I have been writing since 2010 and have penned six book-length manuscripts and several short stories. Among all those, one always stood out to me as the breakout book. I'm not saying the others aren't good — I certainly like them — but one particular novel has a high concept, a timely topic, and has been written, rewritten, and edited so much it's pretty much print-ready.
Since I landed my agent and finaled in the Golden Heart with this young adult novel in 2015, I have never wavered in my belief that it would sell to a traditional publisher.
But it didn't.
I don't fault the story. I don't fault myself. I don't fault my amazing agent. I don't fault the publishers.
Am I little annoyed? I'd be lying if I said no, because they just turned down a really good novel. But they all had good reasons for passing, and my book just wasn't one they wanted to publish.
Still, what do you do when the plan you had for your novel doesn't work out? What if your dream for your story doesn't come true?
You can let your dream die, or you can make your dream change.
- Some writers want a traditional book deal, but they don't get an offer.
- Some writers want to self-publish, but that route proves too frustrating.
- Some want to write in a particular genre, but the interest and sales aren't there.
- Some want to pen six novels a year, but can only squeeze out a single book.
When we knock on the door of our dream, and it doesn't open, we can keep beating that door ... or we can knock on another door.
How do you know if it's time to change your dream?
Getting the dream would cost more than you're willing to pay.
Let's say to write those six novels, you'd have to give up homeschooling your child or acting in your local theater or running your other side business. Some writers would say you have to prioritize the writing! But not necessarily. You have to choose your priorities and decide what's most important to you. Maybe you'd love to write more novels, but you don't want to give up being Ophelia in Hamlet. So don't.
There's a cost to pursuing a dream, because personal dream fulfillment actually requires a lot of hours, elbow grease, and compromise. You may not want to sacrifice those things, at least to the point required to carry out your original plan.
For my book, there was one publisher interested who might have offered a contract if I was willing to change the tone and theme of the book. It would have been awesome to sign with this company! But I wasn't willing to do what they required for me to sell to them. In the end, that was simply a cost I wasn't willing to pay.
You can easily imagine and feel calm about taking another path.
Most paths have obstacles and brambles, but when you're ready to change direction, a new path doesn't seem quite so daunting. You might have some challenges, but you can imagine yourself plucking your way along toward a new destination.
For some authors, that calm only happens once they've beat back as many vines as humanly — or even superhero-ly — possible, only to discover the way still blocked. Then the other path begins to look pretty darn good, and a peace settles on them to think about another way.
I admit that self-publishing previously scared the pants off me. Not only because I'm not the kind of
control freak savvy entrepreneur who tends to do well with making all the decisions, but I didn't previously have the resources and connections I now have. The idea of putting out the book myself isn't as frightening as before. In fact, it's rather exciting.
While I couldn't have foreseen this path for the book a few years ago, now I'm ready. Are you ready to imagine a different way? Can you see yourself getting it done?
Trusted writer friends tell you it's time.
A friend of mine wrote in a particular genre for years and experienced success in contests and in getting an agent. But her books didn't sell. The critique group she'd been with for more than a decade finally cornered her and suggested her writing voice went well with a different genre. They suggested she give it a try.
Were her other genre books bad? No, they were great! But it was time to move on. Since my friend trusted her critique partners, she sat down to pen a novel in the new genre. Months later, she'd finaled in contests, gotten an agent, and had signed a book deal.
Sometimes your close friends and fellow writers can see a situation better than you. You're tangled up in the trees, and they've got a view of the forest. If they see a better path for you, it might be worth listening.
By the time my novel submissions had reached the end of the line, I had the support of friends and family telling me to move on. They confirmed my decision and then encouraged me set a new goal — one they knew I could accomplish and they would support.
But what about persistence? Determination? Perseverance? Those are absolutely necessary in this business, and continuing to pound the door might well get you what you want. That certainly happens for some writers!
For others, you get a bruised fist, or at least a bruised heart. And you may decide your time and effort are better spent rethinking your dream and pursuing that path instead. If that latter one is you, it's okay to change directions. In fact, it's probably time.
