What is a Logline

Last weekend I opened an e-book that I purchased about five years ago. Save the Cat is a non-fiction book about screenwriting written by Blake Snyder (who is a screenwriter). It’s also a book that is often mentioned by writers when talking about writing.

The first chapter of Save the Cat is about loglines, and the subject is definitely one that all writers (screenwriters or novel writers) need to understand. Writers often call these elevator pitches. They are the one sentence (two at the most) summaries we use to tell an agent, editor, or potential book buyer what the story is about.

A logline is possibly the most difficult part of a book proposal to write.

Snyder states, in his book, that a logline needs to answer the question “What is it?” To do this, it needs to satisfy four basic elements to be effective. (1) It must give an idea of the potential conflict or, in some way, emotionally involve the potential reader. Snyder calls this Irony. (2) The logline must give a mental picture of what the story is going to involve, including the time frame. (3) By reading the logline, a person should have an idea what genre it fits, if it’s something that would appeal to a large audience. And, (4) the logline should have a great title, one that lets us know if it’s going to be funny, dramatic, etc.

Here are a few books (hardcover, paperback, and ebooks) that were on last week’s New York Times best sellers list. What follows the title and author is the logline. Let’s see how these loglines do.

TWO BY TWO by Nicholas Sparks
A man who became a single father when his marriage and business collapsed learns to take a chance on a new love.

For me, the logline tells me this is a romance involving a man who has failed at two major endeavors (marriage and business), who won’t want to fail at being a father (but may run into some humorous problems in the attempt), and in the process will learn to love someone new. I don’t feel the title is great, but if you’re Nicholas Sparks, it doesn’t matter.

WOMAN OF GOD by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
The story of a (woman) doctor who, after a life of service and suffering, becomes a Catholic priest.

The irony for this logline is the idea of a woman becoming a Catholic priest. The title and logline, for me indicate a book that will follow her decision to be a woman of God and the obstacles she’ll face.

BEAUTIFUL by Christina Lauren
A workaholic joins his sister’s crew for a two-week wine tour.

The title tells me nothing, but the idea of a brother (who’s a workaholic) joining his sister’s crew for a wine tour hints of conflict. The logline gives the time frame, but I wish there’d been more, such as where the wine tour takes place.

TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT by Maria Semple
A calamitous day in the life of a cynical Seattle transplant from the author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.”

The logline about this actually ends after the word transplant, but by including the title of the other book (which I assume was a success) we’re told this will be as funny. The title Today Will Be Different combined with “calamitous day” points out the irony. No matter what our protagonist might think, things aren’t going to go that way. The time period is in the title.

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS by Debbie Macomber
A woman starts a blog about her attempt to reach out to a grumpy neighbor at Christmastime, and finds herself falling for him.

The book’s title clearly gives the time period, while the logline implies the irony and the type of story this will be.

I’m struggling to come up with a logline for my current WIP. Another point Blake Snyder makes in his book is, if you (I) can’t come up with a strong logline, maybe we need to look at the story. If we can’t answer “What is it?” maybe we haven’t made that clear in the story.

Do you have a logline for your current wip? A “killer” title?

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37 Responses to What is a Logline

  1. The log line for my latest On the Surface, came after a brainstorming session at our own MMRWA meeting. “A parolee hides her past from a bounty hunter set on revenge” Thanks, guys!

  2. Anne Stone says:

    This is a great piece, Maris. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Loglines are tough–here’s a tag for my new novel THE INHERITANCE now available for pre-order from booksellers:

    Inheriting millions–a dream come true–until it becomes a nightmare.

    This might not fit though since the novel is a romantic mystery with cozy elements; however, it does have suspense.

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      Jacqueline, your logline tells me there is going to be danger. Since loglines are often two sentences, you could add a sentence that indicates romance and maybe whatever element you feel makes it “somewhat” a cozy.

  4. Great post, Maris. I use Blake Snyder’s “Beat Sheet” to pace my books – it’s as plotter as I get. For Buried Secrets, I use the first line of my blurb for a log line, “When Jesse Graham almost runs over a “body” in the road one night, she is plunged into a labyrinth of secrets, lies and murder. “

  5. Diane Burton says:

    I don’t have a logline yet for my WIP. The title is The Case of the Meddling Mama, following the alliteration I started with the 1st book in the series. Thanks for reminding me to haul out my copy of Save The Cat and reread it.

  6. Nancy Gideon says:

    Nice post, Maris. Loglines . . . harder than writing the book! Good info!

  7. No Chestnuts in my Fire–Title
    Risa Lawrence, best selling author, stares into the fireplace while listening to Nat King Cole’s Chestnut Roasting on an Open Fire. Tears flow as she thinks, What a fool I’ve been allowing him into my home, my heart,my bed.

  8. My publisher’s cover artist always requests a logline because she puts it on the cover! For Three French Inns, we came up with “Can a man from her past be the key to her future?”

  9. Cindy Nord says:

    Love this post, Maris!!

    **For “AN UNLIKELY HERO” (third book in my bestselling four-book The Cutteridge series) I chose this logline: He’s a hard-as-stone man with a broken past…and she’s a reminder of all he’s lost.

