March 13th, 2013

How to Use Your Logline, Tagline, and Pitch to Create a Stronger Story

Photo by Kristin Nador ~ WANA Commons

Photo by Kristin Nador ~ WANA Commons

by Marcy Kennedy

Most of us think of a logline, tagline, and pitch as marketing tools we write after we’ve written our story so that we can use them to land an agent or as our book’s cover copy.

We’re doing it backwards.

If we wait until we’re done with our book, any problems our logline, tagline, and pitch reveal could mean major re-writes. By creating them first, we’ll save ourselves a lot of unnecessary work.

Pantsers – this is especially true for you! Even though I’m a hard core plotter, I’ve co-written a novel with an equally hard core pantser, so I know how much you hate planning. Using these tools before you start to write can make sure you have a strong idea and still give you the freedom to discover your story as you go.

And I’m about to show you how.

A logline is a one-sentence description of your book that captures your main character, the conflict they’re going to face, and the stakes if they lose.

It contains the three most important ingredients in a strong story. Leave one out and it’s like leaving the chocolate chips out of chocolate chip cookies.

In a logline, you don’t use your main character’s name, so you’re forced to figure out what makes them interesting and unique. Plotters, this forces you to distill down what’s most important about your main character from the pages of description you’ve no doubt created. Pansters, this allows you to have a clear picture of your main character without writing out the character sketches you likely find tedious. For both, your logline helps you figure out who the story belongs to.

Conflict boils down to what your main character wants and what’s standing in her way. No conflict, no story. I don’t care whether you’re writing a romance, a thriller, a fantasy, a memoir, or a work of literary fiction. If you can’t clearly state what your conflict is, you don’t have a story.

Plotters, because you write detailed outlines, you can sometimes lose sight of your main story among the subplots. Pantsers, knowing the main plot keeps you from getting so distracted by bunny trails that your first draft is a tangled knot you don’t even know how to begin untying. (Or worse, you end up without a main storyline at all.)

Usually when you hit the conflict portion of your logline, you’ll include your antagonist/villain. You do have one, don’t you? If you don’t, you don’t have a story.

Stakes are what your main character stands to lose if she fails. Why should they care what happens? If they don’t care, then the reader won’t care.

Seeing your stakes on paper this way forces you to ask if they’re big enough. Will they change your character’s life forever? James Scott Bell is fond of saying the stakes should always be death. I agree with him. Physical death. Emotional death. Spiritual death. Your character needs a reason to fight to the very end.

So a logline tells you what your book will be about. Your tag line is a catch phrase. (Don’t confuse them.)

The tagline captures the tone or emotional essence of your book. It also hints at the genre. It’s what you see on the front cover or on a movie poster.

Life is like a box of chocolates – Forrest Gump

You know you’re going to get a story that has moments of humor and yet manages to be profound. You could guess this is going to be a drama.

Don’t go into the water – Jaws

It sets the tone for a story that’s going to scare you. You know it’s going to be either horror or a thriller.

One ring to rule them all – Lord of the Rings

This is going to be an epic fantasy. Whole countries will be at stake. Maybe even the whole world.

Behind every great love is a great story – The Notebook

Romance. Probably going to be tears involved.

By writing your tagline, you know tone you’re going to use when writing your book. Will your story be dark? Funny? A real tear jerker? A consistent tone is essential. Knowing it will save you from a million rewrites because you switched your tone three times during your first draft.

Which leaves our pitch, the six- to ten-sentence summary of our book.

Your pitch should only cover the first third of your book, with emphasis on what Larry Brooks calls the First Plot Point in his book Story Engineering.

The First Plot Point should happen 25% of the way in. It’s the point from which your main character can no longer turn back. The main conflict of the story is introduced, and your MC commits to their goal. This is the important part of it—you identify what’s going to make your main character commit.

Your First Plot Point isn’t your main character being wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder. It’s his decision to escape when his bus crashes and to go on the run to catch the real killer. (From The Fugitive, one of my favorite movies.)

Knowing the First Plot Point makes you answer a key question–how are you going to convince your main character to take on a task that looks like it can only end in failure and death? If your main character could escape from their quest at this point, they would. They would take an easier road. So you need to know what’s going to make them go forward anyway.

ANNOUNCEMENT:
On Saturday, March 23, I’ll be teaching a 90-minute webinar where I give even more tips on crafting awesome loglines, taglines, and pitches. You can sign up by clicking here. If you can’t make it at the time it’s scheduled but still want to attend, sign up anyway. The webinar will be recorded and sent to registrants.

As a special thanks to for having me here at Writers In The Storm, the first two people to sign up today for the webinar (and let us know in the comments) receive a bonus: After the class, I’ll work with you via email to help you write your logline.

