Putting it all on the Logline

If you never been a public speaker or a copywriter you may not know that boiling one’s thoughts down to a few words is much harder than putting fingers to the keyboard and allowing one’s muse to take over.

Whether it’s William Faulkner writing prose to his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Reivers on his apartment walls while in a drunken stupor, Stephen King penning his first breakout work Carrie in his dilapidated trailer on a legal pad, or Nick Cole pounding out a quick short story at the donut shop while waiting on his lovely Nicole – writers write – a lot!

Coming up with a great blurb, however, can be murder for the best of writers and what is called the logline next to impossible for all but a few.

So What is It?

This tale harkens back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when studios churned out a new feature every month and serials were the rule of the day. Lots of movies and stories require even more story ideas stockpiled away for some executive type to sift through. So who with their name on their door cared to spend untold hours reading through mounds of garbage to hopefully find a few scraps of not-so-bad story ideas?

Enter the assistant whose job was to read all those stories and write a  very brief synopsis of the plot. How brief? Brief enough to fit on the spine of the script. That means all those countless hours some writer spent penning his or her story rested on how well one or at best two sentences could catch some bean counter’s eye. Those few words on the spine of a script were called loglines.

Guess the Story

Graeme Shimmin, author of the award-winning spy thriller A Kill in the Morning, offers some excellent advice on what a logline is and how to write an effective one.  See if you can guess which hit novel or movie was first sold with these loglines (the answers are at the end of this piece):

  1. During the 1979 Iranian revolution, a CIA officer plans to help six American diplomats escape the country disguised as a Canadian film crew, but with the Revolutionary Guards closing in and no support from his superiors, he must move fast to avoid being caught and executed.
  2. At the height of the Cold War, a Soviet spy and an American spy plane pilot are captured. An American lawyer has to use all his negotiating skills to navigate between the bitter enemies and broker a spy-swap deal.
  3. When a revolutionary new Soviet submarine tries to defect to the USA, the Russians chase it across the Atlantic with everything they have. A CIA analyst who suspects the submarine captain’s true motives has to try to come up with a plan to guide the rogue submarine to safety.

Enter My Story

Imagine my distress when I labored through submitting my first sad endeavor with a traditional publisher and was told I had to boil everything down to a two-page synopsis, and then to a paragraph, and then to a blurb. As an indie author, I now realize I had it all backward. The only way to ensure I stay on track is to take the time to come up with that golden logline first, not last.

So here the logline for my first full-length Sci-Fi novel lies. At this point, I have written exactly 774 words for what I envision being around 65-100,000. At least I can’t wait to see where this logline leads.

Titles for the loglines:

  1. Argo
  2. Bridge of Spies
  3. The Hunt for Red October

About Tim George

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