Again I gain inspiration from Kristen Lamb’s Blog. This time she’s talking about using “loglines” to test your story premise and make sure it has heart and a backbone. Loglines are the oneliner descriptions many movies use to drag you in–what might be printed on a movie poster or in the commercial to grab your attention.
According to Kristen a good logline should follow this formula:
Protagonist must do X (active goal) in order to stop X (antagonist) before super bad thing happens (ticking clock).
I’ve been doing something similar in creating my own one sentence synopses of my novel ideas getting in the basics of who, where, when, what and why (sometimes how).
I think trying out the logline approach for each story would be a good exercise to see if you have everything you need for a good novel.
This missing “logline” formula to heart and backbone was sorely missing from my first novel. The logline for that might have looked like this:
A sixteen-year-old girl grieving over the death of her older sister (protagonist) must ?? in order to stop ?? before bad things happen.
Notice nothing is really happening. Basically that’s what I originally wrote. It was a bunch of scenes about Zoe the protagonist dealing with her parents, friends and her dead sisters’s boyfriend, Colby. But the only “plot” was hooking Zoe and Colby up. It obviously needed something–backbone (as Kristen calls it) to keep the story together. I did try to insert something as I revised but realized recently that I tried to mash two stories together that didn’t belong.
A problem I had was figuring out who the real antagonist was. Zoe basically just wants to be left alone to grieve in her own way. But Colby keeps popping up and her friends keep trying to get her to do stuff. Along the line Zoe and Colby start to have feelings for each other despite having hated each other when he was dating Zoe’s sister. I still don’t have a good logline for the novel which is sad.
But, not to fear. I have like 5 or 6 other novel ideas I’ve been outlining. Let’s practice loglining.
Book A: A seventeen year old girl in a distant dystopian society (protagonist) must escape from the castle (active goal) to find her brother before a crazy scientist (antagonist) does experiments on him (super bad thing).
Eh, not too bad.
Book B: A seventeen year old girl (protagonist) must work together with a boy she hates (antagonist?) to complete a scavenger hunt (active goal) to win $1000 that she needs for X (not giving that away and also ticking clock?)
This book is also from the boy’s point of view. A very competitive teen boy (protagonist) must convince a bitchy classmate (antagonist) to complete a scavenger hunt (active goal) because he never loses a challenge (bad thing that could happen).
Neither are super strong loglines but a start.
Book C: A high strung college sophomore (protagonist) must find a way home for Christmas (active goal) even if it means taking a ride with a guy she hates (antagonist) so she can see her Army boyfriend before his leave is up (bad thing that could happen).
A little better.
Book D: A super religious young girl (protagonist) must try to keep her faith while working on a history/literature project (active goal) with an atheist (antagonist) or she might lose her spot in Heaven (bad thing).
That’s a very simplistic look at a complicated story. There’s also the flip side (told from both POVs): A high school junior that doesn’t believe in God (protagonist) must find a way to work with a super religious classmate (antagonist) to complete a class project (active goal) or she will fail the class and get held back (bad thing).
Book E: A recent high school graduate (protagonist) must drive cross country (active goal) despite everything going wrong (multiple antagonists–man, nature, etc) to get to her college in time for her summer classes (ticking clock).
Book F: Recently divorced, a homeless mother of four (protagonist) tries not to fall in love (active goal) with the handsome guy that offered her a place to live (antagonist?) because she can’t deal with another broken heart (bad thing?)
Looking them over… none are very good. I definitely need to do some fleshing out I see. But it’s a start.
Anyone want to tell me the “logline” of the novel their going to do for NaNo (or any project they are working on)?