Can We Learn From Screenwriters? The Extreme Value of The Log

By Michael Neff

Believe it or not, most fiction writers (as opposed to screenwriters) don't know the definition of a log line, much less how to craft it. But the value of this knowledge can not only make a query letter MUCH more punchy and direct, but also give the writer a means to reality-check the "high concept" of their novel-in-progress. And what do we mean by high concept? Basically, a story line or premise that sounds sufficiently unique and commercially viable at the same time--in other words, not like one the agent or editor has already heard 5000 times in the past month!

Back to logs ... The best article on the subject of writing loglines can be found at Screenwriting On The Net. From the article:

All well-written stories consist of two stories--the "objective storyline" and "subjective storyline"--[which] consists of the following: A hero with a flaw that keeps her from achieving a worthwhile goal, is forced to respond to a lifechanging event instigated by an opponent, and in the process of responding to that lifechanging event and with the help of an ally, the hero is forced to overcome her flaw, and only then is she ready to do one-on-one battle with the opponent to realize her goal.

So what do we have here? Classic DRAMA. Just keep in mind that great drama creates great characters by default. Just ask Antigone. Here is a good example from the article:

An overprotective (flaw) mother (hero) must overcome her own fears in order to allow her diabetic daughter (opponent and ally) to risk death to give birth (lifechanging event), then must fight to make sense of her daughter's losing battle against death (battle).

The above is a logline from one of America's best screenplays, "Steel Magnolias."

So you can readily see the value of perfecting this instrument for use in a query letter--to the point and punchy. It demonstrates your professionalism and by default creates a HOOK the agent can then use to snag an editor ... Yes, yes, yes.

By the way, if you absolutely cannot write a sharp log, then it's time to reevaluate your story and plot. Maybe the commercial fiction premise you've been working towards is simply non-existent?

Be honest with yourself.

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