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  • gardnerjg

The hardest question for a novelist: What is it about?

Updated: Mar 15

Like many authors looking for help with plotting stories, I have a copy of Save the Cat, which while is specifically for screen writing, does a good job of explaining plot structure and story beats that can be ported over to book writing. One of the key points made early on is being able to answer "What is it?" In the context of screen plays, the answer is supposed to be a mash-up of two familiar IPs that somehow will be fresh or novel. Translated over to book writing, the question changes a bit to become, "What is it about?" Answering this question, ideally in a single sentence, generates your logline. I like to think of this as the very short elevator pitch for my story. I've done it twice now, and despite writing two novels that are both over 100k words, creating the loglines have been the hardest sentences to write.

I think it's been hard for me for a two reasons. The first is that I don't like prioritizing brevity over detail. A large part of writing fantasy is world-building, and that takes quite a bit of time to do well. It's the major reason why fantasy novels have 100k+ word counts, but a logline forces you to distill everything down to plot. As a consequence much of the flavor (interesting magic, fantastic creatures, etc.) of the story can be lost. The second is that there is often an oversimplification of the elements that are actually included in the logline. The guidelines I've read frequently state that the logline should have four elements: protagonist, major goal, primary barrier, consequences. The challenges then becomes how to incorporate all four elements into a single sentence that doesn't sound formulaic or really dull. I've tried, but can't seem to do it with all four parts, so I've dropped the consequences part. Even taking only the first three parts, I still feel like some of the story's sparkle is lost with stating the bare minimum. I understand that the logline is meant to entice a reader to hopefully pick up your book and read the back cover blurb to get a more complete idea of the story, but maybe I just don't trust my ability to excite someone's interest with just one sentence.

So with all of that lead-up, what are the loglines for my two novels? For the time being, these are what I've been going with:

The Path From Regret: "A powerful but despondent mage tries to magically erase his memories while racing to stop an old rival from inciting a violent rebellion."

The Magic Of Deceit: "A mage seeking distinction from his guild is targeted for assassination as he searches for a powerful merchant's kidnapped daughter."

Writing a logline is a skill, and one that I've been practicing but still find challenging. What it has forced me to do is think about the books I've read, the ones I've really enjoyed, and then try to answer the question, "What is it about?" I'm hoping that the more I do this that some pattern will emerge that I can try to emulate for my own stories.

Thanks for stopping by.

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