The first book I ever read about the art of writing??
Was actually a screenwriting book.
And actually, it wasn’t a book. It was an audio recording of a seminar given by two screenwriters (good news, I just checked and Amazon now sells the recording as an audiobook!)
After listening to The Hero’s Two Journeys, I read Save the Cat. Also, a screenwriting book. I’m not exactly sure why I started my writing education with screenwriting instead of novel writing, but in hindsight, I’m glad I did. I think learning the art of a good screenplay is the best place to start to learn the fundamentals of good storytelling. FIrst learn what makes a good story , and then learn how to tell it.
But that’s another post for another day.
Today, I’m going to tell you one of the single-most important lessons: I took out of all all my screenplay/Hollywood studies that’s played a huge role in my career:
You should be able to tell someone what your story is about in a single sentence.
In screenwriting, I’ve heard this referred to both as a logline and a pitch. Some experts use logline/pitch to be interchangeable, others treat them as different animals with different purposes.
But you, dear fiction writer, shouldn’t get hung up on what it’s called. Just focus on what it is:
A catchy, 1-sentence summary of what your book’s about.
It’s the elevator pitch; that quick (emphasis on quick) description of what a reader can expect for your story.
I’m not talking about the book’s description; not that 1-3 paragraph summary that goes on the product detail page of Amazon, or the back of the paperback. You need one of those as well, but it can’t replace the short and sexy 1-sentence version.
Thanks for asking. You need a 1-sentence summary of your story, because you never know when you’re going to have to pitch your book in under 30 seconds. Maybe it’s to an agent you meet at a conference. To an editor you happen to sit next to at the bar, who is acquiring works in your genre. To a movie producer you meet at a cocktail party who’s looking to adapt a rom-com to the big screen. Even just to potential new readers you encounter at your son’s soccer game.
In all of the scenarios above, you don’t have the luxury to give them the well-written, polished two paragraph summary you wrote for the “book description” field on Amazon. You don’t have time to give them heroine’s back story, hero’s backstory, the evil twin brother who shows up at the end, or to explain the mystery that’s developing simultaneously with the romance.
You’ve got 30 seconds. Max.
So, how do you do it? Don’t get fancy. Just do it.
If you Google “log line” You’ll find a lot of advice out there. One of the convention nuggets of wisdom suggests that a logline should include what the protagonist wants, as well as the conflict standing in her way. It’s good advice, and you should always know what your heroine wants, why he wants it, and what’s standing in her way (good old GMC!)
But nowadays, my approach on writing my books’ loglines is a super simple 2-prong approach:
I always with “It’s about …”
I follow “it’s about” with an interesting premise that I myself would want to read.
“It’s about a Hollywood actor who loses a bet and ends up on a Bachelor-esque reality show that ends with him walking down the aisle with one of the contestants.” (Runaway Groom)
“It’s about a husband/wife who haven’t seen each other in the ten years following their Green Card marriage, who learn that in order to divorce, they’ll have to live under the same roof for three months.” (The Prenup)
“It’s about an ambitious career woman’s whose ex-fiancé becomes her new boss and her new neighbor.” (The Trouble With Love)
“It’s about a model-dating playboy who falls for the scrappy tomboy after his job.” (Irresistibly Yours)
Write the 1-sentence pitch summary before you write the book, because finding that you can’t write the summary, or finding that the summary feels boring and generic is the best-ever indicator you’ll get that your book idea might need some work!
Even if you never find yourself needing that 30-second pitch in person, the 1-sentence summary is great when it comes time to promote your book online, and need a snappy catch-phrase for your promo graphics!