HUGE THANKS TO MARCY from Writers In The Storm! This post was pure awesome. Having taken Marcy’s Twitter class, I can tell you she has the teaching thing nailed. 🙂

Have you tried writing your logline, tagline, and pitch before writing the book? Do you think you’ll try it now? Do you have any other questions for Marcy?

*************

About Marcy Kennedy

Marcy KennedyMarcy is a fantasy writer who believes there’s always hope—sometimes you just have to dig a little harder to find it. In a world that can be dark and brutal and unfair, hope is one of our most powerful weapons. She writes novels that encourage people to keep fighting, to let them know that no one is beyond redemption, and that, in the end, good always wins.

Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance editor. (Check out Marcy’s editing services here.) You can find her blogging about writing on Wednesdays/Thursdays and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth on Mondays and Fridays Because Fantasy Is More Real Than You Think…

No comments yet to How to Use Your Logline, Tagline, and Pitch to Create a Stronger Story

  • This post was very helpful. I am in the process of finishing my 3rd ms, and logline and pitch are these I struggle with as a writer. Thanks for the great advice.

  • This is so cool, Marcy! I love how you distinguished the logline from the tagline – they can get confusing. In your Fugitive example, would you say that a man wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder is the inciting incident, and his decision to escape after the bus crash is the first “point of no return” that bridges Act 1 and Act 2? (using Bell’s 3 act structure, which is how I usually construct my story).

    Thanks – your class sounds cool! Will you guys be using conflict boxes?

    ~Kathy

    • That’s exactly how I’d identify the inciting incident and “point of no return” in the Fugitive. Like James Scott Bell (whose book on plotting I also love), Larry Brooks separates the two and I think it’s an important distinction to make.

      We won’t be using conflict boxes in the class, but that’s actually a good idea for showing everyone how the main character’s goal and the antagonist’s goal need to directly oppose each other.

  • Very helpful post. Writing that logline is a torture most of the time. I see them in the NY Times Book Review section but they are so dull. Can you give us some examples of effective loglines for famous novels we might know? I’m still not clear on what’s a “good” logline. Thanks!

    • I think that when it comes to a lot of bestsellers, you won’t find a great logline or even a great pitch attached to their books because their name is what’s selling the book, not the description. A Nicholas Sparks fan will buy his next book sight unseen. We don’t have that advantage.

      To explain exactly what makes a good logline would take me a whole series of posts (which is why I’m doing it as a class – there’s just too much to cover). I think the Hunger Games logline is a good example though of the points I talked about above. (I’ve made a few changes to the official version so that I can walk you through it.)

      “Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, a sixteen-year-old girl who’s the sole source of support for her family volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.”

      The main character is a teenager who is used to providing for her family and taking care of others. We already like her just from the logline because she was willing to sacrifice herself for her sister.

      The conflict is that she’s going to have to kill or be killed. The antagonist is the Capitol and that whole way of life. (This is given a face in the books through the proxy of President Snow.)

      The stakes are physical death for Katniss and potentially also the death of her family if there’s no one to provide for them. (Because, really, how is Gale going to care for an extra two mouths when he can barely feed his family as is.)

  • I do need to start doing this first. For my first book, I don’t think I have the log line and pitch right yet. The one I’m working on now, the log line came first…and I think it did help me keep focus every time I tried to wander away from the main point. We’ll see how well I did when I revise 😀

    • The first line of your pitch is great.

      “Tarian Xannon fights demons, like the rest of us. This time, the demon just happens to be real ”

      It has the zing factor you’re looking for, and it immediately sets expectations (the book will include demons). Setting expectations is extremely important when you’re writing a pitch/Amazon description for a fantasy.

      • So I did that part right? Yay! It took me over a year to get to that lol. Now that I’m starting to revise the WIP I realize the log line no longer applies. Oops.

  • Marcy, I am a plotting panster and found that the two became so confusing it forced me to do at least a couple of paragraphs to give me a road map. I love the idea of doing the tag and log lines before we get lost in a maze of underground tunnels and can’t find a way back.

    I can’t take you class this time, so I subscribed to your blog and signed up for the newsletter. What a wonderful resource. I think of two friends who self-pub’d and cringe. If only they had thought to spend some of their money on editing. How much different their books would have sounded. It’s like “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

    Once more WITS has given me a tool to help me craft … like applying the right stain color on the wood … thanks 🙂

    • I’m so glad you found my website and are signed up. If there are any topics you especially want me to cover, I’m always open to requests. Just send me an email or leave a comment.

      And I couldn’t agree with you more about the need for editing. Even though I’m an editor myself, I wouldn’t put out a story without having it edited first. We’re not objective enough about our own work.

