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The Illusive, and Often Anxiety Inducing, Logline

We writers spend months, sometimes years, slaving over a novel in order to get the story just right. Then we’re told we have to boil down our labor-of-love—with its three-Stressed Guydimensional characters, intricate plot and subplots, and dynamic dialog—into one sentence (of 25 words or less). This is known as a logline, or elevator pitch. Some say it is what you have to have to get your dream agent / book deal. Yeah, no pressure there. Right. Tell it to this guy. [images: morguefile.com]

Believe it or not, publishing gremlins did not spend months dreaming up loglines as a new and entertaining way to torture writers, both published and pre-published. Hollywood has been using loglines since Hollywood became… well … Hollywood. That’s because, loglines are a quick way to test out story ideas.

The secret, I learned from Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat!” approach to story structure, is to perfect your logline BEFORE you write your 400 page tome. This is because…

If you don’t have a solid logline, you don’t have a solid story.

Loglines Aren’t Just for Hollywood Anymore

At the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Annual Conference in Los Angeles (check out the #LA13SCBWI blog), the topic of loglines came up in several workshops. Children’s authors are not immune from needing a good logline anymore.

Blake Snyder aptly described the value of a good logline:

A good logline is the coin in the realm of Hollywood and can be traded like currency with those who appreciate it.

“How do you grab that illusive gold logline coin for your story?”

Generator with light bulbs and knobsIt’s easy! Use the ACME Instant Logline Generator.

I’ve come across several logline formulas, but the easiest and the most fun is the ACME Instant Logline Generator.

I wish I could take credit for the genius behind the ACME Instant Logline Generator. But this unique and humorous one-from-column-A and one-from-column-B method of demystifying the process for creating a logline was devised by M.J. Wright, an author whose blog I follow. You can view the originial blog post here. Or, read the reblogged version here…

The ACME Instant Logline Generator

All novels need a logline, sometimes also known as a hook line – a single sentence that describes the plot and acts as a sale pitch to agents and publishers.

The form is usually “[Character name], [character description] has to [action] in order to [result].”

The result usually has an emotional content. Hard to winnow your story down to it? Try this. Begin with the logline instead. All you need, in fact, is a six-sided dice. Roll once for each variable and complete the sentence:

1. Roger Dodger the old Codger,
2. Peregrine Hyphen-Hyphen Folderol,
3. Snoot,
4. Adele,
5. Eric,
6. Heinz Dasistwirklicheinesehrdummelangeswortistesnicht von Abernatürlichistesjaabsolutichdenkeso of Sehrgutwerdeichgehenundhöreaufmeinekraftwerkalben,

1. a world-renowned horologist,
2. a rock god,
3. an up-and-coming railway enthusiast,
4. a truck driver specialising in cab-over series Macks,
5. an unemployed random-generator writer,
6. a rodent exterminator,

has to

1. win a challenging drag race
2. build a box-girder bridge with a toothpick
3. write a vampire fan-fic novel
4. learn how to sing and dance
5. cook a souffle
6. defeat the evil Thog monsters from Planet Zil

in order to

1. become the Ruler of the Universe.
2. rescue beloved from certain doom.
3. be home in time for tea.
4. get to Buckingham Palace and receive a knighthood.
5. audition for ‘America’s Got Talent’.
6. finish up at the beginning again, only better for it.

Have fun.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013


If you need more intel before tackling a logline, no worries! Nathan Bradford wrote a great post on How to Write a One Sentence Pitch that you can read here.

Easy peasy? You know it!

Your dream agent/book deal is just a logline away.