Your Logline - The Hardest Sentence You'll Ever Write


Quick. In one sentence, describe the plot of your current work in progress (WIP) .

If you are like me, when asked a question like that you probably stumbled over your words trying to explain the premise of your WIP's plot line. Perhaps, like me, your brain is so wrapped around the details of the plot, you find it difficult to explain the story line in a single sentence.

But you've got to do it.

What we are talking about here is your novel's logline. And it is, perhaps, some of the most important and difficult writing you will ever do.

Loglines and cover blurbs have the same mission--to sell your book. However, where the cover blurb is designed to entice readers to buy your book, the loglines is your elevator pitch: How would you describe your plot if you were in an elevator with a producer, agent, or publisher for a 30-second elevator ride?

Yet the logline plays another important role.

If, as a writer, you are a plotter rather than a panster, writing a logline after you've completed your plotting can also help keep you on track as you start writing the novel. This is why people like Blake Snyder, author of the screenwriting book, Save the Cat!, emphasizes the need for a logline when using his story beat sheets.

Bob Mayer, the best-selling author of numerous thrillers, calls this one-sentence description of your plot the "foundation" of the book.

A logline is a short, usually one sentence description of your plot, and only your plot. This is not the place for a detailed description of your characters, the environment, the theme, or anything else. Just the plot, ma'am. Just the plot.

For instance, a logline for Herman Melville's Moby Dick might read like this: A deranged sea captain, disfigured in an encounter with giant white whale, risks his ship and crew to wreak revenge on the creature.

Some writers insist if you can't write a logline for your book, you don't have a plot. That may not apply to pansters--authors who don't plot but write "by the seat of their pants"--but it does to those who plot out their books before they start writing.

I'm one of the latter, so loglines are essential to my writing process. Here's the logline I wrote for my newest book, The Butcher's Bill: An NCIS agent must uncover the reasons his closest friend and former colleague has gone rogue, leaving behind him a trail of bodies.

This is the logline I'm using for my current WIP, a military sci-fi thriller called Polar Melt: As the Arctic thaws, a Coast Guard team links the disappearance of a research ship's crew to a Russian oil platform and the mysterious energy source that lies beneath it.

I am in the early plotting stages of a possible WWII thriller. The logline I wrote for that project goes like this: A war-weary team of commandos searches behind enemy lines for the Nazis' National Redoubt to sabotage Hitler's dream for a never-ending guerilla war.

Many authors write their loglines before they do anything else. I, on the other hand, usually write my logline after I have done much of my research and started the plotting for a new book.

I don't believe it's verboten to change your logline as your story progresses. Even though I spend a lot of time up front on plotting, I find the story often evolves as the pages grow. The important thing is it helps you stay on track while writing and, once finished, can help you sell your book.