A logline is the first thing I concentrate on when writing a book before writing anything else. Not the characters, plot twists, or a particular scene, but the logline. And it’s not easy.
As this blog is now up and running, I thought I’d write about the process of how I write a book. I’ve shared a few general tips, but I was talking to a few people on Instagram and Facebook and after the questions I got, I thought it would be good to share a series of posts about how I do it.
And this is the first post in that series, because this is where I always start – with a brilliant logline.
But before I continue, I feel it’s necessary to add a disclaimer. There’s no right way or wrong way to write a book, this is just my way. I’m no expert, I’m still very, very much learning the craft and what I do isn’t the only way. It’s just how I do it. How it works for me, so please, if your writing a book and this method doesn’t work for you, try a different approach.
Okay, so, now I’ve said that and it’s out of the way, let’s crack on and start writing a book.
So. You’re idea. Have you got one? Is it a goodie?
Do you find yourself thinking about it more than you should, like when you’re driving or watching something mindless on television, does your brain wander over to your story, to that scene and that character?
Don’t worry if the answer is NO to all of that.
I usually find that I have an idea and it’s a vague thing. To start off, for me, it always seems to be more of a feeling rather than an fully formed idea, and with me, more often than not, it’s a scene. I see it like I’m watching a screen. Sometimes that scene is all I have, and then I have to go through the process to see if it’s enough to make it a book and that starts with writing a logline.
What is a logline exactly?
The best way to describe a logline, is to think about films. Go to Netflix, Amazon or Google and type in a movie that you’d like to see or have already seen. The logline is the one or two sentence description that gives you a very brief synopsis of the plot. It gives the narrative drive of the story and nothing else, it let’s you know what to expect in terms of genre, story line and character. You base your decision on if you’d like to see that film by that logline. Just like that. And that’s what you’ll do with your book. You’ll write out your logline and decide if you’re going to write it based on that. It’ll tell you if you can go the distance with your idea, if it sings to you or if it’s dull, what work needs to be done and all before you begin writing.
A logline is not an elevator pitch
It’s not a paragraph, it’s not a conversation, it’s a one or two sentence thing. Think of it as the beginning of your elevator pitch. When you tell someone you’re writing a book, and they ask, ‘what’s it about?’ the logline is your answer.
You won’t start by describing the first scene, or the main character, the logline will tell your potential reader everything they need to know about your book in a couple of simple sentences. And the brilliance of this, is that it cuts all the other crap out. It gets straight to the point. It won’t compare it to other books, or leave open ended questions. Because it’s just a sentence or two it will capture the core of the story and from that, you’ll be on the right track. Once you nail the logline, once you have it down to pat and can discuss it with other people without taking half an hour, the rest of the plotting and structure will be so much easier. It all starts with a good logline.
How to write your logline
Who wants what?
There are several things you have to know before you start writing your logline and this may take time. A lot of time.
First off, you need to know who your story is about. And more than that, you need to know something about them – in particular what problem they have in this book.
Not in life, but in this book. That’s important, don’t get caught up in how they had a bad childhood or how they really want to win the lottery unless that’s what your story is about. So be specific. Who is your book about and what problem have they got? What’s the incident that will take them on a path that we want to read about? What will be solved by the end of the book?
Think hard about this, because that problem is going to be the spine of your book. It’s the narrative drive that will keep the reader turning the pages.
What stops them?
Now you know what they want, the next thing to nail is how are they going to be stopped from doing it. How will tension and conflict appear in your story? Where’s it going to come from? This is where you need to think about your antagonist, or the problems your main character will face when trying to solve his problem.
Put it together to create your logline
Sounds easy doesn’t it? In fact it takes me an age!
So, for me, my next book is all about revenge. It’s exploring how far people, in particular parents, will go into doing something wrong when they think it’s for the right reasons. How they can justify certain actions when their child is involved.
My main character is Ruth, a single mum and school secretary. She running a small cake baking business on the side and striving for financial independence so she can take care of her son as she would like and prove to her ex-husband that she’s a success. But when she has a brief fling with Rob, a parent at the school where she works, it jeopardises everything. He’s the husband of an ‘Alpha Mum’ and Ruth becomes the target of a hate campaign. Threats appear and when Ruth retaliates, things begin to spiral out of control.
Her ex-husband is concerned for his son’s safety and applies for sole custody. The head of the school is concerned about her professionally and she may lose her job. Ostracized by her work colleagues, with the threat that she might lose her son and career, she has to work hard to get her life back. And for Ruth, this involves small acts of anonymous revenge.
But that’s not my logline, it’s too wordy.
It isn’t specific about what my book is and goes round the houses explaining the narrative drive. I don’t need to know all that stuff about my main character, her ex husband and the cake baking business yet.
In order to make it just one or two sentences, I need to strip it right down to the basics and by doing so, I’ll get a clearer notion of what this book is about.
So here’s the logline I worked with…
A single mother is ostracised by the community for a silly mistake, but when the welfare of her son is threatened by a group of ‘Alpha mums’ she takes drastic action to ensure his safety. Things soon escalate out of control and she learns that people will do anything for the sake of their child, even murder.