What’s a logline?
It’s a sentence or two that illuminates the main theme or story question. Sometimes it’s included on the cover, but not always. Sometimes a subtitle performs the same function as a logline – not so much with novels, but common with non-fiction, memoir and even short stories.
Even if you don’t intend to put a logline on the book cover, it’s handy to have, because it’s a one-shot focused way to begin your sales description. And for all the times when somebody catches you on the hop with this dumbstriking question: what’s your book about?
So loglines are easy to define. And darned hard to write. Imagine your novel of 100,000 words. It’s a long and nuanced experience. I’m sure you’re screaming in your mind: how do I boil that down to one line?
Loglines are on my mind because I’ve been writing one for Ever Rest. More than 100,000 words, so I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.
But I did, eventually. Here’s how.
First, I tried to identify the novel’s central theme or question. Unfortunately, there seemed to be many. My list went: Love, loss, friendship. Betrayal. The haunting power of music. The time-capturing power of music. (Lots about music.) The cruelty of places beyond our warm territories. (Lots about that too.)
This list was not going to give me a logline.
Also, it was looking at the wrong thing.
I wrote several loglines that were very unsuitable. At the time each seemed perfect. Then I’d look again and think, that’s not the best angle.
Some were even misleading. One logline I wrote, which I seriously liked for a while, sounded like genre crime. You can see a journal of them here, in my most recent newsletter, which shows how mistaken you can be about your own book. (Click on the link to the loglines story.)
So I started again.
Find the right question
I looked for questions. This was better.
One question proved to be very useful:
What are people doing in this book that gives it its distinctive emotional flavour?
An event draws these people together. What predicament does it put them all in?
The people are, of course, the key. The main characters. Their relationships. Their biggest troubles. Their central problem, which presents differently on the surface, but deep down is the same issue seen through many windows. The things that, underneath, they need to finish.
I also needed the logline to complement the cover and the title. Your cover designer will have picked one dominant emotion for the cover, so your logline should harmonise with it. Otherwise you’ll confuse your readers and confused readers don’t buy. (I haven’t yet revealed the cover for Ever Rest, so you’ll have to use your imagination for now. But I have ensured that cover, title and logline are in harmony.)
Once you know what you want to say (a major task in its own right), rewrite the logline in emotive, teasing language. Aim for tension. Try:
Questions -‘Is it too late to tell the truth?’ Jill Mansell, It Started With a Secret.
Contrasts – ‘One library. Infinite lives.’ Matt Haig, The Midnight Library.
Conundrums and contradictions – ‘If your life now was another person’s past…’ My Memories of a Future Life (me!).
Also, learn from your comparison titles. These are books that give the reader a similar experience to yours, so study what quality has been isolated for the logline. Also look at their reviews – a perceptive reviewer might have picked words or phrases that exactly capture what you’d like to say about your own book.
Try it now. Take a book you read recently and consider: what logline would you write for this book?
PS My Nail Your Novel workbook contains exercises for writing various kinds of summary for your book, including synopses and pitches.
PPS If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, my Nail Your Novel books are full of tips. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. If you’d like to support bricks-and-mortar bookstores use Bookshop.org. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, look here (to see a very exciting announcement). You can subscribe to future updates here.