Why Your Novel Needs a Logline

by Nancy Smay and David Joyner

What’s your book about? You’ve spent days, months — perhaps years — putting words on the page and living in the world of your book. So why is this question so hard to answer?

It’s because the asker — whether it’s an agent or your aunt Trudy — expects a quick response that will hook them and make them want to read your book (or let them know it’s not for them).

What they’re asking for is a “logline” — a one- or two-sentence pitch about your book. Loglines capture the “hook” in your pitch. Agents expect you to have a logline at the ready, whether you’re querying them by email or meeting them at a conference.

This post will give you suggestions and help you find resources to create a logline. Remember, this is an art, not a science.

  1. Loglines originated in the screenwriting world, so it’s no surprise that some of the best suggestions come from the Raindance Film Festival. According to them, a logline for your novel should include a description of:
    • Your protagonist
    • Their goal
    • Your antagonist/antagonistic force
  2. Don’t use a character name, but tell us something about your main character(s).
  3. If you can, include the stakes and/or a ticking time-bomb.
  4. Setup: Some scripts operate in a world with different rules to our own and require a brief setup to explain them, e.g. most science fiction stories.
  5. About the ending: Don’t reveal the script’s supercool twist ending, even if it is the next Usual Suspects. (Endings should never be revealed in a pitch or query; a synopsis, however, requires every twist, and the ending, to be outlined clearly).

The bottom line? Don’t tell the story, sell the story.

Here are some examples of great loglines from movies based on a work of fiction:

To Kill a Mockingbird:

In a racially-segregated Depression-era Alabama town, an attorney defends a black man accused of rape, while teaching his kids to rise above racism.

The Wizard Of Oz:

After a twister transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home.

Rear Window (based on Cornell Woolrich’s story “It Had to Be Murder”):

A photographer, confined to his New York apartment by a broken leg, becomes fascinated by his neighbors’ activities as observed through his rear window. Before long, he begins to suspect one of them is a murderer.

Here’s a parting thought: If you can’t write a decent logline for your idea before embarking on the script or novel, reconsider writing it. If it’s unfocused and muddled at the logline stage, it’s probably not going to get any better as you write!

Some resources:

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