How to Craft a Logline (and why you should do it before writing your book)

I like to start writing my novels by creating a logline. It's a way to pinpoint and keep track of the core of my story and its main character, premise and plot, so that when I'm plotting, designing characters, and writing my chapters, I won't get lost in piles of notes and scenes, trying to figure out what the whole point of the story was supposed to be over and over and over again.

I can just look at my logline and it becomes instantly clear what I'm writing and what the story is supposed to be focusing on.

This process of first creating a logline before writing the story is a common method used in screenwriting, and something I actually learned in film school, and haven't been able to stop since. But if it works, then why stop...

I think creating a logline is a great way to start your novel writing process even if you haven't written or don't plan on ever writing screenplays.

But, Em... what is a logline?!

A logline is a brief summary of your story, usually one sentence long. It's a way to encapsulate the main idea of your story and to give a quick overview of what it's all about. Loglines are often used in the film and television industry as a way to pitch a story to producers, and are therefore usually crafted before the script is written.

When it comes to novelists and the literature world, loglines are often used more for marketing and querying, but they can be just as useful for novelists at the start of the novel writing process, not just when you've already written your book.

And you don't even need to be a plotter to find use in creating a logline. Since a logline doesn't tell you anything about the end or resolution of the story, only the set-up, pantsers or discovery writers should also be writing loglines!

Creating a logline is a great first step to take before diving into the writing process, it can help you to focus on what's important and to make sure that your story has a clear direction and purpose.

Your logline can help you to focus on the key elements of your story, such as the main characters, the central conflict, and the overall theme. It forces you to think about what makes your story unique and interesting, and it can help you to identify the main objective of your story.

The Structure of a Logline

1. Short and to the point

A good logline should be short and to the point, usually no more than one sentence long, but max two sentences. It should be easy to understand and should capture the essence of your story in a way that makes it sound exciting and engaging.

It's important to note that a log line should not contain spoilers, it should be a summary of the main idea or premise of the story, not the story itself.

Some set a word limit of around 30-35 words, but that's a rule for screenwriting and novels usually have much more content and are way more comparable to television series than films. I tend to try to make my loglines for my fantasy around 50 words, which I think is fair for epic fantasy. But for stories on a less epic scale, strive for under 50 words, and try to cut as many words as you can.

2. The Building Blocks of a Logline

1. The Protagonist (who is the main decision maker in this story?)

2. Setting (where does this story play out?)

3. Inciting Incident (what event sets the story in motion?)

4. Goal (what does your protagonist want?)

5. Antagonistic Force (who or what is preventing your character from reaching their goal?)

6. Stakes (what will happen if your protagonist fails?)

7. Problem (what is making the protagonist's life difficult?)

I like to make a list on a piece of paper of all these things using the list above as a guide. And after I've made my list, I then cut them out and move them around on the floor to find a good order for them, or use a formula or model such as the examples below to create a logline in a "fill in the blank" style.

You don't need to include all seven things in your list or your logline if they for some reason aren't relevant to your book. What you decide to leave out entirely depends on your story, but I would still recommend you to try to squeeze in all of them.

Depending on the story, the Inciting Incident and Problem might be the same thing, for instance.

Lots of logline writing guides will include 'Conflict' as one of the building blocks of a logline, but the reason it isn't in my list is because I've found that the Stakes and Antagonistic Force, and also the Problem are providing plenty enough information about the conflict. In the end, the combination of Protagonist + Antagonistic Force + Goal + Stakes are equal to conflict. The conflict goes without saying, you know? The conflict is the whole story. It's the whole point.

Logline formulas:

ANTAGONISTIC FORCE and faces raising STAKES as they try to achieve GOAL.

they must fight against ANTAGONISTIC FORCE as the STAKES keep increasing.

to GOAL against the ANTAGONISTIC FORCE which causes the STAKES to grow.

Here are some examples of log lines for famous novels:

"A teenager discovers he’s the descendant of a Greek god and sets out on an adventure to settle an on-going battle between the gods." 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief


"When an orphaned boy discovers he’s a wizard, he begins his magical training so he can battle the dark lord who killed his parents."

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling

"A shy young hobbit named Frodo Baggins inherits a simple gold ring that holds the secret to the survival–or enslavement–of the entire world."

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien


"Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death in which two teenagers from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to compete."

The Hunger Games

As you can see, only a few of these properly include the antagonistic force, obstacles or stakes, so most of these log lines are kind of weak in my opinion.

You find much better written loglines if you search for loglines for movies instead. 

Here are some film examples:

"Two star-crossed lovers fall in love on the maiden voyage of the Titanic and struggle to survive as the doomed ship sinks into the Atlantic Ocean."

"Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn a complacent society of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth."
Don't Look Up

"A computer hacker is led by a stranger to a forbidding underworld, where he discovers the shocking truth – the life he knows is the elaborate deception of an evil cyber-intelligence."
The Matrix

"Five years after an ominous unseen presence drives most of society to suicide, a survivor and her two children make a desperate bid to reach safety."
Bird Box

The Logline for My Current Work in Progress

And now, since I can't just preach without showing proof of my own brilliance (yeah okay sure), here is the logline for my current work in progress.

It's subject to change and doesn't perfectly encapsulate EVERY aspect of my novel, because it's just a logline. Its purpose is to simply contain the core of the main plot squeezed in there, and leave out everything else. No matter how fun and important to me it is, it doesn't belong in the logline.

