How To Write a Log Line

RamonaGravitarWhat is a LOG LINE?

A  log line is a one sentence description that gives an appealing and succinct summary of your story.  Think of the blurbs in TV Guide or Publisher’s Lunch.

A log line is meant to share the story basics but also to provide an emotional hook.

An easy formula for a log line for fiction is this:

Name of story is a word count + genre about a main character who must Story Question before consequences if Story Question is not solved.

For non-fiction, try this:

Name of story is a word count +genre that verb such as explores, uncovers, explains, investigates the subject of book.

Because a log line is so short, each word is important and should perform multiple tasks. Let’s take a look at a sample log line:

“BAD SALE is a 94,000 word thriller about a farmer whose life falls apart after he is tricked by a boyhood friend into buying bomb-making supplies at the hardware store.”

The characters are Farmer and Boyhood Friend. The noun “farmer” tells this person’s job, but it also implies he’ll be a hard-working, honest, family man because that’s the general perception of farmers. “Boyhood friend” implies loyalty and history between the two. It’s not known if this friendship has been steady or if this is a friend from childhood who has reappeared in Farmer’s life.

“Tricked” implies deception, but the intent is not clear, so it leaves something to the imagination. It’s stronger than “fooled” but not as blatant as “coerced”.

The phrase “life falls apart” is vague but conveys the idea that havoc will fall upon the main character and he will be unable to stop it. This is the emotional hook. We should care when a good person is damaged by a supposed friend.

A log line is used in written queries and verbal pitches. It’s also a handy answer to the question, “What are you writing?”

Do you have a log line you’d like to share or show off?

Ramona

17 thoughts on “How To Write a Log Line

  1. Marc Schuster says:

    Hi Ramona… Great post! Here’s one that worked for me, though I think the example you shared does a much better job with plot details: The Grievers is a darkly comic coming of age novel for a generation that’s still struggling to come of age.

    I also like the idea of having a log line on hand in order to let people know what you’re working on. One question, though: How do you keep it from sounding “canned” or memorized when you recite the log line? This is something I struggle with. I hate to sound like I’m pitching when I’m just telling a friend of mine about a project I’m working on.

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    • Ramona DeFelice Long says:

      Marc, I think “darkly comic” is an audience identifier. A person reading this immediately understands what that means. My only suggestion might be to add contemporary in there somewhere?

      The sounding canned is a problem, I agree. I spout mine off with a laugh, acknowledging that it sounds canned. With a friend, how about focusing on the primary character and what makes him/her so darkly comic? (I’m curious about this myself! So I guess I’m buying the book to find out.)

      Like

  2. edithmaxwell says:

    Thanks, Ramona. How’s this: A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die is a 75,000-word cozy mystery about Cam Flaherty, a programmer-turned-organic farmer who uses her smarts to find the killer and save her farm after the farmworker she fired is murdered in the greenhouse.

    Like

  3. Ramona DeFelice Long says:

    Edith, I wonder if you can shorten that last part? I’m not sure you need to say she uses her smarts, as she’s apparently smart enough to be a programmer-turned-organic farmer. Hmm. “…Cam Flaherty, a programmer-turned-organic farmer whose new livelihood is in peril when a fired farmworker is found murdered in the greenhouse…”

    I love the title, and Cam’s name!

    Like

  4. Mary Sutton says:

    Because I just took the workshop. =) “{Insert Title} is an 85,000-word traditional mystery about Allyson O’Connor, a former investigative journalist who finds redemption and forgiveness when she becomes involved in murder and a family secret.”

    Like

  5. kaye george says:

    I’ll post a link to this on the Guppy list, Ramona! Thanks so much. Here’s the log line for my next novel, SMOKE: (a tad long!)

    Imogene Duckworthy, PI wannabe, has landed a job assisting a real PI in Wymee Falls, Texas. After bringing home a pot-bellied pig for her daughter’s fourth birthday, Immy discovers the owner of the local jerky shop hanging from a meathook in his own smokehouse. The pig breeder, Amy JoBeth, is implicated, so Immy feels compelled to try to find the real killer. That gentle, somewhat depressed swineherd couldn’t have killed Rusty Bucket. Could she?

    Like

    • Ramona DeFelice Long says:

      Okay, Kaye, let’s try to formula:
      SMOKE is a XXX-word comic mystery featuring PI wannabe Imogene Duckworthy of Wymee Falls, Texas, whose latest adventure begins when she wants to surprise her 4-year-old daughter with a pot-bellied pig for her birthday and discovers the jerky shop owner hanging from a meathook in his own smokehouse.

      How’s that? You can’t get everything into a log line. Since this is a sequel, the language should try to reflect that.

      Like

  6. Polly Iyer says:

    I’m not sending out queries, but this seemed like a fun exercise.

    In HOOKED, a 92,000-word suspense novel, a hot NYPD sex crimes investigator offers ex-call girl Tawny Dell a deal after the Feds discover her illegal offshore account—go undercover in a classy brothel to find a murderer or go to prison for cheating Uncle Sam.

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