Justine: Hook, (Log)line, and Sinker…er, Synopsis

writer fears, eight ladies writing, justine covingtonIt’s that time of year here at Eight Ladies Writing – RWA Nationals is upon us, just a few months away – and it’s time to start perfecting (and memorizing) our pitches.

Actually, for me, it’s more than my pitch. It’s my logline (which I’ve struggled with), my synopsis (which I’m pretty happy with), and my “high concept” (which I don’t yet have for Three Proposals).

Over the next three weeks, I’m going to break down how to write each of these, using Three Proposals as an example. This week, I’ll start with the logline.

The history of the logline is interesting. It started years ago. Movie studios were getting inundated with scripts and the execs didn’t have the time or inclination to read them all, so they hired other folks to read them and write a one-to-two sentence summary of it. That summary, or logline, is what the execs read and what they based their initial “go/no go” decision on.

I think you can infer from this that your ability to write a killer logline could mean the difference between your dream editor wanting to hear more about your story – or not.

The logline has always been hard for me. I’m okay boiling down a synopsis into one, single-spaced page, but a logline? There’s too much good stuff in my story to leave out! And I certainly can’t limit it to just mentioning Susannah…Nate is an integral part of the story, the conflict, and the resolution.

Then the other day, I stumbled on Graeme Shimmin’s website. He writes spy fiction and has a great formula – the Killogatorformula – for writing a logline.

First, identify the 5Ws and the H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How), but think archetypes when you do it.

  • Who – your protagonist and antagonist
  • What – the problem they’re trying to solve
  • When/Where – your setting (if present day, you can skip the “when”)
  • Why – What’s the protag’s goal?
  • How – The conflict

Once you identify those things, you arrange it a bit like this:

In a (SETTING) a (PROTAGONIST) has a (PROBLEM) (caused by an ANTAGONIST) and (faces CONFLICT) as they try to (achieve a GOAL).

Here’s an example Graeme did for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” by John Le Carré:

  • SETTING: The British Secret Service
  • PROTAGONIST: A retired spymaster
  • PROBLEM: To find a soviet mole
  • ANTAGONIST: One of his former protégés
  • CONFLICT: He can trust no one
  • GOAL: To discover who the traitor is.

Put it together and what do you have?

“The British Secret Service asks a retired spymaster to find a soviet mole who must be one of his former protégés. He can trust no one as he tries to discover who the traitor is.”

So I did this for Three Proposals:

  • SETTING: Advent of Napoleon’s return, England 1815
  • PROTAGONIST: young lady, ward of her uncle
  • PROBLEM: she’s been engaged to someone against her will
  • ANTAGONIST: her uncle
  • CONFLICT: cannot inherit her money
  • GOAL: to save her sister from certain death

My end result:

In spring of 1815, a young English lady agrees to a fictitious marriage with a former spy, who is hell-bent on proving her uncle and guardian a traitor, so she can avoid a real marriage to her uncle’s friend and inherit the money she needs to save her sister.

It’s a mouthful (and one hella-long sentence), but I capture everything in about 50 words. Even the Nate part, which, when I was doing this yesterday, was afraid I’d have to leave out.

Here are some other examples from well-known movies:

  • A Pennysylvania steel-town’s ambitious and hot-headed high school coach tries to spoil a football hero’s scholarship dream. — “All The Right Moves”
  • A tough principal takes revolutionary measures to clean up a notoriously dangerous inner-city New Jersey high school. — “Lean On Me”
  • Naïve Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to. — “Midnight Cowboy”

So, logline is done! Next week, I’ll cover the synopsis.

What tips/tricks have you learned when writing your logline?

3 thoughts on “Justine: Hook, (Log)line, and Sinker…er, Synopsis

  1. Justine, that sounds like a great way to devise a logline. I’m definitely going to give this a try this weekend (as soon as I reach my word-count).

  2. Pingback: Justine: Hook, (Log)line, and Sinker…er, Synopsis, pt. 2 | Eight Ladies Writing

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