    ** For book two, “WITH OPEN ARMS”, I used this one: A war-weary, ex-soldier…An untamable woman…Love doesn’t stand a chance in hell…

    **And for book one, “NO GREATER GLORY”, I created this one: Amid the carnage of war, he commandeers far more than just her home.

    And my current wip, the final book in my series, BY ANY MEANS present this logline: A binding contract, five determined nuns, and a runaway beauty…Riverboat gambler, Brennen Benedict, has just been dealt his full hand!

    Oh yes…LOGLINES! ‘Tis the bane of all writers. We either love ’em or hate ’em, BUT…like the perfect cover, these tasty morsels reel in a reader & tempt them to open the book! BINGO!! Good luck everyone. Maris, I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!!

    ~ Cindy

    Cindy Nord
    USA Today ‘Recommended Read’ Author & the creator of ‘No Greater Glory’, the #1 Civil War Romance at Amazon for over one full year.

  10. Melissa Keir says:

    Loglines can also be called taglines. It’s important to have one for your book since you might only have one sentence to share your work!

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      Right, Melissa. And, they’re also, at times, called elevator pitches since a writer needs to be able to “pitch” his/her book to an agent or editor from the time the writer gets into an elevator until the agent or editor gets out. One line is about all the time a writer has.

  11. Allie Harris says:

    INVISIBLE by Allie Harrison~~
    A bank robbery and a mother determined to save her little boy and herself, can FBI Agent Gil Trent stop the villain bent on vengeance before it’s too late?

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      Thanks for sharing, Allie. I’m afraid, however, I’m a little confused by the start. Is the mother in on the bank robbery or in the bank when it’s robbed?

  12. Great blog.Save the Cat is a definite for the keeper shelf. I have a story about a family heirloom which got lost and needs to be recovered, called the Dybbuk Box. The log line is : Ignoring a family legacy can be dangerous, embracing it can be deadly.

  13. Terri Reed says:

    I loved this post. I have Blake’s books, even heard him speak once but I struggle with applying his beats to my work. I need to reread the section on taglines. I like your way of explaining and showing the examples. I’ll give it a go.
    A Family Under the Christmas Tree by Terri Reed
    Dealing with his growing software company and sudden parenthood of a five-year-old, David Murphy doesn’t need any more distractions, especially not a pretty photographer with wanderlust. But a matchmaking grandma and a rambunctious Bernese mountain dog have different plans.

  14. Jodi Hale says:

    I just put together a learning session for a library writers group and logline is one of the points I used. (Save the Cat was one of my references.)
    Here are two points I made about logline:
    Interesting protagonist + Active Verb—->Goal + Stakes + Ticking Clock
    OR
    Who (protagonist), what (goal), why (motivation/ticking clock), why not (conflict/stakes)
    The first is from Kristen Lamb’s recent posts on synopsis writing. The second is from Debra Dixon’s GMC book.
    My logline for Jinn: On the Rocks – working title and may change.
    A billionaire playboy turned Jinn prisoner must convince a strait-laced college professor to wish for his freedom before his time with her expires.

    I had some fun with giving logline examples – A young teen joins with an old man to stop a weapon before it kills their friends.
    yep, I kept that one generic to have the group try and guess what movie it came from.

    Thanks for you post on loglines. Gives me more to think about.
    -Jodi

    • Jodi Hale says:

      should have included the tagline that will be on the cover. Not quite as much detail as the logline but hopefully a hook to get someone to read the back cover copy.
      Will his quest for freedom imprison the one he loves?

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      Interesting, Jodi. Now I have to find out what Jinn is. I always turn to Debra’s GMC when working on a logline. And you’re so right, Snyder emphasizes how a writer needs to create a main character who readers (movie goers) can identify with, and the higher the stakes, the better.

  15. Nice job on this, Maris. I think this time a logline for my wip would be the easy part. It’s writing the darned story that’s turning my hair gray(er). Will say though my title fits the story well, no one would guess anything about the book from reading it. The cover now? That says it all. So many things we have to worry about.

  16. Kathy Crouch says:

    Here’s one for my current book I’m writing: Brave Enough for Love
    Are a Navy SEAL and a photojournalist brave enough to fall in love while avoiding an assassin and burying his uncle?

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      I like your logline, Kathy., however, one thing I noticed looking at the descriptions of books on the NYT’s list none was in the form of a question. Could you turn your question around to be a statement?

  17. Paula says:

    My wip isn’t a novel, but a short story. I was asked to describe the story and remembered how in film class we were taught to think of the first idea as the “germ” of the story. So, here goes:
    “A Cat With No Name” by Paula Geister
    When a woman rescues an irresistible but sickly Persian cat, she decides the poor animal also needs a name change. Two vet visits and two weeks lost in the woods result in permanent anonymity for the woman’s new companion and friend.

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      Wow, Paula, that last sentence has me wondering what happened during those visits and that time in the woods. Wondering often leads to a sale…I just need to find out why.

  18. Paula says:

    Maris, I realized after I sent the comment that you talked about “Save the Cat” and I did too! 🙂