  • Marcy, thank you so much for showing the difference between loglines and taglines. Those are so easy to confuse. Loglines, taglines and pitches are the 3 main items I struggle with, and now I know that part of that is because I usually wait until the draft’s written to work on these. *headdesk*

    I’ll be signing up for your class tomorrow! Can’t wait to learn. 🙂

    • I’m excited that you’ll be in the class 🙂
      When we wait until the book is done, we’re so close to it that all the details seem too important to leave out. Every character matters and every subplot seems vital. We lose our perspective. By writing it ahead of time, even if we have to update it a little, we’re still more objective. We can see the forest because the trees are still saplings (if you’ll forgive the butchered metaphor 🙂 )

  • Lisa Wells

    Marcy, I’m getting ready to start a new book and shall put this theory to the test. I’m a pantser who wishes to be a plotter. I like how you clarified the difference between a tag line and a log line.

    • Let me know how it turns out for you 🙂 I’d personally like to convert all writers into plotters, but I realize that not everyone enjoys working that way, so the important thing is to find out how to make your own process better and tighter.

  • Perfect, Marcy! I’m teaching a submissions class, and I’m sending everyone over here to read this! thanks so much!

  • SUPERB post. I just finished writing the logline and tagline for my book that my agent is going to be pitching to editors. It never occurred to me to write them NOW for the book I just started.
    I love that idea.
    Thank you.

  • Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    Had to reblog this.

  • I’m a pantser, but I’ll try it. Interesting post. I tweeted and reblogged.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it enough to share it. One of the reasons this works for pantsers is that you’re not confined to telling the story a certain way (like you would be if you wrote an outline). You’re still free to follow the creative ideas your brain comes up with as you write. But you can also decide before spending a lot of time on those ideas whether or not they’ll contribute to the story you want to tell. You can use your logline, tagline, and pitch to help answer the question “Does this belong in THIS story or is it a dead end trail or perhaps the seed idea for another story?”

  • As a pantser learning the wisdom of the *right* planning tools, I think this is super, Marcy.

    I know this lesson as a speaker: write the theme first, and build the presentation around it, rather than writing the presentation, then extracting the theme.

    Thanks for the nudge to apply it to my writing.

  • Great post! I learned lots. Thanks for sharing.

  • When Jenny said she had a great blog for today she wasn’t kidding. Wow, Marcy! I wish I could take the class but will have to make do with this post and the resources on your site for now.

    I’m not a plotter by any stretch of the imagination but I always start with a “pitch” paragraph. Logline and tagline mess me up – I always confuse the two. Now I have a much better guide to help me with all of those. Thank you. 🙂

    • I was absolutely thrilled when Jenny asked about putting my post here at Writers in the Storm. I love this blog, and it’s an honor to visit as a guest poster.

      I’m sure I’ll be running this class again, so hopefully those who can’t attend this time but want to will have a chance in the future 🙂

  • Oh you make it sound so easy.

    Thanks for the good pointers, Marcy. I struggle with the one-liners and the cover blurbs. This information will help condense.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • It’s always more difficult to apply it to your own work than to see it in others I think. When I ran this class as a two week session, all the students were able to work together and help each other. This webinar obviously won’t be exactly like that, but because of how beneficial the team aspect was, I will be setting up a private WANATribe group after the webinar for attendees. If you’re able, I think finding someone to be your logline and pitch critique partner can be hugely helpful.

      • It sounds lovely and very beneficial, but that’s the Saturday my writer’s group meets and since I’m the President I sort of have to be there. We are also having a board meeting that day so I’ll be pretty tied up.

        But I would love to “attend” if I’m able and you do this class again. I signed up for your newsletter (I think) so I presume I’ll get that sort of information there.

        Patricia

  • Thanks for this great post, Marcy and Jenny. I really really love clarity like this. Helps me tremendously!

  • Great post, Marcy. I especially loved what you responded to Melinda: “When we wait until the book is done, we’re so close to it that all the details seem too important to leave out.” I’ve always written these at the end and boiling down to such a few words seems impossible. My first book is being published this summer and the publisher wanted 20 words! I’d done a 30 word log line, I thought okay, but cutting out 10 more was a bloody process. I’m definitely trying your way next time. Thanks again a for another invaulable post her at WITS.

    • Congratulations on the release of your first book! And my condolences on having to cut 10 words from your logline. I hope doing it this way instead will help with the next one 🙂

  • Sandy Kenny

    Thank you so much for your post, Marcy. I am a horribly disorganized pantser, but I’m working on becoming better at organization. I am willing to work on breaking out of some really bad writing habits. Thanks again for the advice.

    • My pleasure. I know that for pantsers some of the joy of writing comes from experiencing the story as they go along, so I really wanted to find some way to allow pantsers to end up with a cleaner first draft without having to give up what makes it fun.

  • Yvette Carol

    Very nice. A concise description of all three. I knew what these things were already, yet even so, I feel I understand them better now after reading this post. You know, I’ve realized something this week, and that is, just how very much I’ve learned about this craft through following blogs like this! Thank you 🙂

  • […] found a great post here on how to use loglines, taglines and pitch and I learnt a lot. So, it’s never something […]

  • Great blog, Marcy. And I love your simple explanations. I’m a panster so this will really help.