Have you ever changed dreams in your writing career? Are you currently considering a different path?
Julie Glover writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart® and is now up for preorder! When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
by Tasha Seegmiller
Have you ever had the chance to sneak away for a writing retreat? Have you had the chance to experience the synergistic feeling of creating while in close proximity of other creators? One of the best perks is that when temptation shows up, to jump on the socials or play a game on the phone “while you figure out what’s going on in the story”, a quick glance around the place silently peer pressures you back to doing what you went there to do – write.
One of the greatest perks of NaNoWriMo is that it creates a sort of collective, online recreation of a writing retreat. Logging on the website provides the opportunity to see how well other people have been doing, provides a little graph to show where you should be.
That said, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and the word counts and the competition of the whole thing. And it’s easy to get caught up in the guilt and shame should you have a bad day (or two or ten) and get on to see how “far behind” you are. So while I am planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, while I have participated for many years, I always do it with a caveat: Only maintain that speed of writing a story if it is working for the story AND if it is working for the writer.
One of the keys to succeeding at this NaNo event is to consider where you are in your writing. Do you need to do a deep dive revision? Do you need to sort out the muddy middle? Do you have a beginning but then have no idea what to do next? While it is fun to make sure you are playing the game with your writing friends, just because 50k isn’t in your wheelhouse right now doesn’t mean that you can’t use the benefit of this international, month-long writing retreat to your advantage.
Take a break
It can be tempting to keep rehashing a story over and over again. Our mind tells us just one more edit, just one more revision, and it’ll be just right. But if you haven’t put the story in a proverbial drawer and left it alone for at least a month during your creative process, believe me when I say stepping back is the best thing you can do. Play with a different story, keep the writing muscles strong, celebrate the actual act of creating. Then put your NaNo project in a drawer, pull the other one out, and see what your fresh eyes reveal.
Revise, revise, revise.
AKA NaNoReviMo. I didn’t make that up – go ahead and google it or check out the hashtag. A lot of people use the energy of this month to revise, edit, fix, clean up. While the official counter of NaNo won’t really work for this, the same concept is there. Have a daily goal, or consider your month-long goal and break it down. Five pages a day? Ten? TWENTY?!? Whatever it is, you can make a little graph or bullet journal it or create a paper chain. And get after it. Remember the caveat: Only maintain that speed of revising a story if it is working for the story AND if it is working for the writer.
Cheat (kind of)
While the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to start a new novel and get after it, 50k is 50k. If you have a start of a project, use that. If you have almost half a project, use that. Keep a note somewhere that indicates what your word count was when you started (and don’t cheat on this part) and shoot for the 50k from there. The NaNo police aren’t going to come after you just because you didn’t start a new project. Use this as the opportunity to advance your writing.
Set a Goal of your Own
This is a great way to start in on a habit or to have something less on your plate during winter holiday celebrations. You can NaNo all kinds of things in your writing. The key is to trust yourself as a writer (I know, imposter syndrome is a bully, but you can beat it). Want to make the goal to write 500 words every day? NaNoHabiMo (National Novel Habit Month – I think I made that one up). Make an official NaNo profile or don’t.
You get to be in charge here, you get to sort out what you need from this energy, and you know what you need. Do that.
What kind of work are you hoping to accomplish in November? Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? If not, what is your personal goal for November?
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Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is the president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and studying in the MFA in Writing Program at Pacific University, and teaches composition courses at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven, is the mom of three teens, and co-owner of a cotton candy company. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.
by Kathryn Craft
Turning Whine Into Gold
Pursuing a career in writing is like moving into a house which is ruled by all things imagined. That can be super fun! But at this time of year, especially, we are reminded that this house—let’s call it a “publishing house”—comes complete with ghosts. And ghosts know when we creative types are most vulnerable to the fears they incite: when we are tired, stressed, and left in the dark.
Let’s just say there’s a lot of that in publishing.
