Kate Brauning got me thinking more about loglines yesterday, which many of you already know is one of my absolute favorite things to critique. Apparently there is a logline pitch contest going on and Kate asked if I could offer any advice. Of course I dropped everything right then and said yes.
Loglines are very easy to critique once you understand that the best ones say the most about a story in the least amount of words. Every. Word. Counts.
Loglines that don't work are quite often too long. These are the same authors who write lengthy query letters and, likely, overworded novels too. Effective word choice is important in every form of writing.
The main reason a logline becomes too long is because the author tries to convey more than what is necessary to make their point. Here is all you need:
1. Book title. And the title has to be relevant to what follows or it has no place in the pitch. Every word in your pitch has to work together to create a single, whole idea. That includes the title. If you can't find a way to make your title relevant to the pitch for the story it is titling, then it's time to think up a better title.
2. Protagonist. This can be a single person or a group. You don't need names, just a description, but it's in the description part where some writers get confused. A good protagonist description for a logline is usually only one word. One, good, punchy word that accurately describes the protagonist.
But this description can't just be accurate to the protagonist's character, no. That description has to work with the pitch. Your protagonist very well may be shy, but if that means nothing to your core conflict, it has no place in the logline.
The one exception I've seen for this is with kid lit. It's perfectly okay to just refer to your protagonist as a teen, or a boy, or a girl, etc., either with or without an extra word of description, depending on your story. Whereas in adult fiction that extra word seems more necessary. For example, you might use the terms jaded housewife, retired cop, backstabbing socialite, etc., so long as the two words work together toward a single purpose, clearly relevant to the pitch.
3. Core conflict. Emphasis on core. A logline is no place for subplots no matter how fabulous they are in the story. Within the core conflict should lie the main thing that makes your concept unique. What makes your story stand out among the masses?
This is just as important to readers, after your book is published, as it is to agents and editors sifting through their slush piles.
You cannot just have a story about a girl who falls in love with [insert paranormal creature here]. Yes, that's creepy and I'm sure it creates a lot of interesting conflict, but we've seen it too many times before. So you must highlight what makes your story unique from all those others.
You cannot just have a story about a boy who discovers he has super-powers and must save the world. Again, that does have great story potential, and there is a market for those stories, but it's been done over and over and over again. In your pitch you have to show what makes your story different, or it will be glossed over and over and over again.
4. Antagonist. This ties in closely to the core conflict, because the core conflict should come from the antagonist. It is so closely knit to the conflict, in fact, that the two could very well blend into a single thought in your logline. Especially if your antagonist is not a physical being or person.
If your antagonist is a physical being, however, the same advice applies here as it does to the protagonist. No actual names are necessary--names tend to distract in such a brief pitch rather than clarify. Find a good, punchy, one-word description that is clearly relevant to the rest of the pitch.
5. Commas and periods only. If you find yourself using semicolons, colons, em dashes, etc. in a logline, then you're trying to say too much in a single sentence. Getting creative with punctuation will not justify it.
Writing an effective logline is not just good for pitch contests, it's good for your readers too even after your book has sold. I have an official book blurb for Twin Sense that is two paragraphs long. But when I want to tell people what my book is about, as briefly as I can (for instance, if I'm doing an author chat online), then I'll turn to my logline.
Twin Sense is about a girl who must untangle herself from the love quadrangle she created with her boyfriend, her boyfriend's twin brother, and her boyfriend's twin brother's ex-girlfriend.
You really don't need to go much further into the plot than that. No details needed that explain how she got into this mess or how she's going to get out of it. Explanations aren't necessary to a logline, or even to a query letter for that matter (but that's another post for another day). Leave those parts to be discovered by reading the story itself.
Is it too vague? No. It presents a specific idea without divulging unnecessary details, and that's all you need.
To emphasize my point, here is one more logline of my own work. I don't think my loglines are perfect, but hopefully you'll think they're good enough to use as examples. This is the logline for the novel I'm querying right now:
The Seven Deaths of Kat Monroe is about a suicidal teen who finds the answer to his death wish in a girl whose "curse" has killed all seven of her past boyfriends.
Do you see how short that is? Does it convey a specific idea? Do all the elements work together? Are you confused by it, or intrigued? No excess. The shorter, the better. And every. Word. Must count.