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Loglines #2 (and book descriptions)

Book descriptions on alibris are a great help with getting together a logline and a book description for your own (not written or not finished) novel. A solid logline and short book description are the key starting points to effective novel-length storytelling. Once you have these in place, you can constantly refer back to them if you find yourself blocked.

Timothy Hallihan has a fantastic website about finishing your novel. Here is how he sums up the logline:

A good way to start it is with the formula, ‘this is a story about someone who . . .’ Two examples: “Hamlet” is the story (okay, okay, on one level) of a prince who comes to suspect that his father, the King, was murdered by his uncle. “Oedipus Rex” is the story of a man who tries to sidestep his destiny.


Do that with your idea and then spin it out to a hundred words or so and see (a) what it looks like, and (b) how much you actually know or don’t know about it. And don’t worry if you don’t know how it’s going to come out. It’s much more important to understand the central characters and the basic situation than it is to have the whole story plotted out. (Much more about this later.)


This month, I’ll be preparing for November’s National Novel Writing Month. For some reason, NANO gets me writing with abandon like nothing else. I started my novel at NANO in 2004, and have been working on it when time permits since. This November, I’ll be using NANO time to fill in needed scenes in the story. I found this group on Viddler, and this young lady mentioned the Snowflake method of novel-writing. Here is how the Snowflake method guy, Randy Ingermanson, talks about starting your novel-writing adventures with the creation of a logline:

Step 1) Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Something like this: “A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.” (This is the summary for my first novel, Transgression.) The sentence will serve you forever as a ten-second selling tool. This is the big picture, the analog of that big starting triangle in the snowflake picture.

When you later write your book proposal, this sentence should appear very early in the proposal. It’s the hook that will sell your book to your editor, to your committee, to the sales force, to bookstore owners, and ultimately to readers. So make the best one you can!

Some hints on what makes a good sentence:

  • Shorter is better. Try for fewer than 15 words.
  • No character names, please! Better to say “a handicapped trapeze artist” than “Jane Doe”.
  • Tie together the big picture and the personal picture. Which character has the most to lose in this story? Now tell me what he or she wants to win.
  • Read the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list to learn how to do this. Writing a one-sentence description is an art form.

Like many earnest plotters, I’ve started this process a few times. Collecting all of the descriptions and loglines that I’ve written and decidedly merging them into one solid, unchanging descriptor is my next step. I spent most of my day consolidating documents and rogue paragraphs. I hope to have this little gem of a plot-information super-highway paved and completed by the end of the month (an hour, as Mr. Ingermanson mentions, is woefully understated). Then I’ll be ready for NANO, prepared and focussed on only the scenes I need to write to finally enter the homestretch of finishing my novel.

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