Here goes:

"The last living heir of the hero who failed to save the flooding world and a soldier also running from a dark past must rely on each other to escape the kingdom that wants to keep them both prisoner."
Project Sea Legs

Now let's take it apart, or dissect it, so to say.

It's 39 words long, which is a pretty decent count for an epic fantasy novel's logline.

And here are all of its pieces disassembled:

- The last living heir of the hero who failed to save the flooding world 
- a soldier also running from a dark past

Setting: Flooding world.

Inciting Incident: It is not said outright, but it's insinuated that it's the two characters having to rely on each other for survival. Their coincidental meeting and trying to escape together is the inciting incident.

Goal: They both want to escape the kingdom.

Antagonistic Force: The kingdom.

Stakes: They will be imprisoned by the kingdom. Oh and the world's apparently also flooding.., What's that about??

External conflict: They are not free. The world might be ending. They might be captured again even though they are trying to flee.
Internal conflict: Dark past. The logline also hints at fear of failure because of one of the main characters is the last heir of a failed hero.

So, to reiterate, my logline isn't perfect.

And it definitely doesn't have all the things I wish I could include in it.

I wish I could include the fact that my story has sea monsters and piracy and is set in the arctic in an 18th century inspired world with flintlock guns and gunpowder and cannons and there's also cannibalism and class war and it's got strong punk rock vibes... And so many other things. 

But in the end, none of those things were as important to the core story than the completely platonic relationship between my two main characters, so I cut out everything else and emphasised those two instead, and just mentioned the flooding world and the "evil" kingdom only in passing. 

I didn't even mention the magic!!?? The super important magic!!??

I'm still on the fence whether I should include a little bit more detail. But this just goes to show that you simply can't fit everything you want into the logline, and you're not supposed to either.

So you don't need to worry about it too much. Because if you're pitching, and you manage to hook the audience with your logline, then you can tell them more. And if you're using your logline to stay on track while writing your novel, then it doesn't matter too much because it just needs to guide you, and as you write, you'll fill in all the details around your logline.

Think of it as a map, or compass. It's just there to help you and help steer you in the right direction.

In a pitching sense, my logline raises lots of questions. It's vague enough to make you intrigued, but gives a clear enough, simple enough premise that it feels familiar and is distinguishable as a high fantasy story that focuses on the relationship between two characters.

You can only imagine what reasons the kingdom might have to imprison them, or what obstacles they'll face on their journey as they escape.

I hope this made the process of writing a log line a bit more clear, but as always, if you have any questions, I'm always happy to answer them.

Here are some extra tips I have for creating a logline:

1. Know your story's theme

Writing a log line is so much easier when you know what your novel's theme is. The theme is the lesson that the main character will learn, so knowing that means that you know where your story will end and how your character will have grown and changed by the end. 

Now, you aren't supposed to write anything about the story's ending in the logline, but just knowing how it ends helps so much to pinpoint the core of your story. What is the point of this journey your character goes on? What do you want to emphasise, focus on and hint at in your logline?

2. Don't focus so much on what happens in your story, but more on the main character's goal and stakes if they don't get what they want.

This will create an emotional hook in the logline, which is much more powerful than mentioning any grand battles or evil villains. Focusing on the main character's desire and both their internal and external conflict will create a much clearer and simpler logline.

3. Look at other resources online.

Here are two great ones that I recommend:

Includes lots of helpful tips for writing a logline for a novel, including tips on what to do if your log line is too clunky, too boring, or if you feel like your novel is too complicated.

(I felt like my current WIP was too complicated to fit in a logline for the longest time and barely got it down to 60 words on the first five attempts, but now it's down to 39 words. You can do it, too!)

You fill in a bunch of boxes with information about your book idea, and then this generator gives you a pitch based on that information that you wrote. This can be a great tool to craft loglines and pitches for your stories.


After Creating the Logline

If you're creating a log line for pitching or marketing purposes, then I wish you good luck on that endeavour! And remember, once you sell someone on your log line and make them interested to hear more, you must then be able to tell them more in a succinct way that also hooks them again the way your logline did.

Pitching your novel can be super difficult. But with an amazing logline (and eventually I'll also make a whole post about pitching, synopsises, etc), you're on your way to crafting a great pitch and selling your awesome book, yay!

As for all of us (me, is it just me??) who are creating our loglines as the first step in the outlining/drafting process, this is just the beginning!

After creating my logline, I then write a synopsis which is a more detailed overview of the plot. A synopsis usually includes information such as the main characters, the setting, the central conflict, and the main events of the story. Synopsises are very simple in concept, but can be hard to write right, so I might write a whole post about that later, if you'd be interested.

Also, a log line can change as the story develops, you can adjust it as you write the story and get a better sense of what the story is really about.

Once I have a clear understanding of my story's core premise from the log line and synopsis, I'll expand the synopsis to create a scene-by-scene outline. This is a detailed breakdown of each scene in my story, including information such as the characters involved, the setting, and the main action that takes place.

And then I'm ready to write my first draft, or zero draft (basically an even messier first draft).

If you want to find out more about my writing process, follow me on instagram where I'll update you whenever I post on the blog. (The link will open my instagram on a new tab)

If you found this helpful, comment below. Have a wonderful rest of your week!

Happy writing,

// Em  🌻

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