Thursday, May 28, 2015
TBT : Learning to Log Line by Lurking Around the Internet
For today's TBT I'm continuing with the query prep theme and tackling log lines. This post has been a fan favorite since it was originally posted a few years back. Probably because log lines are hard. I thought query letters were hard enough and then I met the log line. The good news is there are a lot of log line examples out there. Including this post.
Is it just me, or are there tons of great contests going on this time of year? It seems like there are more now than a few months ago.
Luckily, I no longer have to sit still while the excitement passes me by. This year, I have a clean MS ready to submit. Woot woot! *does happy dance with Jake*
Even better than having a ready manuscript is being prepared. I spent time learning what works and what doesn't. Of course, like with everything else, what works and what doesn't is subjective. Still, if something works for others, it might just work for me. And you.
One element of many contests is the Log Line. What's that? Don't feel bad. I didn't know what it was either.
I learned about Log Lines from the wise, and wonderful @AuthoressAnon. She has two excellent blog posts about Log Lines here and here.
Essentially, it's a tight, concise, one sentence summary of your story. It should include your MC, their conflict, and the stakes.
Wait, you thought it was hard reducing your novel to a three paragraph query letter? Yeah, try reducing it to a single sentence - that's the Log Line.
Sound impossible? It's not. Check out the movie descriptions on Netflix or Hulu. (Can you tell I don't have cable? But I digress.) Those quick summaries you see when you hover over a movie are, you guessed it, Log Lines*.
*Most of the time what you see is a log line. Sometimes what you see if just a generic description of the show/movie. Not the same thing.
Here are some Log Line examples from my Netflix Instant Queue:
The Man in the Iron Mask:
In this star-studded swashbuckler, the fabled Musketeers hatch a scheme to replace callous King Louis XIV with his unjustly imprisoned twin brother.
Pretty good. We know the WHO (Musketeers), the CONFLICT (replace callous King Louis XIV) except we don't get a clear sense of what the Musketeers are risking/stakes - we assume their lives. Which is correct.
But assuming is bad. Assuming is boring. Let's see if we can find something better:
Days of Thunder:
A gifted but unproven stock-car racer['s] quick temper and rivalry with another driver threaten[s] to put the breaks on his career.
OOOO, this is a good one. We know WHO (gifted but unproven stock-car racer), we know the CONFLICT (temper (internal conflict) and rivalry (external conflict)) , and we know the STAKES (career is on the line). Excellent Log Line and a great film, I might add.
One for the Money:
A divorced, unemployed woman becomes a bounty hunter to make ends meet, with her first big case revolving around a former high school boyfriend.
This is a good one too, although not as obvious as Days of Thunder. We know WHO (divorced, unemployed woman turned bounty hunter) we know the CONFLICT (first big case) and we know the STAKES (make ends meet). Love this movie.
See, it can be done. But nothing good ever came easy, right?
For more details and examples check out these articles on @AuthoressAnon's blog, Miss Snark's First Victim, for more examples: here and here.
Specifically, check out the Baker's Dozen Auction posts. This is a contest she holds each year (and it's coming up!!), includes Log Lines and the first 250 words. Agents bid on the entries that they dig.
I dug through EVERY. SINGLE. FULL REQUEST from the last 3 contests. I read the log lines. Here are some common trends I observed:
1. The shorter, the better. 100 words or less is best. Try to keep it to just one sentence.
2. Dump names and extra details as they clog up the sentence. Often times, this can be accomplished by dumping qualifiers and clauses. A great example is the Log Line on Netflix for The Hunger Games:
In a dystopian future, teens Katniss and Peeta are drafted for a televised event pitting young competitors against each other in a fight to the death.
It's good. It has all the main elements: WHO, CONFLICT, and STAKES. But it's clunky with unnecessary details. A better Log Line would be:
Teens are drafted for a televised event pitting young competitors against each other in a fight to the death.
Boom. Short. Sweet. Detailed.
3. Don't use character names. You may have great character names or fun, invented words for things (you are, after all, a world-building, novel-writing-genius) but the Log Line is not the place to display that particular talent. Use simple language that any reader can understand.
Try using character roles or titles that most people can understand. Examples: "divorced, unemployed woman becomes bounty hunter", "teens...are drafted", "gifted but unproven stock-car racer".
These are just a few ideas I gleamed from the sidelines. Feel free to try this approach and let me know how it works for you.
Already write killer Log Lines? What works for you? How do you draft a kick arse Log Line?
Check out examples of tight Log Lines in Natalie Whipple's recent contest requiring a pitch in 7 words or less.
Check out more examples of Log Lines in Lara Campbell McGehee's post on Contests, Critiques, and the Joys of Loglines.