twisty and bendy my stories usually are. In fact Love Complications is the only one where I could actually get a sentence summary down, probably because it’s YA and as a result has a fairly simple plot. Well that and The Autharium Project but given that it’s only just been outlined and not written that isn’t particularly surprising.

These one sentence summaries are known as log lines, a way for you to explain your story when you get that inevitable "so what are you working on?" question that comes up every time someone new finds out that you're a writer. I think they’re key though because even when you get lost in all the sub plots and details there is still something there for you to aim for you to focus on. They basically boil down your story down into the key plot.

There are five key parts of a log line (Kristen puts it better than I do so definitely go and check out her blog which you can find here). Anyway these five parts are;
  • The protagonist
  • An active verb
  • An active goal
  • The antagonist
  • The stakes.

I’ll use a little example here. The logline for The Autharium Project (boy I need to come up with a new name for that soon) would be;
Sky pirate Captain Kaya Rush must find the Oracle of Truth before Commander Arnoth Bay in order to save the man she loves.
There is a lot more to the story than this, including witches and magic and dead civilisations but the logline above is the key storyline, the concept that I started off with. It is this logline that I need to keep in mind when I’m writing and when I’m editing. Whatever else is involved in the story, whether it’s a romantic subplot or a sudden abandonment by her crew I need to keep aiming for that key part of the story to shine through. More importantly the logline can help me see how what Kaya’s goal is and how to stop her reaching it. These obstacles are what makes the story, any story, interesting and reminds you where your attention needs to go.

Now Kristen focuses on loglines in terms of how they can help sell your book, gauge market interest and also, hopefully, help to get an agent. But I realised that if you come up with the logline early enough it can be a massive help when it actually comes to writing the book. It is so easy, too easy, when you’re writing to get swept away in these new ideas for events and things that happen to your characters. You get so caught up in getting them all out, fixing them up to look pretty that you can forget the key idea, the one thing that caught your eye about the story and made you want to write that idea rather than another one. The logline helps you focus, it helps you to remember what it is that got you so fired up about the concept that you started to plan and outline and write. And hopefully it helps you write a great novel.

So what am I going to do with this new found information? I’m going to apply it to each and every one of my WiPs. Feral Diaries I know needs one, it needs to be cleared up. Once its cleaned up I can continue my revisions with that logline in mind and hopefully create a more rounded story. Wolfe needs one and right now it’s not clear what that key storyline is. For the moment Wolfe is comprised of one thing after another happening to a man who just wants to be left alone. Swords and Magic needs one too, in fact that whole project needs to be completely planned out which is something I hope to get to once The Autharium Project is wrapped up. I've also realised that from now on I need to be creating the logline once the outlines are done and checking the two against each other. It may make the initial story a little leaner but there's always the sub plots and detail to make the stories bigger. From the beginning it's always important to know what the end goal is.

So what might your loglines be for some of your projects? Do you think mine sounds interesting? Let me know below in the comments, I love to hear from you.

Keep an eye out for my next post where I talk about the Three Act Structure and why I'm now so keen on using it.