When I talk about how to write a logline, I mean crafting a quick and effective sales pitch for your story. It is the same as the “elevator pitch” or your snappy “meets” comparison (Harry Potter meets Where the Wild Things Are!). However, not everyone’s book fits the “meets” way of doing this, so they’re left with constructing their own short sentence to encapsulate their work. That’s where things often get hairy.
Most Writers Struggle With How to Write a Logline
If you think queries and synopses are hard, fiction loglines are often a whole new world of pain for writers. Boiling down an entire book into four pages? Doable. Into a few paragraphs? Questionable. Into a sentence or two?! Impossible.
Or not. The first secret to crafting a good logline is that you should probably stop freaking out about it. If you can get it, good. If not, you can still pitch an agent or editor with a query or a one-minute summation of your story at a conference or if you do happen to be stuck with them in an elevator. Nailing it in one sentence is more of an exercise for you than a requirement of getting published.
How to Write a Great Fiction Logline
That said, my surefire way to think about loglines is as follows:
1) Connect your character to your audience
2) Connect your plot to the market
Let’s examine this. First, begin your logline with your character and their main struggle. This is a way of getting your audience on board. For example, with Hunger Games, Katniss would be “A girl hell-bent on survival…” or “A girl who volunteers herself to save those she loves…”
Now let’s bring plot into it. When you pitch your plot, you always want to be thinking about where it fits in the marketplace. At the time that the first Hunger Games was published, dystopian fiction was white hot as a genre. That’s not so much the case anymore, but if I had been pitching this story at that time, I would’ve definitely capitalized on the sinister dystopian world building.
To connect the plot to the market, I would’ve said something like, “…in a world where children fight to the death to keep the population under the control of a cruel government.” This says to the book or film agent, “Dystopian! Right here! Get your dystopian!”
Putting Your Novel Pitch Together
So to put it together, “A girl volunteers herself to save those she loves in a world where children fight to the death to keep the population under the control of a cruel government.” That’s a bit long, and not necessarily elegant, but it definitely hits all of the high notes of the market at that time, while also appealing emotionally to the audience. (Volunteering for a “fight to the death” contest is a really ballsy thing to do, so we automatically want to learn more.)
Notice that here, even the character part involves plot (it focuses on Katniss volunteering).
Fiction Loglines in Character-Driven Novels
If I’m working on a contemporary realistic novel, the “plot to market” part is less salient because we’re not exactly within the confines of any buzzy genre. That’s fine, too. You should probably be aware early on whether you’re writing a more character-driven or plot-driven story. The Hunger Games nails some strong character work, but I would argue that it’s primarily plot-driven, or “high concept.”
With character-driven books, the former part of the logline construction becomes more important. Let’s look at Sara Zarr’s excellent Story of a Girl. The title is pretty indicative of the contents. It’s literally the story of a girl, and the girl is more important than necessarily each plot point that happens to her.
With character-driven, I’d spend most of my time connecting character to audience. I’d say, for example, “A girl from a small town struggles with the gossips around her who refuse to forgive her past mistakes…” This is the girl’s situation for most of the book, and part of her biggest “pain point” as a person. Then I’ll need to indicate the rest of the plot with something like “…must step out from the shadows of her reputation and find out who she really is.”
Notice that here, even the plot part involves character (it focuses on the more subtle work of figuring herself out rather than, say, battling to the death).
Both are solid loglines because both communicate the core of the story and the emphasis of the book (plot-driven vs. character-driven, genre-focused vs. realistic). Try this two-step exercise with your own WIP.
Want help with how to write a logline? Hire me as your query letter editor and we’ll work on it together.
10 Replies to “How to Write a Logline”
THANK YOU for covering the how-to of loglines for Contemporary!! It’s always for high concept, which is awesome, but Contemporary needs some love too 🙂
One question – the stakes are obvious in the logline for The Hunger Games. Is it best if we include some idea of the stakes for the contemporary logline too? Or just focusing on character and the pain point is enough?
Thank you 🙂
This is, by far, the best explanation for writing a logline that I have ever seen. I’ve studied and written hundreds of loglines over the last five years and, without a doubt, the ones that resonate are the ones that (1) connect the character to the reader and (2) connect the plot to a particular market.
Bravo. Thank you for taking the time to share.
So, starting the logline with the character – do you think it’s important to state something the character does, or is it enough to simply state the problem she faces?
“It’s the 80’s, and Emmie, a merry widow in a small town, is feeling the beat until her flatulent scatter-brained fairy godmother shows up for Mother-in-law night at Emmie’s favorite roller-skating rink, and curses all the mothers-in-law in town – except for Emmie’s, dammit!”
“Emmie, a happily-widowed gal in a small town in the 80’s, decides to go fairy hunting after her scatter-brained fairy godmother curses all the mothers-in-law in town – except for Emmie’s, dammit!”