A quirk of this house we’ve moved into is that there is no power company we can contact to hook us up securely—which means, as writers shift from writing for joy to relying upon it for income, they never know when the lights might go out.
It is up to us, and us alone, to hold the darkness at bay.
Sometimes, we can make peace with the ghosts. Other times we’ve got to kick them out on their butts. On the most basic level, ghostbusting requires good nutrition, hydration, exercise, and sleep. Low energy invites a haunting.
You can’t shut the door on a ghost any more than you can shut a door between your brain and your body. It won’t help that you have an agent (who might drop you if you don’t produce) or a publisher (who will drop you if you don’t sell) or a publicist who believes in you (hey, you paid them to say that). Ugly spirits hover near, ready to swoop in whenever your force field drops, eager to make off with what confidence you have left.
Naming your enemy has power. Let’s call them out before they send you running in fear from the career you thought you wanted, and then create a vision of what exorcism looks like.
Nay-sayers. These vile spirits reach up from the grave and try to pull you down into the blackness from whence they came. Favorite sayings: “Everyone loves a debut author, but…”; “Beware the sophomore slump”; “That bestseller was a fluke.”
How to bust a nay-sayer: “Thank you but I need to get back to work.”
Statisticians. These ghosts want to flay open your optimism with pointed statistics: “No one under the age of 40 reads anymore”; “Bookstores are dying”; “The mid-list is dead.”
How to bust a statistician: “One-hundred percent of unfinished books fail in the market.”
Remembered voices. Damning opinions from your past are insidious because they’ve lived in your attic for so long. “You never could go the distance”; “Your problem is you’re just too introspective”; “Aren’t you a little young/old to be doing this?”
How to bust a remembered voice: “Hello, old friend. No time to talk.”
Social media dementors. These are the scariest and hardest to recognize as evil because Facebook tells us they are your “friends”—only they seem faster, prettier, sexier, and oh-so-much-more powerful than you. And if your envy causes your self-destruction? Oh well. “We both debuted three years ago, right? I have five more books out and three in the pipeline, how about you?”; “My publisher is paying for a twelve-city book tour—oh wait, you’re with ABC Books too, aren’t you?”; “My publicist cost $20K but was totally worth it—Oprah, Ellen, Kelly…”
How to bust a social media dementor: “Congratulations!” *add emojis* #postapicofyourcat #unplugphone #backtowork
Cheat facilitators. By tempting you to play unfairly, these poltergeists thumb their noses at your years of preparation in hopes that you’ll affirm their notion that no one should have to work all that hard in life. “Editing is just rearranging all the same words”; “I can get this in front of a film director if you make it worth my while”; “Just tell me what you want me to say in your blurb.”
How to bust a cheat facilitator: “Thanks for sharing!” #swingwide #keepeyesonownpaper
Passive-aggressive “Caspers”: These are ghouls that throw a friendly flowered sheet over their ugly heads. “I am your biggest advocate but trust me, you need to write a completely different kind of story”; “Bless your heart, aren’t you so cute to write another novel” *wink*; “I’d write one too but I have to support a family.”
How to bust a passive-aggressive Casper: #smile #eyeroll #nowwherewasi
True friends will reflect back your love and excitement for your work in ways that will make you feel stronger. But these ghosts—who sound a lot like humans you may have encountered—are driven by pure fear, and only by draining your positivity will they feel at home in your presence.
But here’s the challenge: these ghosts come with the “publishing house.” When you moved in, you brought with you both a positive, creative force driven by love and a negative, destructive fear that will threaten to tear you down, and their fight for dominion will be ongoing.
This is my last post for Turning Whine into Gold, a column intended to last six months but has had a good six-year run here at WITS. Thank you all so much for reading! I’ll still be popping in now and then. But if I could leave you with only one bit of wisdom, it would be this:
Love the writing.
If no power company exists to provide a secure connection, you must stoke your creative force from within to create your own light. When fear can gain no lasting purchase, the rest will fall into place.
