In a past post, we told you we'd parse through some of our first (but no cigar) versions of our logline for our novel "Little Mexico".
So here goes. When we first tried our hands at this, we thought we had to really paint a full picture of what the story was all about. Our tenth attempt gave us this (of which we were very proud—didn't think we could do better).
"In a gritty Kentucky river town, Carl and Pearl Jules fight to keep their glamorous supper-club casino from falling into the hands of the Cleveland Syndicate. Bullets fly and bodies are dumped into the Ohio River in a 25 year long battle until, finally, the rules of coexistence between the mobsters and independents are hammered out and written in blood, giving birth to the Las Vegas casinos of the swinging Rat Pack era."
Yep, our chests were bursting with pride at having given verbal birth to our "little darlings"…each squawking and shouting out "Aren't I picturesque?" We thought it was a little long, but justifiable. The first sentence focuses specifically on the "small KY family-owned business versus major crime syndicate" aspect of the series. The second sentence describes the scope and length of that battle/war and reveals the little-known historical result and significance of its outcome.
Well after a day of letting that logline lay around, it became obvious to us that it was too verbally fat and needed to be trimmed.
We are both very passionate about our ideas and what would normally take a single writer an hour to rewrite, takes us two or three as we argue and defend what the other is trying to chop out. But we get over the emotional attachment to our words, put on our professional hats and get on with the process of pruning, which is the necessary thing to do—all part of the process.
So, we whacked away at the log line. Thought we'd done a solid butcher job of trimming the fat. When the dust settled, we had:
“In the gritty Northern Kentucky town of Newport, where bullets fly and bodies are dumped into the Ohio River, one family is determined to hold on to the glamorous Oasis casino as all the major mob families wage a bloody war to take over.”
Once again, our chests were puffed up! A few weeks later, we realized the knives had to come out again!
Let's go through this phrase-by-phrase, word-by-word. Really look at each element of the log line: The Opening Set-Up, the Protagonist(s), the Action of the story, the Antagonist(s), the Goal, the Antagonist(s) Action.
The opening set-up:
John's little darling was “In the gritty Northern Kentucky town of Newport…"
Cathie's darling: "where bullets fly and bodies are dumped into the Ohio River…” (she is very verbose)
This setup is cumbersome. It gets in the way of telling the story. Diverts the focus.
We agreed to sacrifice each our darlings for the sake of the project and came up with the alternative: “In the premier gambling hotspot before Las Vegas…” This sets up a unique locale without specifically naming it, but definitely states this is not Las Vegas. It should pique one’s curiosity as to where the story is taking place.
The protagonist(s): "one family" is too vague and not focused enough, should be a person(s). The word “family” is also confusing as it implies a smaller "mob family" as compared to "major mob families".
The alternative is: “a determined husband and wife”.
The action of the story: “hold on to” is not proactive enough. We can use it later in the log line as the goal.
Remember, a logline must convey the action of the story and carefully chosen words must be used to give the logline momentum.
Let's use the word “struggle” because it presents the goal (and scope) of the story and conveys drama. Conflict is the basis of drama. The word "struggle" implies both external and internal conflicts.
So, we use the words “struggle against”.
The antagonist(s): “major mob families”. This stays as is.
The goal: “to hold on to the(ir) glamorous Oasis casino” stays.
The mob’s action: "wag bloody war to take over" is unnecessary to the logline. OUT!
Putting all this together, we come up with:
“In the premier gambling hot spot before Las Vegas, a determined husband and wife struggle against the major mob families to hold on to their glamorous casino.”
The final change came with the focusing on Pearl as the spark that is the catalyst for the entire premise. We hadn't really taken into account that her husband Carl is in a coma for the major part of the book, and our logline wasn't spotlighting what was really unique about this story: a woman is leading the battle against the mob.
“In the premier gambling hot spot before Las Vegas, a determined woman struggles against the major mob families to hold on to her glamorous casino.”
And that's it! A lot of red ink was spilled carving out those words…but rewriting is a part of the creative process…much like Michelangelo chipping away all that wasn't David in that block of raw marble.