Monday, December 18, 2017

Loglines are from hell

Agent Luvvin D. Loglines likes her queries with a one-sentence pitch/summary up front.

Two questions:

1. Are Publishers Marketplace deal announcements a good model? To use an example I pulled out of my hat: In SHIPWRECK, INTERRUPTED, a 19th century Japanese mermaid must choose between her gang's mission to destroy foreign ships and super-hottie Admiral Perry, in a ludicrous deal, etc. etc.

2. What if your hook is in the title? If you're querying IT, it behooves you to mention killer clowns will make an appearance. But if you're querying the novelization of KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, how do you pitch it without re-mentioning the clowns' motives and place of origin? (Title-Hook Syndrome pops up frequently with children's books-- e.g., FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS.)

 Pub Mkt listings can be good examples. I save ones that I think are good so I can look at them when I'm writing my own deal announcements. Not all of them are though. And how you'll know the difference I do not know.

Which brings us to why I despise asking writers for log lines in a query: log lines, good ones, are BRUTALLY hard to write well. I practice (as do all the agents here) in a group meeting with our film guys, and I learn something new every single week. And I've been doing this a LONG time.

Some examples:

Here's my starting point for Crude Oil, Crude Money:
A swashbuckling, smooth talking billionaire signs the deal of a lifetime to control all of the Saudis' oil shipments. Multiple sinister and divergent interests ally themselves and plot to reclaim the golden goose.

Here's what got posted to PM

Former Washington Post Mid East bureau chief Tom Lippman's CRUDE OIL, CRUDE MONEY, examining Aristotle Onassis' bold gamble to corner the crude oil shipping market by signing a deal with the King of Saudi Arabia, to the dismay of British and US oil companies, the Dulles brothers in DC, the newly elected prime minister of Egypt Gamal Nasser, and the encroaching Soviets eager to build power in the region to Hilary Claggett at Praeger, in a nice deal, for publication in 2019, by Janet Reid at New Leaf Literary & Media (World English).

Here's the logline for a short story by Phillip DePoy
In "Accessory", Foggy in his role as Child Protective Services officer is called in when a young girl is a witness to a murder that makes no sense to anyone hearing about it. Now he's got to figure out whodunit and more important whydunit, before things get a lot worse in Fry's Bay Florida.

And here's the logline for a short story by John Haggerty

In "Shelter" Chekhov's gun is a bomb shelter.

None of these follow the same rules or format.

I think they all do the one thing a log line has to do: entice someone to read on.

There is no template, there's no one right answer.

Generally however log lines should show the decision a character has to make, be liberal in use of adjectives (rather than verbs--which makes me nuts as you might imagine) and convey the tone of the book.

And a partridge in a pear tree would be nice too.

Like I said, loglines are brutal. Since most of you have trouble just getting plot on the page, if someone asks for a logline I'd ignore it for a more complete rundown of what's at stake in a novel.


Kathy Joyce said...

An embattled author writes a log line that grows too long, twists around itself, encircles her neck, and squeezes. She saves herself with a six-inch paring knife, and vows never to write log lines again. Ever.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, brutal to say the least.

Anonymous said...

If I can make a recommendation: Lane Shefter Bishop wrote a book called Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence. While it specifically addresses loglines, I use it to clarify my story thoughts in my initial planning stage. It forces me to think about the story in a fresh way. At the completion of the story, I may tweak the sentence some, but then it acts as my elevator pitch or short blurb. It can be expanded into a query (and it's a heck of a lot easier to expand it). It's a brilliant exercise, even if you are never called upon to offer a logline.

Kitty said...

A.k.a. bumper sticker it.

Stacy said...

I was going to mention the same book, Micki Browning. :)

The Noise In Space said...

I would read the HELL out of a story about a 19th century Japanese mermaid in a gang.

julieweathers said...

I don't even want to think about this, but really is it much different than an "elevator pitch"? Sum up your story in one or two lines.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I feel like loglines also lend themselves to some genres more easily than others. It could be a useful writing exercise, if nothing else. Also, a logline would give me something more to say than, 'Oh... hmm. Well, it's about this person.. hmm' when family asks what my book is about.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I love this from The Last Mrs. Parrish

Some women get everything
Some women get everything they deserve

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I LOVE to write log lines.

Here's my favorite...

I met my parents for the first time after they died.

That line got me an interview on TV in NYC.

Kathy Joyce said...

2Ns, Sounds like a business to me!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

This is OT, but I know we've got a lot of people here who send prayers and good thoughts - an Amtrak derailed over a busy highway near Seattle. It looks like at least 7 railcars derailed, one of which burned and flipped completely.

This is my home. Cliché as it is, it just seems unreal that it happened here.

Jennifer S. Brown said...

When I need inspiration for writing a log line (and, hey, I'm doing that right now, though I think of it as my "elevator pitch"), I read the short descriptions on bestseller lists. USA Today always has a one-line summary of each book, and it gives me ideas for what works (to me) and what doesn't. But it's handy to have a single line or two you can toss out when someone says, "So, what's your book about?"

