Writing Tips: The Logline

Welcome to the inaugural installment of my Writing Tips series of blog posts. No, I’m not a New York Times best-selling writer, but I’m not shy enough for that to stop me. I’ve been working on my craft for years, and I’m finally producing stories that I’m reasonably happy with (although you never, never, never stop learning).

I’ve also been in a couple writing groups since 2014, which is more than than enough time to see a bunch of writers just simply fail. I’ve read submissions in which it was clear the author had no idea what their plot was, no conception of character goals and, often, no clue where or when to even start their story.

A lot of the issues that I’ve seen boil down to the author not knowing what their story is. If you don’t know what your story is, you have no way to reliably decide what scenes should be in it and what scenes don’t make sense. You have no basis for evaluating a scene. You may not even know where to start the story.

I recommend creating a logline, which is a sentence or phrase that summarizes your story. It’s useful, regardless of whether your preferred writing mode is pantser or planner. In fact, I think of it as the Exacto-Knife of the writing world, an awesome tool for cutting away the extraneous bits that don’t really fit into your story.

For example, my fantasy novella, “Bitter Days,” is about a ten-year-old homeless girl living on the mean streets of a gritty fantasy port city with her older sister. When her sister is kidnapped by men working for one of the most secretive and dangerous organizations in existence, she’ll do anything to get her sister back…or avenge her if that’s not possible.

My logline is: “She needed a hero, so she became one.”

That tells me a lot about my story. I already know that my heroine lives in poverty, has no education, owns no real weapons, has no training as a fighter and, finally, is a young girl in man’s world. My logline tells me that she’s got to figure out how to overcome these weaknesses herself. She doesn’t have to do all the work alone, but she’s got to be the one calling the shots.

Try it. Create a one-sentence description of the story you’re currently working on. Or the one you set aside because it was giving you too many problems. If you can create a realistic log line for your story, you may well discover that it allows you to focus your story in a way that that you couldn’t achieve before.

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