Fiction Writing Exercises: Composing a Logline
In his book, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder recommends writing a logline for your story before you tackle the first draft. Today we’re going to apply this concept with fiction writing exercises that force you to dig into your story and unearth its core, so you can find out what it’s really about and whether it’s a compelling concept.
A logline is a one- or two-sentence description of your story, similar to an elevator pitch. The idea is to write a logline that inspires interest in your story. Because loglines are primarily used to market books and movies, it may seem like you should write your logline after your book is completed. However, writing your logline in advance has several benefits.
Through the process of fine-tuning and polishing the logline for a story you’re working on, you will pare the story down to its core by identifying what makes it interesting and why people should want to read it. Since you only have one or two sentences to work within, you end up with a crystallized description of your story.
While your logline can be used later for marketing, you can also use it during story development to tweak your story and improve it, since you may find flaws in your ideas while crafting the logline. You can also use your logline to test your story idea on other people to see if you can drum up any interest. If nobody’s biting, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Finally, a logline identifies the heart of the story and can help you stay focused so your story doesn’t stray too far from the main plot.
Examples of Loglines
Before starting, be sure to read through some successful loglines to get a sense of what works. The examples below came from the Internet Movie Database (IMDB):
- Titanic (1997): A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind, but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
- The Avengers (2012): Earth’s mightiest heroes must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity.
- Trainwreck (2015): Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy.
What do these loglines have in common? Each one tells you who the story is about (the protagonist), what they’re up against (the antagonist), and offers a hook, something that makes it interesting.
Fiction Writing Exercises: Logline Pre-Production
Ideally you’ll develop your logline between brainstorming and outlining (or writing the first draft). You can, of course, craft a logline after you’ve written a draft, but if you do it in advance, it may help you pinpoint story problems that you could have otherwise avoided, and this will mean fewer revisions. Choose a story idea you’ve been working on, or work with a draft or manuscript that’s in progress. You can also do it with a finished book.
To get started, identify some key elements of your story:
- Find a descriptive noun for your protagonist. This should not be a broad noun like person, woman, or boy. It should offer the clearest and most concise description of your protagonist in relation to the main plot. Note the strongest nouns in the loglines above (aristocrat and artist).
- Choose an adjective for your protagonist. Your protagonist is probably a complex character, but choosing just one adjective forces you to focus on the character’s trait that is most relevant to the plot. Surely the protagonist in Trainwreck could be described with lots of adjectives, but in a plot about monogamy, the fact that she’s commitment-phobic is what makes this story interesting.
- Find the hook: Something about your story should raise an eyebrow and garner interest. A rich girl falling in love with a poor boy (Titanic) is ironic and therefore compelling. Build the hook around the central conflict and the protagonist’s inner struggle.
- Identify the antagonist: We like to think of antagonists as classic villains (like Lokie in The Avengers). But in Trainwreck, the antagonist is fear. The antagonist is whatever is stopping the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. It can be a person, but it doesn’t have to be.
- If the antagonist is a character, find a descriptive noun and an adjective for them as you did for the protagonist.
As you work through this process, you may discover things about your story that you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe you’ll find that you have made a clever connection between your characters and the hook. Or maybe you’ll realize that your protagonist is ill-suited for the plot you’ve got in mind. Maybe your story is missing a hook or the premise is vague. Keep working at these elements until they are clear, and then you can start crafting them into a cohesive logline.
Crafting the Logline
Now that you have all the elements for your logline, you can do what writers do, which is form them into sentences. If you can connect these elements in a single sentence, do it, but don’t exceed two sentences. Aim for good, strong writing; in other words, don’t cheat by writing super long run-on sentences in order to squeeze in a bunch of unnecessary details about your story. Stick with the highlights!
When you’re done, shop your logline around to a few friends (especially avid readers and fellow writers) and ask for their honest opinions. Use their feedback to further polish your logline and fine-tune your story.
Tips and Variations
- Visit IMDB and read through the loglines for some of your favorite movies. Do the loglines do the movies justice? Could you write a better one?
- Instead of writing a logline for a story you’re working on, make a list of loglines (or jot them down on note cards), and add to it regularly. This is your new story idea warehouse, and you can turn to it whenever you need a new project.
- Try writing loglines with your writing group. This is a great way to get quick feedback on your story ideas.
Have you ever written a logline for a story? Do you write your logline before or after you draft the manuscript? Did you find this helpful as a fiction writing exercise? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.