Writing a novel is a big undertaking. I know, I know, that’s a ridiculously obvious statement to make. But what I’m getting at, is that a novel requires a lot of words and it can take a long time to get all those words down on the page and refined in a way that tells the story in the best way possible.

And sometimes, we get a little lost along the way.

That’s why I like to suggest folks think about how to pitch their story early.

Often, people don’t think about how to pitch their novel until it’s done. But, if you can distill your novel into a one sentence logline pitch, it will not only give you something short and punchy to say when people inevitably ask, “Oh, you’re writing a book? What’s it about?”. But it will also help guide you as you write so you don’t go down quite so many tangents.

What exactly is a logline?

A logline is a one-to-two-sentence description of what happens in story.

Loglines are often used with movies—it’s how movies are often pitched. But, more and more, literary agents and even editors are asking for a one-sentence pitch from authors.

Essentially, a logline is a sentence or two that gives the central conflict, the plot, and the hook of the story. Your logline should include things like what kicks off the story, who the story is about, what’s in the way of what they want, and what happens if they don’t get it.

Nathan Bransford (an author, editor, and former literary agent) explains that a logline is “the heart of your book, whittled down to one sentence.” He has a great example of a logline formula.

“When INCITING INCIDENT happens to CHARACTER(s), they have OVERCOME OBSTACLE to COMPLETE QUEST in order to/or else STAKES.”

– Nathan Bransford

Like most writing advice and formulas, this is a starting point for you—play around with it and see what works for you and your story. The examples below don’t stick to this formula completely, but they still work really well.

You can’t write a solid logline unless you know what your story is about. What’s the heart of your story? Who is your main character and why is this story happening now, to them, and what are they trying to do and/or prevent and why is that a big deal?

See if you can recognize these stories from their loglines:

  • When a young woman offers to take her father’s place as his prisoner, a cursed prince tries to earn her love to break the curse and transform himself and his castle back to their former glory.
  • When her secret love letters somehow get mailed to each of her five crushes, a young woman finds her quiet high school existence turned upside down. (source)
  • A book superstore magnate and an independent book shop owner fall in love via the anonymity of the Internet, both blissfully unaware that the former is trying to put the latter out of business. (source)
  • To prove a point about measuring up and fitting in, a Texas teen enters a local pageant run by her ex-beauty queen mom. (source)

How does a logline help you write a better book?

A logline is all about distilling your story down to its core elements. Once you know those core elements, you can use your logline as a guide to help you stay on track as you write.

If your logline is about a prince trying to earn someone’s love and he’s off on an adventure trying to steal gold from a dragon, you probably need to re-evaluate your logline or your story—they aren’t matching up.

Here are six ways to use your logline as you write your book:

1. Try out a few versions of your logline until one feels right.

While short, a logline isn’t easy to write. It can take a lot of drafts to figure out how to write it succinctly while staying compelling and true to the story you’re trying to tell. It’s totally okay to use one logline for a while and then change it as your story evolves.

2. Put your logline where you’ll see it every time you sit down to write.

The more often you see your logline, the more likely you are to remember it and keep it top of mind as you write. Scribble it on piece of paper and slap it up on the wall or a bulletin board by your desk. Write it on a sticky note to keep it on your laptop or notebook that you use every time you work on your book. Heck, if you’re feeling fancy, type it in a pretty font and put it in a sparkly picture frame on your desk. However you do it, make it front and centre when you write.

3. Compare your outline and your logline. Do they go together?

If you’re a planner, take a look at the outline you’ve made and the logline you’ve drafted and see if they make sense together. Does your outline tell the expanded version of your logline? Does the inciting incident match up? Are the stakes the same?

4. As you write, check in with your logline, are you still telling that story?

Whether you write by a plan or by the seat of your pants, check in with your logline as you write. Are you staying true to the essence of the logline story? Are you fulfilling the promise to your reader? When you draft that fun new scene (and subplot) about adopting a baby piglet, take a moment to assess if that fits with the story you promised in the logline.

5. Share your logline and finished draft with a critique partner.

When you share your draft with a critique partner also give them your logline and ask if the draft fulfilled the promise the logline made. Did the logline get them excited to read the book? As they read, did they get the story they were expecting or did they feel like it was a bait and switch?

6. Write loglines for books similar to yours.

If you’re looking to publish and find paying readers to buy your book, it’s always a good idea to think about what other books your ideal readers enjoy and why. What books would be next to yours on their favourites shelf? What would the loglines of those books be? This can give you great insights into the types of stories your readers enjoy.

Try it out!

Bookmark a half-hour of your writing time to try to distill your WIP into a logline. Let me know how it goes in the comments! I’d love to hear about your experience and read the loglines for your WIP.

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