Steve Stubbs said...

'Tis true, writing a bad logline is hard. But writing a good one is easy.

Don't remember the name of the movie, but I do remember the logline:

Like father,
Like son,
Like hell.

Or this. from COMA:

Imagine your life hangs by a thread.
Imagine your body hangs by a wire.
Imagine you're not imagining.

Brilliant, eh? What can you expect? Michael Crichton wrote the screenplay and directed.

Notice the same structure in both loglines.

Or this one from many years ago:

It's 25 years later,
And Norman Bates is coming home.

That's all you need to know. I usually ignore that type of movie. But I went to see PSYCHO 2. And it was better than the original.

There are three distinct parts. All three are succint. The last part punches a pack. Log lines do not work for me if they ramble on. And on. And on. And on. And on. And on.

Finally the ultimate in brevity: I never go to see supernatural horror movies, but when I was a kid I saw an ad on TV that compelled me to make an exception. The video was a Victorian era baby carriage motionless atop a craggy cliff. There is a loud noise of wind blowing and a voice iover says,

Pray for Rosemary's Baby.

After which we hear a baby crying.

Whoa! Damn good movie. A masterpiece to tell the truth. The ad was irresistible.

It's so easy, why doesn't anyone do it today?

Janice Grinyer said...

Please, Ms. Reid, PLEASE NEVER remove this website of yours!

Like everyone else, I am a very busy person. To be able to come here, read, absorb and move on, helps me be a productive person.

It's a wealth of information at our fingertips. THANK YOU!

Lennon Faris said...

Bethany - sending prayers & thoughts your way. There are no cliches in real life. Glad you are OK.

Thanks for the post, Janet.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Snoe said...

Following up on Jennifer Brown’s idea to check best sellers lists and proving Janet Reid's assertion loglines are difficult, here are four of the first seven from the New York Times Best Sellers list:

When a pandemic strikes and the world spins into chaos, several travelers head west to find a new life.

A symbology professor goes on a perilous quest with a beautiful museum director.

Christian Grey's tormented and difficult pursuit of Anastasia Steele is told from his perspective.

Jessica Reel and Will Robie fight a dangerous adversary in Colorado.

None of the above is a substitute for coffee. The other three would be just as effective if they read

This is John Grisham’s latest novel.
This is a Jack Reacher book.
Alex Cross is on trial for murder.

(ooh - I need to get the Alex Cross is on trial for murder one. I like my quickie log line better than the actual one of "Detective Cross takes on a case even though he has been suspended from the department and taken to federal court to stand trial on murder charges." - and PS - Why is he in FEDERAL court on a murder charge?)

roadkills-r-us said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
roadkills-r-us said...

I was never quite sure what a logline was (taglines I got). This site helped me.

I feel like I understand now, but would still as soon not have to write a log line.

(Yes, my period is where it belongs, which is NOT where the long-revered US rules of grammar claims it belongs. 8^)

Jennifer S. Brown said...

And following up on Joseph Snoe's follow-up :-), I find the USA Today bestsellers have much better descriptions than the NYTimes. Not great, by any stretch, but better. Referring to (I think) the same books in USA Today:

Year One: Chronicles of the One, Book 1
byNora Roberts
Magic, both good and bad, rises up after a devastating plague causes society to collapse; first in trilogy

by Dan Brown
Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is on the hunt (and run) again as he searches for a cryptic password in Spain

The Rooster Bar
byJohn Grisham
Three law school students, drowning in debt, decide to expose the hedge-fund operator behind a chain of shady, third-tier law schools — including their own

The People vs. Alex Cross
byJames Patterson
Alex Cross works on a case despite his suspension after shooting his nemesis, Gary Soneji; 25th in series

The Midnight Line
byLee Child
The discovery of a West Point 2005 ring in a pawn shop leads Jack Reacher on a hunt for the female cadet who left it and onto a larger conspiracy

(The Fifty Shades one is bad on both)

Joseph Snoe said...

That is a helpful article, Roadkills-r-us.

Colin Smith said...

New York Literary Agent on the run when her disdain for log lines goes viral. It's fin for The Shark when her chums turn predator, unless she can salvage her reputation with a few pithy lines...

Yeah, it's hard. Let's stick with queries, can we? :)

Craig F said...

I had hoped to leave this to the professionals. You know, like hire the USA today person. This post has piqued my interest.

So here is an attempt of mine:

Knowing that her abductor is loose, Justin Thomas wants to make sure his employee is safe, then he steps into the sale of biologic weapons.

Anonymous said...

Here is my 27 word line for Adrift:
A marine scientist struggles to debunk paranormal explanations after the leader of a ghost-hunting documentary crew vanishes during a dive she’s leading on a Florida Keys shipwreck.

Joseph Snoe said...


Unsolicited suggestion:

A marine scientist struggles to debunk paranormal explanations after the leader of a ghost-hunting documentary crew vanishes during a dive to a Florida Keys shipwreck.

Anonymous said...

Joseph Snow

Unsolicited suggestions always gratefully accepted! Thank you.