  • Also a pantser here, so anything that keeps me on track is good. Just signed up for your webinar, Marcy!

  • This was excellent advice. Just what I need before going to a conference this weekend.

  • Thank you Marcy and Jenny! I am bookmarking this post. I do use a log-line…well, because, I took a class on conflict in fiction from non other than Bob Mayer. One of the most amazing things is, I actually learned something in his class. Okay, no big deal right? I think it’s safe to say that we all know Bob is a good teacher of craft. Yet, Marcy girl, I am so impressed with your teaching ability. You really rock! I’m sending you over an email in answer to your question in regards to my MS. Been a bit busy lately. Well, when are we not busy. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 🙂

  • […] Most of us think of a logline, tagline, and pitch as marketing tools we write after we’ve written our story so that we can use them to land an agent or as our book’s cover copy. We’re doing it backwards.If we wait until we’re done with our book, any problems our logline, tagline, and pitch reveal could mean major re-writes. By creating them first, we’ll save ourselves a lot of unnecessary work.  […]

  • As a panster, I find these things so hard to do. I love how you broke down the elements of each one. Great article.

  • Late in reading this. Sorry. Marcy, I’m going to print this out and keep it by my computer. Such great info. And, yeah, I know some of it, but you’ve distilled it in such an easily graspable way! Thank you!

  • Deborah K. Anderson

    What a helpful post, Marcy! I’m putting this on my favorite’s list. Thank you so much.

  • SUCH a fantastic post! Thanks Marcy!

  • Better to arrive late than never.
    Thanks, Marcy for writing a clear and concise post, which, of course, I’ll be printing off. 🙂

  • As a novelist and screenwriter, I usually write down the IDEA for my tagline and logline first, but I write the story before I complete the process. I may have an initial idea on how the story would end, but sometimes even that changes. Good post for writers here. Thanks.

  • Your description of the difference between a log line and tag line is really helpful to a newbie like me. Also, as a pantser, I can clearly see how following your advice will help me stay focused as I wade into the story. Thanks!

  • Thank you, Marcy! This one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. Can’t wait for more! I’m signing up for your class, even though I won’t be able to be there live. Looking forward to listening upon my return from Bologna. Many, many thanks again!

  • […] Kennedy: How to Use Your Logline, Tagline, and Pitch to Create a Stronger Story. Excerpt: “Most of us think of a logline, tagline, and pitch as marketing tools we write […]

  • Fantastic post. You are so right about the log line coming before we have written the novel. Why do we wait? Is it part of procrastination or just that we’re not clear how our work is going to go? What ever the reason, it’s a habit I want ot break. Great break down of the process.

  • Thanks, Marcy. I’m in the initial discovery stage of a new novel, and this will help me.

  • Thanks, this is terrific information. Never thought about it in these terms before. I use Debra Dixon’s GMC charts for plotting and character development, as well as detailed character sheets I’ve developed. This gives me a new slant to work with.

  • Great post, and i even learned a few things from the comments section!

  • Love this. I’m marking this one to remember.

  • […] How to Use Your Logline, Tagline, and Pitch to Create a Stronger Story (writersinthestorm.wordpress.com) […]

  • […] by Marcy Kennedy Most of us think of a logline, tagline, and pitch as marketing tools we write after we’ve written our story so that we can use them to land an agent or as our book’s cover copy. We…  […]

  • […] How to Use Your Logline, Tagline, and Pitch to Create a Stronger Story (writersinthestorm.wordpress.com) […]

  • […] How to Use Your Logline, Tagline and Pitch to Write a Stronger Story by Marcy Kennedy […]

  • […] How to Use Your Logline, Tagline, and Pitch to Create a Stronger Story (writersinthestorm.wordpress.com) […]

  • […] How to Use Your Logline, Tagline, and Pitch to Create a Stronger Story (writersinthestorm.wordpress.com) […]

  • […] How to Use Your Logline, Tagline and Pitch to Create a Stronger Story by Marcy Kennedy a guest post on Jenny Hansen’s blog – I meet Jenny at #DFWcon and she was awesome. […]

  • […] Note: In case you need a breakdown of Loglines, Taglines and the like, click here. […]

  • Hey Marcy!

    I had read this article a while back and got distracted by something (kids, pets, ran out of time, who knows anymore?). Today some synapsis in my brain decided to revisit, allowing me to remember your post. I googled taglines vs loglines, and amongst other less invigorating info on the topic, found your gem once again.

    This is great information for a newby like myself…I will take this post and burn it into my brain AND add it to my saved folder this time. Synapses happen rather sporadically these days. Thank-you!