Let’s get real. What other ghosts can you name that seem determined to steal your joy? When your energy gets low, how do you stoke your creative force so that you remember the love that started you down this road?
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Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, both from Writer’s Digest Books.
by Margie Lawson
Why a blog about hugs?
Because on the page a hug may be blah-blah. But it could carry this kind of power.
Her arms wrapped around me like chains, her whispered words the lock sealing my fate.
Steena Holmes, NYT Bestseller, 2-time Immersion Grad, wrote that hug.
Look at the words that carry psychological power: chains, whispered, lock, sealing, and fate.
Five Power Words in a fifteen-word sentence.
Power Words carry power.
And Steena played off chains and lock.
Steena could have written:
She wrapped her arms around me and whispered in my ear.
Aack! We’ve read that type of line. No power there.
Not brilliant writing.
Two more hugs from Steena Holmes. These are from The Patient, her Oct. 15 release.
1. I wait for Mommy to get upset at Daddy for leaving me here all by myself. Any minute now she’s going to scoop me up in her arms and have me sit in her lap. Her arms will be tight around me, like a big soft bear hug, and I’ll be okay.
The child knows the dynamics between her parents and anticipates a lovey hug from Mommy. But Steena took it deeper by sharing the impact that hug would have on the little girl.
2. I hugged her again so she couldn’t see the lie on my face.
Now the POV character is an adult, and the hug has nothing to do with caring or comforting. That hug is a ploy to keep the other character from seeing she is lying.
And Steena made it CLEAR on the page. The reader knows what the POV character is doing and why.
Let’s dive in and check out powerfully written hugs from some more Immersion Grads.
Cassandra Cotton and Featherstone’s Folly, Marin McGinnis, Immersion Grad
“Mum!” Charles hurled himself into my arms, nearly knocking me arse over elbow given how much taller he was than I. But in that moment I forgot he was full grown, and I clasped him so tightly we were nearly one person. I imagined he was my little boy again, imagined I could make any hurt go away. Imagined I hadn’t just put myself in mortal danger trying to solve my uncle’s murder.
But I had, and I was bloody lucky I was still able to hug my son.
So many smart Teaching Points in that example.
- Slipped in the difference in height in an interactive way.
- Shared a Yes Set: … and I clasped him so tightly we were nearly one person.
Most people have had that experience, but thought it with different words.
The Yes Set means the reader knows that feeling, identifies more with the POV character, and keeps reading and reading and reading.
- Used anaphora. A couple thousand Margie grads know this rhetorical device. Using the same word or words to kick off a minimum of three phrases or sentences in a row.
- Drop Down Power Line – White Space adds emphasis. That drop down power line carries perfect cadence and content.
The examples below are not analyzed. My Deep Edit Analyses would make the blog too long.
Curve Ball, Not Yet Published, Carrie Padgett, Immersion Grad
Grant moved deliberately, thanks to the sling around his shoulder, and gave her a one-armed hug as gentle as cotton candy floating on a breeze.
Exit Strategy by Lainey Cameron, Immersion Grad, publishing mid-2020
1. David stood, and she pulled him close. If hugs healed, she’d hold him all night.
2. She set aside her mini champagne bottle, and they hugged long enough to hear each other's breathing.
Runaway Surgeon, Not Yet Published, Marie Timlin, Immersion Grad
She couldn’t see his face, but felt his rock-hard body pressed against her back. Closing her eyes against shock waves—tens on the Richter scale—she couldn’t prevent the shudder that rocked through her. His arm banded her midriff and he leaned in. Her toes curled as his lips brushed her ear.
Susan’s Story, Not Yet Published, Joyce Caylor, Immersion Grad
The little girl hugging the POV character is almost two years old.
She could feel all five fingers press into the right side of her neck, the other side enduring a strong tug of her hair. Two little arms, too short to reach all the way around. Her everything.
