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Writing - Loglines - hate and heresy

Loglines. I hates ‘em, I does. I hates ‘em forever.

Of course, I hate Queries and Synopses too. But I recently took part in a logline critique run by the wise and wonderous Miss Snark's First Victim (Miss Snark's First Victim) and it reminded me how much I hate loglines.

So. A baseline. What the heck’s a ‘logline’ anyway? That, it turns out, is actually part of the problem. There are lots of views. But let’s start with a definition. Note the ‘a’. It’s not in any way intended to be ‘the’ definition.

Loglines started in the movies. They continued into television, and they’ve now infected (whoops. Are my prejudices showing?) the world of books. So this is from a description of loglines in respect of screenplays:

Scriptologist - Loglines

‘A logline is a one-sentence summary of your script. It's the short blurb in TV guides that tells you what a movie is about and helps you decide if you're interested in seeing it. It's the grabber that excites your interest.

Your logline answers the question: What is your story about? Your friends and others probably ask you this question when you tell them you're writing a screenplay or that you've already written one. You need to be able to state the main concept of your story in one concise sentence.

"But my story is complicated with many plot twists, and I couldn't possibly tell you what it's about in one sentence," you say.

You must learn to express the story concept in one powerful sentence if you want an agent or producer to read your screenplay.’

Let’s shrink that some:

‘A logline is a one-sentence summary of your script. It's the grabber that excites your interest.’

OK. Heresy alert. Recognising I don’t know a thing about such, er, things, I think these are two different things. Recognising again that there are too many things in that sentence :-). Here’s a sample real logline:

‘Charlie Brown is finally invited to a Halloween party; Snoopy engages the Red Baron in a dogfight; and Linus waits patiently in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin. Log Line for It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, as retrieved from on 2005-10-25.’

Three events. That’s all. For me, does it summarise the plot? Yup. Does it excite my interest? Nope. Snoopy’s fought the Baron a hundred times. Linus tends to spend most of his life waiting for something. Charlie? Charlie won’t have a good day. Again. But – I actually liked The Great Pumpkin episode. Well, a bit :-). Here’s another:

‘"Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to do it again." Log Line for The Wizard of Oz, attributed to Richard Polito of the Marin Independent Journal, who writes humorously sarcastic briefs for the paper's daily TV listings.’

Does it actually summarise the plot? Not a chance. I can’t see the plot of the Wizard of Oz there at all. Does it grab my interest? It most certainly does. I’d watch Oz from that line, and I don’t think I’d be too upset with the writer of the logline at the end.

People have lots of views on what loglines are for. To nut-shell the story or plot in a sentence or two. To give a feel for the hero/ heroine. I hate trying to do that in a Query, and a Query's a lot longer than a log line.

Against all the guidance and rules (I’m not very good with rules :-) ), I’d say a logline is something I want to use to make you want to want more. That is, to ask me for more. Why? Because getting a conversation going is invaluable. You can do a lot with a conversation that you can’t do with a monologue. And I think it’s worth remembering that a logline is highly unlikely to be submitted in isolation. It probably sits at the top of a list that includes the logline, a Query, a Synopsis and some pages. Heretic that I am, I figure you’ll see stuff about the hero or heroine, the antagonist, the choices in the Query (well, maybe. I sometimes break the rules there as well). You’ll see the plot in the Synopsis. And you’ll get hooked beyond hope of rescue in the pages. I hope.

In essence, I want the logline to make you want to read the Query, not to replace the Query. I want the Query to make you want to read the pages, not tell you the whole story. And I want the Synopsis to help you see I can spell plot without having Mr Brown killed in the kitchen on page 234 by the rabid dog I had put down on page 192. And, above all, I want it to make you want to talk to me. Because, like, you know, we really should. Talk :-).

Something Jim Butcher says on his web page has always interested me (it helps that I like his work ):

Jim Butcher - About Jim

‘Anyway, after that, I started trying to make it out to conventions to actually meet the editors and agents I was trying to get in the door with. I actually had to slink past literal Klingon Convention Security to get into one limited-acess meet-the-editors coffee thing, because their sign-up process for it was totally unfair, so I decided that it was morally acceptable to go around it. I did get to meet a few people that way, and while it didn't pay off at the time, it is paying off now, as I try to get more things written and more projects going.

Anyway, after some of that, I decided to take the advice of a friend -- go out and track down the specific people I wanted to do business with. I decided who it needed to be based on a fairly simple premise. Laurell Hamilton was writing material a lot like mine. Ricia Mainhardt had liked Laurell's stuff enough to represent her. Maybe she would like my material too.

So I applied to Ricia's agency and got rejected.

Not to be deterred, I found out which convention she was going to be at, and went there with a fistful of questions from the LKH mailing list, using them to strike up a conversation with Laurell and Ricia. Laurell was really nice to me for no darned reason at all and asked me along when everyone went out for lunch. I met some other writers, a couple of editors and another agent over lunch. By the end of the day, Ricia had offered to represent my work, and another agent (Jennifer Jackson, in fact) had asked to take a look at some of my other work.

I got to have this conversation with Jennifer Jackson (my current agent after parting ways with Ricia) that day at the convention: Hey, why are you interested now? You just rejected me like two months ago?

"Well yeah," says Jennifer. "But that was before I met you."’

It’s the last line. If you can get, somehow, a connection, that (I believe) is either a deal breaker or a maker. A logline, a Query is a voice shouting, whispering, giggling or gibbering in the darkness among many voices. A conversation? That’s something else. Whether it brings a win today or in ten years time. That doesn’t mean I suggest writers should all be haunting conventions trying to invade Agents’ lives. Not that I don’t wish I could. Sort of :-). It means that however you can start a conversation is a good start, and making someone want to ask for more is a lot more is an excellent start.

Hmmm. I think I got sidetracked. Where was I? Oh, yes.

Loglines. I hates ‘em :-). But what about you? If you're a writer, do you think they're useful? If your'e an Agent - er, well, I have this business card lying round here somewhere - oh, and this manuscript? And... Hmmmm. Right. Er, if you're an Agent, do you like them? Hate them? Ask for them just to see if peoiple can write them, but mostly ignore them? And if you';re a reader, do you think what I've described here as a logline would make you want to read the book if you read the logline?


Michelle's picture

HATE, HATE, HATE them. Did I mention I hate them?

I haven't even figured out the dang query/synopsis thing. I'm not even going down the logline least not yet.

If you have a magic formula would someone PLEASE let me know before I pull my hair out strand by strand.

Graeme's picture

... that's a perfectly valid call :-).

For every Agent I've seen who wants a logline, I've seen one who hates them as much as I do :-P.

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