Good Writing Advice: Start with the logline.

What is a logline? Well, if you’re an author, you may have had that classic moment where you tell someone you’re writing a book, they ask what it’s about, and then you ACTUALLY HAVE TO TELL THEM. A logline is that crisp, convenient, one-sentence-ish premise that falls effortlessly from your lips in answer, smoothly summing your story and sparing all parties embarrassment in a single breath. You know– that description you can give for like any book or movie ever, whether you liked or watched or even finished reading it or not. That you definitely don’t stumble over when describing your own work. Goodness, no.

Because chances are you are sensible: that at some point you’ve developed a brief oral pitch to use as a flotation device. Me? I know what it is to flounder. I floundered a lot with my first book. I still splash a bit, but I’m getting better with time and each subsequent novel.

One thing that really helped in defining my last book, both to myself and to others, was starting with the synopsis. Plotting roughly what was going to happen before I actually started writing not only gave me a road map for the novel ahead of me; it made it easier to talk about.

That’s why I can really get behind screenwriter Blake Snyder, who emphasizes the importance of starting with a good logline in his screenwriting book,Β Save the Cat!:

“If you don’t have the logline, maybe you should rethink your whole movie.”

The same should hold true for books. If you can’t answer what your story’s about (in Snyder’s words: “What is it?”) succinctly and compellingly, there’s a chance that you don’t really have one.Β  Or that it needs work. And why waste time writing something that doesn’t sing to you and to others? Without a north? A logline is your novel at its barest: the bones upon which the story rests. It only makes sense to build from the foundation up.

That said, I am curious to hear your thoughts, fellow writers! I know there are pantsers as well as plotters out there, and some people feel stifled by any planning prior to writing.

What is your approach? What do you find works best?

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20 thoughts on “Good Writing Advice: Start with the logline.

  1. I initially “pantsed” my current WIP. Fun ride, but no direction. It was all over the place. Then I read THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler. Next I plotted the whole thing in index cards on a bulletin board. Now I know where it’s going, AND I’m enjoying the ride. Several versions of a tagline; I’ll pick one when it’s done.

    • Ooh, I will have to check that out! I’m a total nerd– I love reading books on the craft. I always learn something!

      The index card method is great, too. I also used that for my last book. When I only had a few scenes in my head, it helped me arrange them, and then flesh out the areas in between.

      Glad you found a successful and fun approach!

  2. Current project has started “pantsed”. Luckily, without getting too bogged down in its own miasma due to just winging it, I have reached a point where “plotting” will take over.

  3. Great advice, and so true. I have for years started with the logline.
    I start with a good solid logline and then I move to a rough plotting stage. I keep the logline in front of me, referencing back to it as I plot, if the plot doesn’t lead where the logline would lead one or the other should change. This helps with the writing process tremendously because it gives you, like you said, a road map. I don’t like floundering around out there with no guidance.
    But it all starts with a good solid logline.

    Great piece

  4. I have to admit I don’t usually come up with a log line or even blurb until after I’ve finished! But I think it’s great advice to start with it, definitely I will start putting into practice! πŸ™‚

    • I certainly didn’t in the beginning. And when you’re really excited to start writing the story, I think it’s tempting not to (write the logline/blurb etc.). But it has definitely helped since I picked it up! I hope you will find it helpful, too πŸ™‚

    • The thing is, it’s not an innate term and it’s rare to be in a setting where someone teaches you about it. I only first heard of it through a Writer’s Digest contest!

      Hope it helps πŸ™‚

  5. No I’ve never had loglines and I continue to flounder when asked the question ‘what’s the book about?’ I’m like ‘well there’s this house and this couple and they buy the house and it gets like weird and….’ by which time the questioner has walked away πŸ™‚

    I think I’m getting to be a born-again planner using a simple application called Scapple which I might blog about shortly.

  6. Pingback: Posts to Check Out! | A Writer's Life For Me.

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