How (and Why) to Write a Logline For Your Story

UntitledI’ve been thinking recently about loglines and why every author should have one for his/her story. We haven’t talked much about this at the blog, so I wanted to briefly discuss what a logline is and why you should have one.

What is a logline?

A logline is a one- or two-sentence pitch that explains what your story is about in a way that makes listeners want to read it. Loglines are important because people will always be asking you: What’s your book about? Sometimes, those people will be influential folks, like editors, agents, publishers, etc. Sometimes they’ll be other important people, like potential readers who might buy your book if it catches their fancy. The tricky thing is…this question is usually an impromptu one. It comes up unexpectedly, and if you’re not prepared, it can catch you off guard. So it’s always good to have a logline prepared.

Another good reason to write a logline is because it defines your story. If you can’t write a good one, it may not be the logline that’s the problem, but your story itself. Writing a logline can help you see potential problems or gaps within your story that will need addressing in order to get you back on the right track.

Here are a few examples of loglines from movies you might recognize (and they’ll also hint at how old I am):

A small time boxer gets a once in a lifetime chance to fight the heavyweight champ in a bout in which he strives to go the distance for his self-respect. (Rocky)

A young man is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown, and must make sure his high-school-age parents unite in order to save his own existence. (Back to the Future)

When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist, and a grizzled fisherman set out to stop it. (Jaws)

What should a logline include?

Each of these loglines contain three things: the protagonist, the overall goal, and the stakes. Let’s look at them again to see the breakdown:

A small time boxer (protagonist) gets a once in a lifetime chance to fight the heavyweight champ in a bout in which he strives to go the distance (goal) for his self-respect (stakes).

A young man (protagonist) is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown, and must make sure his high-school-age parents unite (goal) in order to save his own existence (stakes).

When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity (stakes), a police chief (protagonist), a marine scientist and a grizzled fisherman set out to stop it (goal). In this example, the stakes are implied rather than stated outright, but mentioning that a gigantic shark is menacing a small island is enough to show what’s at stake.

It’s important to be able to narrow your story down to these three elements. It’s also important to phrase them in a way that creates interest and intrigue. If you can accomplish this, you’ll have created an honest and catchy pitch to give to anyone who might be interested in your story. And that could pay off in book sales, manuscript requests, and editor/agent interest.

Before You Go…

Angela is posting over at TheWriteChris today. So, if you’d like to catch her 3 Brainstorming Tips for Writing Fresh Body Language To Describe Character Emotion, stop on by!

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About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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30 Responses to How (and Why) to Write a Logline For Your Story

  1. Pingback: Elements of Building A Story: Research, Outlining & Plotting, Etcetera - Writer's Gambit

  2. Karla V says:

    This is a fantastic post and I refer back to it constantly! Thank you. One thing I struggle with, however, is how best to structure loglines for concept books vs. character-driven stories. The latter fits in well with the protagonist/goals/stakes format but this doesn’t quite apply to concept books. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

    • This is a great question and one I didn’t consider, since I write (and tend to read) character-driven stories where the character arc is an important piece. With concept, or plot-driven, stories, the pieces are usually still the same, but the stakes are higher——survival, life or death, the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it kind of stakes. The stakes here are so obvious that they’re often implied rather than overtly stated in the log line.

      Watership Down: A group of rabbits (protagonists) flee their doomed warren and face many dangers to find and protect their new home (goal, stakes: survival).
      War of the Worlds: As Earth is invaded by alien tripod fighting machines, one family (protagonists) fights for survival (goal, stakes).
      The Maze Runner: Thomas (protagonist) is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape (goal, implied stakes: freedom)

      If you’ve written a plot-driven story and want more info on log lines, I would suggest going to IMDB.com and plugging in the titles for plot-driven movies to see how those log lines have been written. I hope this helps!

      • Karla V says:

        Thank you! This is very helpful (and I’ll definitely check out IMDB). If I may add to the challenge though, I write PBs where the plot for a concept book may be as simple as different kinds of quiet (e.g. THE QUIET BOOK).

        What I’m struggling with in crafting a logline is precisely that there are no stakes per se in this kind of story. It’s purely an emotional journey with nothing to lose (except the reader if you bore them 😉 but that’s beside the point).

        I suppose that’s one way to think about it… the stakes are not in the story itself but in the reader who will either delight (or not) in one’s words. How then, does one formulate a logline for that…?!

        • My suggestion for this would be to come up with a list of books that are similar in style to yours. Then look them up to find out how they’re described. IT sounds like Harold and the Purple Crayon might be a similar one, and I found this line of description on a post highlighting books for preschoolers: This is the story of pint-sized dreamer Harold, who one day decides to go for a walk and creates a whole world of adventures using nothing but his creativity and a purple crayon.

          Here’s another for The Giving Tree: This story of lifelong friendship between a boy and a tree teaches a wonderful lesson in selflessness and unconditional love. Good Night Moon is another one that you could look into, since that sounds like what you’re talking about.

