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?