SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Preparing for Online Pitch Contests: How to Write a Killer Logline

 by Laurie Miller

 

In the current age of online pitchfests, loglines have become just as useful as query letters in getting agents and editors to read manuscripts. A well-written and intriguing one-sentence logline is often more than enough to pique interest in your story. Loglines can also be useful tools for getting to the heart of your story. If you’re struggling in revision to clarify your story’s theme or your protagonist’s goal, try writing a one-sentence logline!  
 
For clarity, a logline is a one-sentence description of your book that encapsulates the central plot and hooks the reader. A good, hooky logline will answer the four central questions of who, when, what, and why.
  1. A description of your main character (WHO)
  2. The inciting incident or event that triggers your story (WHEN)
  3. The action your character takes or the struggle or obstacles they face (WHAT)
  4. The goal (WHY)

Using all these elements, an effective logline basically follows this formula:

When ​inciting incident happens to ​main character​, ​main character​ must take action in order to reach ​goal​.

Let’s break it down further.

 

WHO​:​The Main Character

When describing your main character in a logline, it’s best to say as much about them in the fewest words possible. Do not name characters in a logline, unless it is a true story/historical figure. Instead, tell us ​what type of person they are​. For example:

The Hunger Games: A sixteen-year-old girl, hell-bent on survival

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: An orphan boy

A Wrinkle in Time: A misfit girl

Your character descriptions can describe your MC in a number of ways:

  • Emotionally:​ A lonely outcast
  • Professionally:​ A ten-year-old private eye,
  • Socially:​ A jaded teen blogger etc…

Your adjectives should hint at your character’s emotional arc. For instance, an orphaned girl’s arc will most likely involve finding a sense of family. A selfish bear will learn to think about others and a shy teen might become more outgoing. Using a single adjective to describe your main character is a highly efficient way of describing your emotional arc so the rest of the logline can describe the narrative arc (AKA the plot!).

 

WHEN: THE INCITING INCIDENT

What is the event that launches your main character on his/her/their journey? In most stories,  the inciting incident is most often an actual event:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:  … discovers he’s actually a wizard….

The Hunger Games: … volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in a televised death-match…

A Wrinkle in Time:  …receives a message from a mysterious stranger…

Sometimes, however, your inciting incident is not an actual event but a change in your main character’s state of mind, for instance:  Tired of dating only high school jocks…

Think about what truly sets your protagonist off on his/her/their journey and describe it as succinctly as possible and then move on to the next section.

Once your character is off on their journey, what do they actually DO?

 

WHAT: AS IN, WHAT HAPPENS?  

The ‘What’ section is a brief description of your MC’s primary struggle, moral dilemma, or the primary action taken in the story:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: …. begins his magical training at a renowned wizard academy…

The Hunger Games:  … must choose between staying alive and maintaining her humanity…

A Wrinkle in Time:  … time-travels across the universe to face off against an evil entity…

Once you’re clear on what sets your protagonist off and what they do, you’ll need to tell us WHY.

 

WHY: YOUR CHARACTER’S GOAL

This section describes the protagonist’s main story objective.  It lists their ​goal​ and what they’re doing to achieve it OR it lists their problem and how they’re going to solve it. The goal section of a logline should also hint at what’s at stake for the protagonist.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: so he can battle the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.

A Wrinkle in Time:  … to rescue her missing father.

For our logline for The Hunger Games, the goal is pretty much implied in the WHAT section: must choose between staying alive and her humanity). Clearly, the MC’s goal is to stay alive. The fact that we don’t have to add an additional section to the logline to state her goal gives us some extra real estate to describe the world/setting which is a crucial element of the story.  So instead of adding a goal where we don’t need one, we can add a brief description of the word of the Hunger Games: 

In a world where the oppressed kill each other for the entertainment of the elite…

And that, brings us to our next section, which some loglines will need.

 

SETTING

If you have written a book where the setting is a different time period or a biography or a dystopian novel, the setting or description of the world can be prominent in your logline.

  • During the last days of the Civil War….
  • In an abandoned mining town in the heart of the American West…

 

 

Putting it all Together

 When we put all the pieces together, here’s how our sample loglines read with some added details filled in.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:  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.

A Wrinkle in Time:  After receiving a message from a mysterious stranger, a misfit girl, her little brother and her only friend, time-travel across the universe to rescue her missing father.

The Hunger Games:  In a world where the oppressed kill each other for the entertainment of the elite, a girl – hell bent on survival – takes her sister’s place in a televised death match and finds she must choose between her life and her humanity.

So, there you go. Go forth and create a killer logline!

 

This is the beginning in a series of articles about preparing for online pitch contests. Next month, we will explore how to choose your comp titles.