          I’m going rogue here, not having researched this at all, but with this kind of book there seems to be a strong emotional component——something that tugs at readers’ heartstrings in some way or is easily identifiable for them: the beloved nighttime ritual that all parents and kids intimately know; a story of lifetime friendship and unconditional love; the creativity and bravery of being able to spawn whole worlds with one simple crayon. Maybe, for this type of story, you need to hone in on that component and make sure that comes through in your log line, since that is what will draw readers in. So I would do a lot of research into books that are similar in concept to yours. Find their summaries and tweak them to get them down to that bare-bones sentence or two. Then do the same to yours. I hope this helps!

          • Karla V says:

            Thank you so much for taking the time to respond (and so thoroughly). Your advice (as with everything on this site) is invaluable! I am a huge fan of the work you do here for all of us, Thank you.

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  5. Dave Powell says:

    Found the info. Thanks

    Dave

  6. Dave Powell says:

    I am missing something… Did the log line contest begin? When does it end? And How does one enter?

  7. Patrick Witz says:

    Hi Becca… First: Thank you for the log-line info; Second: Isn’t a log-line basically a story synopsis? Three: Why one really really long run-out-of-breath line? Most book jackets, promotional snippets, etc are 2/3/4 lines. Four: I always write a story synopsis after the first draft, which often times refocuses the story line in the second draft. Five: I’ve been working on two novels (for too long a period of time), but have found enjoyment recently writing a dozen short stories, each with a story synopsis. I’m I mixing or blending the two terms “Log Lines” and “Story Synopsis”?

    • Hi, Patrick. Great questions. Yes, a log line is like a story synopsis, except that a synopsis is very detailed and a log line is short and concise. It’s meant to convey what the story is about in a short and snappy fashion. Book jackets, promo snippets, back cover copy and all of those are also forms of the story synopsis, but again, they’re longer; they’re able to share more information about the story because of their length. One of the beautiful things about the log line is that we’re forced to trim all the fat and narrow that synopsis down to the bare bones of what the story is truly about. And this is what you need if you’re pitching a story face-to-face. Someone who asks you what your book is about doesn’t want to hear the entire synopsis. The same goes for the editor or agent you met at the conference who asked you the same question. They might request a synopsis at some point, but when you’re chatting with someone, you need a concise sentence that gives the gist of your story. This is the purpose of a log line. I hope that helps!

  8. Cate Caruth says:

    So THAT”s what a logline is.
    I know I need one, just not what it was called.
    Any idea WHY?

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  10. Concise and simple way to look at it (and write). Thx! Sharing this post right now!

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  12. Mike says:

    Sometimes I’ll work on a logline as my first step. It’s great for sharpening your focus.

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  14. Logline…its meaning is important to know. As in passing decades, its usage reminds one of other similar words: headline, punchline, and selling point.

    “How (and Why) to Write a Logline For Your Story,” by Becca Puglisi, is an informative post, as applied to the literary field. Definitely, when composing query letters to publishers, a logline is crucial.

  15. Pingback: Wednesday links: Loglines and impossibilities | Miranda Burski

  16. I like your simple explanation of loglines!! Good to know!!

  17. Merry Bond says:

    Log lines are so important for both writers and readers to know what a book is about and yet they’re the hardest thing to write well. Thanks for the great article! Where do I submit my log line? I’d love for your opinion of it. 🙂

    • Hi, Merry! I love that name, by the way :). I’ll be opening submissions next Tuesday for our monthly first-page critique contest. On Tuesday when the post goes live, just leave a comment with your log line to enter the contest and I’ll pick 3 winners.

  18. I love loglines! I do one for each book before I start writing. They keep me on track if I veer off course. Since I write screenplays too it kind of came naturally. I teach a workshop on writing loglines and I thought this post was spot on.

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  20. Nice job of explaining the logline, and every writer should be aware of the three aspects; protagonist, goal, stakes. That defines story in any medium.

  21. Sara L. says:

    A logline is essentially part of a story pitch, right? I think I might have one… I went to Writer’s Digest Conference last summer, and though I didn’t participate in the Pitch Slam (the manuscript isn’t far enough along in the revising / editing process yet), I went with a “practice pitch” that I used whenever someone asked me what my story was about.

    Regardless, this post gives great information that can help with both loglines and pitches. I’ll have to share this with my writing pals. Thanks, Becca! 🙂

    • Sara, I would think that a log line could be part of a pitch. There are a lot of different ways you could write one; this is just one method. I like this one because the protagonist-goal-stakes, shared in a way that intrigues, is a good way to clarify the story in a way that piques interest. 🙂

  22. jeffo says:

    I have been a terrible writer of loglines, though I do consider it may be the book, not me. However, this was a nice little summary of HOW to do it, thanks!

    • Whenever I’ve had trouble with log lines for my books, it’s almost always a sign that there’s something wrong with the book itself. Ugh. Frustrating, but definitely good information to have 🙂

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