His Unexpected Amish Family, Rachel J. Good, 2-Time Immersion Grad
1. Mary leaned over to give Anna a one-armed side-hug along with a poor-you smile.
2. Levi longed to hug her. Although if he did, it wouldn’t resemble the encouraging hugs he gave the little ones. The gentle I’m-here-for-you or I-know-you-can-do-it hugs. Or even the cheery you’ll-be-all-right hugs. His hug for Anna would encompass all of those, but he worried it might turn into an I’m-falling-for-you hug. Or, if he wasn’t careful, a promise of much, much more.
Raewyn Bright, 4-time Immersion Grad
He cradled her head on his shoulder. She froze, left her hands dangling useless at her sides. She’d never been held like this, not by him, not by Ash, certainly not by Norna. But then, she’d never exposed her vulnerability before.
Would he use her weakness against her? Again?
A physical attack she expected and would’ve welcomed. This attack on her desire for affection and her constant, unmet need for love was a battle she’d lose.
She pulled back to shove him away. But a tender expression crossed his face. An expression she’d never seen on him. He looked as lost as she felt, as lonely and in need of love too.
It was too revealing, too confronting. She broke free from him. She was a strong warrior, fierce, and unafraid of anything. Yet her heart pounded out of control like she was petrified.
Untitled WIP, Rebecca Hodge, 2-time Immersion Grad
The POV character is a 13 year old boy.
She gave me a quick hug, but it wasn't anything like Mom's hugs. Mom's hugs were so fierce on my ribs it made it hard to move, and they smelled like her perfume. This ordinary hug hardly felt like a hug at all, and it just smelled like plain old tomato sauce.
Believing Amos, Not Yet Published, Christel Cothran, Immersion Grad
Before I knew it, I was clinched in his arms, pressed to his chest, arms pinned to my sides, feet dangling. His hold was so tight, I wondered if I could breathe and just as quickly I was released. Amos set me down with all the concern of a Delta baggage handler.
From Christel Cothran’s Email to Me:
Know there are also hugs from me in this email. A good new-friend hug, a thank-you hug, and a hug to keep for just when you need one.
The Mortician's Daughter: Two Feet Under, C.C. Hunter (Christie Craig), Immersion Grad
Four Amplified Hugs
1. Before I realize what she’s doing, Mrs. Carter crosses the threshold and hugs me. Hugs me so tight that everything inside me feels squeezed. My lungs. My heart. My confidence. I instantly feel claustrophobic.
2. He moves in and hugs me. Burying my face in his shoulder, I breathe in, wanting to savor the daddy scent. The I’m-your-hero aroma that has gotten me through so many tough times in my life.
3. She comes around and hugs me. Tight. I hug her back, remembering the hug with Annie’s mom. Hugging people you barely know is awkward, but it’s feeling less awkward with Mrs. Carter after each one. Maybe because I feel the connection to her through Hayden. Or maybe because I know she needs the hugs so badly.
4. Still unsure of the right words, I hug her—tight. Hanging on, I start counting, because yesterday I read an online article that said for a hug to really be beneficial it needs to last twenty seconds. Which is why Dad’s short embraces don’t cut it anymore. Twenty-one. Twenty-two. At twenty-three, I still don’t want to let go. But I’m not sure if it’s all for her or for me. Probably both.
One more hug. This one is from a dog.
The Six-Percent Baby, Not Yet Published, Jenny Hansen, 2-Time Immersion Grad
Hoshi greeted us, her doggy body vibrating with joy until she looked into my face. She stilled, leaned against my leg, whined. I melted to the floor, burying my face in her soft black fur.
I chanced a look at Steve and the grief on his face wrecked me. “I’m sorry, Honey. I’m so sorry.”
He sank beside me in the entryway. Hoshi draped her ninety-pound self across our laps in her version of a group hug.
And finally, the real tears came. The ugly ones that turn your face into a chewed-up dog toy.
I had to include the last paragraph. It was too perfect to leave out.
How Can You Write Fresh Hugs?
