The log line. The one sentence summary. The blurb. The ‘elevator pitch.’
As a writer, I hear talk about these all the time. As a general creative individual I have to ‘sell’ ideas. As a former salesman I had to master the pitch for whatever it was I needed to sell.
It’s both the hardest part of a sell and the easiest. It’s the easiest because once you master your pitch the hardest part of presenting ideas, opening the conversation is over and done with. It’s the hardest part because it’s never right the first time!
In sales, the advice is always about benefit. You need to tell the person why they’ll benefit from giving you their money. I’ll throw out an example from my time as an employee for Movie Gallery. We had a program called the Powerplay, which was essentially a prepaid discount program. What we were selling was a monthly program, the benefit was always about savings.
In other places, the benefit is generally implied, for example, novels. The benefit is ‘entertainment.’ So you need to sell it differently.
It goes around a lot about what makes a good story. It’s characters, it’s conflict, it’s plot. That’s not the point. Your not enticing return readers with your log line, you’re out to catch new readers in the book store version of cold calling. (For the record, phone sales are terrible. Even if you’re dealing with repeat customers!)
I’ve found, while perfecting things for the Snowflake Method that I used to use religiously, is that the log line is really a summary of the book. It’s the answer to that dreaded ‘what’s this book about?’
Armed with the realization of ‘what’ I was trying to write, I then needed a ‘how.’ I’m a fairly formulaic individual, I like having patterns and using the shortest path between two points. So I needed a theory that let me develop log lines quickly. That lead me to some of the key things that draw readers into the plot.
I started with character, because it’s pretty obvious. Readers love characters. Viewers for television love characters. Even roleplayers love characters. Identifying with a character is one of the easiest ways to fall in love with a bit of unreality. So that’s the first thing I focus on with both my stories and my log lines. Which character drives the story? Which one is the easiest to identify with?
Conflict was the next easy one. It kind of developed from character since a character needs to be doing something, and conflict is the natural outcome of that. There’s also a subschool of thought on fiction that conflict is the real driving force behind all great fiction.
The stakes were the hard part of the puzzle for me. Conflict is all well and good, but if the conflict is there for the wrong reason it can really throw a reader off. Over time, I came to realize that sometimes what’s at stake in a conflict is as important to the reader as the conflict or characters. So I added that to the equation and found talking about my works in progress really fired people up.
So it’s that simple: Character + Conflict + Stakes. Mix all three and serve. To give an example, a friend of mine was having issues with her novel, pushing certain elements in her one sentence that weren’t doing it for her. After some talks, I put together this:
“A journalist is pulled into a time-traveling conspiracy when his fiancee’s brother is implicated in the death of a world leader.” Flyday
This sums up nicely the three points above, and even hints at deeper issues.
Like all creative endeavors, it takes time and practice, so try it out, poll your friends, or Twitter, and make the best log line you can!