What is a successful Logline? What's its purpose?
The answer remained a mystery to us for a long time. In fact, we didn't even think about its necessity during the time we wrote our first five crime fiction novels. Afterwards, we played around with TV Guide style descriptions, but didn't fully understand the importance of a logline until we were approached by a local film maker who wanted to work with us on developing a Cable TV series based on our historical crime fiction novels...which is a story for another time. But this experience introduced us to the value of having a logline to describe what a story is all about.
A logline is the basic story seed which describes the core conflict that blossoms into a story. It is probably the toughest sentence you'll write for your project be it novel, short story, TV series or motion picture.
Basically it's "who wants what and who/what stands in the way of getting it."
For example: "Small dog wants bone and must fight bigger dog for it."
All stories have a basic protagonist, goal, and antagonist.
This is not simplistic storytelling. But the elements ARE simple. It's the talent of the writer that creates something unique with them, much like a chef uses basic ingredients to create a satisfying meal.
The logline for our novel Little Mexico is: "In the premiere gambling hotspot before Las Vegas, a determined woman struggles against the major mob families to hold on to her glamorous casino."
it all sounds simple, right? Well, it took us almost 30 rewrites to pare it down to this. Usually, a writer first starts with the logline and then develops the project. However, we had written our historical crime fiction novels 13 years ago without a logline and had to remember what had fired us up about doing them.
The inspiration for these stories came while researching Northern Kentucky history for our third "Journals of Kate Cavanaugh" mystery. In that novel, Kate discovers the existence of a long lost uncle who was intimately involved with the illegal casinos in Newport, KY back in the 1940s and 1950s.
We were shocked and surprised at what we found in our research. But back to our point---what was the basic idea on which we built our story of a family running an illegal gamblng establishment? It was the little guy versus the big guys---simple as that. But we had to give it a creative twist that was relevant to the world we wanted to write about, at the same time relatable to a present day audience. The basic idea became Small (mom and pop) Business surviving against Big (mob family) Business in a literally cut throat world. Then "mom and pop" became a "determined woman" since "Pop" has been shot and lies in a coma for most of the book.
Creating a novel is very much like building a house. John is very good at putting up the basic structure using post-it notes instead of 2 x 4s to block and frame the novel. He writes simple sentences on these scrapes of paper describing the characters' motivations and plot twists, moving them about in a timeline of events until the novel begins to rise up from this solid foundation. Cathie is more inclined to decorating the walls and windows and mulling over what kinds of ornamentals to plant around the foundation. We BOTH enjoy doing that, which makes the task of writing a logline even more difficult.
Back to our present day task: To compress all the elaborate development we had done to that basic idea and restructure the description to shine a light on our unique but still simple story. We had to strip it all back down to its bare bones to show that the idea is solid, then add one or two decorative words that strengthen the concept---not just because they were our "little darlings". For example: John wanted to use the phrase "gritty riverboat town" to describe Newport. Out it went! Cathie wanted "where bullets fly and bodies are dumped into the Ohio River"---gone!
In a future post, we'll parse through our better (but no cigar) versions. Until then, anyone want to try your hand at writing your own?