Add to this Starter List for Types of Hugs
- Pat Your Back
- Hug with One a Step Higher
- Slow Dance Arms and Sway
- Squeeze and Release
- Squeeze and Hold
- Barely There
- Too Tight
- Trapped with Arms Locked Around Neck
- Feeling the Love in a Big Bear Hug
Add to this Starter List for Motivations for Hugs
- Caring and Support
- Doing What’s Expected
- The Cover-Up: Showing the Opposite of How You Feel
Create a list of your hug experiences. Make notes about some of those hugs.
- Impact on you
Some people are natural huggers. When you get a hug from one of them, you feel like you’re wrapped in pure love.
With others, you may feel like you’re wrapped in ______. Fill in that blank. 🙂
When you initiated a hug and received a response you didn’t expect, how did you feel? How did you react? Could be negative or positive.
When you received a hug you didn’t expect, how did you feel? How did you react? Could be negative or positive.
Write hugs the POV character initiated and received. How did they feel? How did they react? Could be negative or positive.
Do you see how writing a hug in a fresh way can add depth and power?
I hope you all don’t settle for blah-blah writing. Remember, fresh writing sells.
So fitting that my topic is hugs. We all need more hugs. Given the catastrophic loss in my life, now I cherish hugs even more.
THANK YOU to the WITS team for hosting me again. Sending lots of lovey hugs to you all.
BLOG GUESTS -- THANK YOU for dropping by WITS.
Please post a comment. Say Hi – or share a hug you wrote.
I would love to read lots of fresh hugs.
You could win a Lecture Packet from me or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy valued up to $100.
The drawing will be Sunday night, 9:00 PM Mountain Time.
Lawson Writer’s Academy – November Courses
- Potent Pitches and Brilliant Blurbs, Instructor: Suzanne Purvis
- Giving Your Chapters a Pulse,Instructor: Rhay Christou
- Biz Smarts for Writers,Instructor: Sarah Hamer
- Ta Da! How to Put Funny on the Page, Instructor: Lisa Wells
- How to Write a Novel in Evernote,
- Instructor: Lisa Norman
- New Course: Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Writing Realistic Scenes from the Front Seat of an Ambulance, Instructor: Julie Rowe and Jeffrey Petrock
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Margie Lawson —editor and international presenter – teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners.
She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.
To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit: www.margielawson.com
Interested in inviting me to present a full day workshop for your writing organization? Contact me through her website, or Facebook Message me.
Interested in attending one of my 5-day Immersion Master Classes? Click over to my website and check them out.
Registration is open for Immersion classes in Atlanta, Denver, Poulsbo (WA), Pittsburgh, San Jose, Jacksonville, and Milnathort, Scotland!
I’m adding three Immersion classes in Australia too. Email me if you’re interested.
Thanks so much for reading this blog. I can’t wait to read your comments and hugs!
by Eldred Bird
When I first started writing, I remember someone asking me what my book was about. I stammered and stalled, trying to think about how to best describe it.
“Um…it’s about this guy, see? He um…well…he’s kind of a…”
“Just give me your elevator pitch.”
I stood there like a deer caught in the headlights.
“You know, your logline.”
“Logline? What’s a logline?”
Thus began my real education as an author. That was the day I learned it wasn’t just about writing books, but also being able to talk to people about what I’d written. I needed to be ready at any moment to clearly and coherently communicate the bones of my story. And that, my friends, is the logline.
What is a Logline?
Some people use the terms Logline and Tagline interchangeably. Those people are wrong. For more on that, you can read Laura Drake’s explanation here.
In the simplest terms, the log line is a brief summary of your story—we’re talking very brief—like one or two sentences brief. Sounds difficult, right? How do you condense a whole book into something you can get out in one breath? Let’s take a look.
What is a Logline Good For?
The logline is kind of the Swiss Army Knife of writing tools. If you talk to anyone in Hollywood about your story, the first thing they will ask you for is your logline. It’s the fuel that runs the engine of the entertainment industry.
Your logline is the key that cracks the door open just enough to make your pitch, but it can be a lot more.
