Now, how on earth do you chisel that big novel down into one single short sentence?
Today we’ll call that sentence a log line, because that’s what Hollywood producer Lane Shefter Bishop called it in a seminar I recently attended.
Here are her tips for creating one:
- A log line is NOT a plot crammed into one sentence.
- Focus on what about your story that is unique.
- Don’t tease about the ending. Tell it.
- Tell what you need to tell. Pretend each word will cost you $5, and cut everything you can.
- Let me add one more: try to evoke an emotional response.
1. Identify the protagonist, not by name. Male, female, young, old, maybe occupation.
2. Descriptives, only if really necessary.
3. What’s at stake? Why do I care? What’s motivating the characters?
4. The hook that reels them in. Focus on the unique element of the story.
The best way to work through this is to go through an example. Let’s start with a longer description I wrote for Castle Gate Press’s upcoming time-travel mystery, The Day She Died by Bill Garrison.
In this clean time-travel whodunit, a middle-aged coffee-shop owner always wondered what his life would have been like if he’d stayed in town the day his college fiancee disappeared, the victim of an unsolved crime. One morning he wakes up 20 years earlier and finds himself a student at OU in Norman again on the day she died. In a journey that takes months, he stumbles over people connected to Kim’s disappearance and puzzles over connecting the dots. He plays on a baseball team, something he’d dropped out of the first time, and discovers what it’s like to be a pastor. Can he find some answers about Kim and about his own life? Or prevent Kim’s death? And if he succeeds in changing history, what happens to his beloved wife and kids?
For our log line steps:
1. Identify the protagonist: a man
2. Descriptives: middle-aged, father, husband, coffee shop owner
3. What’s at stake? He is full of regrets about the probable murder of his college fiancee. His thoughts affect his marriage, which isn’t strong. He suddenly finds himself transported back in time, in a journey he didn’t ask for, to the very day his fiancee died. What to do now? Can he find out who killed Kim? Can he prevent it? He’d do anything for his wife and kids. But he loved Kim. If Kim lives, what happens to them? Do they cease to exist?
4. What’s unique about this story? A time-travel whodunit is certainly unique!
So, without giving away too much of the story to you all, I will try to put all this together into something that is too long and needs to be chiseled down.
A middle-aged businessman, husband, and father somehow turns time-travel detective, hoping to prevent the murder of his college fiancee, all the while wondering what happens to his wife and children.
That’s pretty long. Let’s get rid of as many of those $5 words as possible.
Is businessman key? Maybe not. Middle aged? Yes. Husband and father? yes. Somehow? yes. He didn’t do this on purpose. But since he’s transported back in time on the day she died, he feels like he needs to do something. College fiancee? yes. Maybe there are a few other words I can chop out though.
businessman, husband and father somehow turns time-travel detective, hoping to prevent the murder of his college fiancee, all the while wondering but wonders what will happen to his wife and children.
That doesn’t grab the emotions. State the emotional stakes, the fear: that the wife and children will cease to exist.
A middle-aged husband and father somehow turns time-travel detective, hoping to prevent the murder of his college fiancee, but wonders whether his wife and children would cease to exist.
Does that make sense to you? Is the dilemma clear enough? After all, he didn’t choose to travel back in time. It just happened.
Trying one more time:
For a middle-aged businessman time suddenly goes backward, and he realizes he may be able to prevent the murder of his college fiancee. But would his wife and children cease to exist?
If a middle-aged time traveler can prevent the 20-year-old murder of his college fiancee, what happens to his wife and children?
If you have suggestions, please comment!
This is a sequel to a blog post on how to get media attention for your book.
Source: Lane Shefter Bishop, who has just written a book on this subject, available at http://www.sellitinasentence.com/