A logline is a (very) brief plot synopsis of your story. Novelists also use them to “sell” agents and publishers on their books. A logline is also used for a television listing or a media blurb. A good logline may encourage an agent or a publisher to keep reading your query letter.
Unfortunately, writing good loglines is difficult. What to include? Here’s a few logline examples used in Dramatica’s Writers’ Dreamkit software:
Star Wars: It is a time of rebellion. The evil Empire has most of the galaxy
under its control except for a handful of rebels. However, with the
Empire’s new weapon, even that last holdout may be destroyed…Blade Runner: “Rick Deckard prowls the steel – and – microchip jungle of 21st-century Los Angeles. He’s a “blade runner” stalking genetically made criminal replicants. His assignment: kill them. Their crime: wanting to be human.”
(Video blurb, Warner Home Video.)
Barefoot in the Park: A conservative young lawyer and his irrepressible bride struggle with marital discord after the ecstasy of the honeymoon gives way to the reality of setting up housekeeping in a five-flight walk-up.
The major factor that these loglines have in common is that they describe the main “problem-to-be-solved” plot point. You’ll notice, if you know these stories, that this same plot point is set-up and presented at the start. The short bits of backstory that oftentimes come at the beginnings of movies and novels aren’t important to mention in the logline. For example, Luke Skywalker’s time wallowing away on a desert planet before his big adventure is seen in the movie but is left out of the logline. The logline gets to the point. Quickly.
You need to write a logline for your story. Why? Along with the brief “back book jacket” synopsis, the logline helps keep you focused as you write (or edit) your story. As you advance the plot or are cleaning up loose ends, refer back to the logline and the synopsis to make sure you are delivering on your promise. The typical Netflix browser reads the logline for Bladerunner and expects a good sci-fi film. Imagine the disappointment if the entire film ended up being a character study of weeping robots in couples therapy. Sure, it’s got the artificial intelligence bits, but it’s wandered so far off course it is unrecognizable.
This wandering off course is common for us fiction writers. The focus of a logline and a synopsis is crucial whether you are a free-form writer (dump out a first draft with no set plot in mind first, plot second) or a planner (plot the entire story first, then write), or like me, a bit of both.
So, what’s your logline, baby? Write a one for your story. It needn’t be perfect, and it can change along the journey, but just make sure it matches up in the end. Delivering on your promises goes a long way with building trust with readers (and agents!).