As Marcy Kennedy pointed out in her post, creating a logline can help you focus on the important elements of your story. If you can, do it before you sit down to your keyboard. Printing it out and keeping it in front of you as you write can help you stay on track if, like me, you tend to wander off a lot.
I’m not saying you have to be one hundred percent be locked in once you create your logline. Feel free to modify and evolve it as you write, but think hard about those changes before making them.
Some Examples from Hollywood
A doctor wrongly convicted of killing his wife escapes custody and struggles to prove his innocence while being pursued by a relentless U.S. Marshal. – The Fugitive
An epic tale of a 1940s New York Mafia family and their struggle to protect their empire, as the leadership switches from the father to his youngest son. – The Godfather
A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea. - Titanic
What goes into a Logline?
There are three basic elements you need to include in your logline:
- your main character
- your plot
- what’s at stake
The Main Character (MC) – Who is your main character? Not their name, but a defining characteristic. Names don’t matter at this point because we have nothing to attach them to. We need adjectives, strong descriptive adjectives. Is your MC a reclusive writer? A disgraced ex-cop? A teenage mutant ninja turtle? Get out your thesaurus and paint me a picture with a couple of well chosen words.
The Plot – What’s happening in your story? Think of your inciting incident—the hammer that hits your MC on the head and puts them on the path of no return. What is your MC’s objective? What’s standing in their way? In many cases, the character is their own roadblock. Success may hinge on overcoming internal struggles and their own fears.
The Stakes – What’s at risk should your MC fail to reach their objective? Is it death, world destruction, or the loss of their sanity? Including a ticking time-bomb can up the tension. If your MC doesn’t do A before B happens, then the consequences are C.
Putting the Elements Together
Okay, I’m not really a fan of formulas when it comes to writing, but this is one of the rare exceptions. Not that plugging your story elements into a formula will magically give you an amazing logline, but it will give you a good head start—a first draft you can shape and polish. Once you’ve identified the elements listed above, try plugging them into this formula:
When [INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS], a [SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST] must [OBJECTIVE], or else [STAKES].
Pretty simple, right? Let’s plug something in and see what we get.
When his agent forces his hand, a reclusive writer must become more like the adventurous character he has created, or risk losing his livelihood.
It’s a little rough around the edges, but now we have a logline for my first book, Killing Karma. No more panic when someone asks…well, maybe a little panic, but it’s a start.
This first draft forced me to think about the story elements. Was the inciting incident really the agent forcing his hand? Was becoming like his MC driving the plot? The answer was no. Coming up with a log line forced this pantser to take a hard look at his story and dive into the true meat of it. In the end, this is how the finished logline came out.
The death of his over-protective mother forces a reclusive writer to find a way to survive in a world with which he is ill-equipped to deal.
The Main Character – A reclusive writer.
The inciting incident - The death of his mother.
The Stakes – The MC’s very survival.
This is much more focused and highlights the true roots of the story. And this brings me to my next point.
Other Uses for Your Logline
Having the main elements of your story identified and in front of you can give you a leg up on some of the steps that happen after you complete your manuscript. Your logline is the foundation of your sales toolbox. It can be crafted into many other tools.
Expand your single sentence story into a four or five sentence pitch. Keep it on a note card until you know it by heart. You never know when someone will ask.
Your logline and tagline are a great starting point for your book blurb. Make sure to add in that ticking time-bomb, but no spoilers!
Use the logline in your query letters to get the point across quickly and catch an agent’s attention.
Loglines are a great launching point for your advertising. Building your ads with the logline in mind will help to keep your branding consistent.
Some Final Words
Whether you’re a pantser or plotter, a logline is a great tool to have at your disposal, both during and after you write you book. It’s a motivator, a sales pitch and a guidebook for your writing journey. Put as much care into your log line as you do your manuscript and it will serve you well.
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Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing Karma and Catching Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking Room and Treble in Paradise: A tale of Sax and Violins.
When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21 inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website: http://www.eldredbird.com/.