66. How to Write Loglines for Novels

Author: Nola Published: 10 days ago.
Tags: loglines, plots, synopses Category: Writing tips

In last week’s post, I looked at the difference between loglines and taglines and why they’re important for your novel. Please see that post for lots of examples. In a nutshell, the logline is the one- or two-sentence summary of your plot and the tagline is the catchphrase that appears on the front cover and gives readers the flavour of your novel. In this week’s post, let’s look more closely at loglines. You’ve just written 70 000 or more brilliant words. How on earth do you condense that into one sentence?


A great logline includes the following components:

1. Who is the protagonist? Rather than using the person’s name, James Burbidge suggests combining an adjective with something about the protagonist’s character (e.g. a bilingual ventriloquist, a disillusioned psychologist, a perky vegetarian).

2. What is the protagonist’s primary goal? This needs to be something with high enough stakes to warrant your main character’s attention throughout the novel. Does your quirky biologist have to find an antidote to a new pandemic before it wipes out a city? Does your introverted taxidermist need to tell the beautiful ballerina he loves her before she pirouettes out of his life forever?

3. What is the obstacle blocking the achievement of that goal? In many cases, this will be the antagonist (e.g. the misguided terrorist who released the lethal germs or the arrogant choreographer who wants the ballerina for himself). In other cases, the protagonist may have to battle his or her own demons (e.g. low self-esteem, a jealous streak, unresolved guilt) or deal with some external event (e.g. a stock-market crash or a cyclone).

4. Where and when does the plot take place? As Graeme Shimmin notes, this may or may not be important. Readers will assume you’re writing a contemporary novel in a normal town unless otherwise stated. However, if you’re writing in genres such as historical fiction, science-fiction or fantasy, you should include some indication of that in the logline (e.g. ‘On the planet Xerox …’ or ‘A soldier returning from Vietnam ...’).

5. Evocative language that hooks the reader. The logline is your chance to sell your novel’s premise, so every word counts. Use active verbs to show what the protagonist and antagonist are doing (e.g. ‘Barney derails Fred’s plans’, ‘Wilma risks her reputation to resurrect the Palindrome Campaign’). Cut out any fillers or unnecessary words (e.g. ‘in order to’ could usually be replaced by ‘to’). Kristen Lamb also recommends using irony if possible. For example, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is about a retired policeman with a fear of heights who has to climb a bell tower to rescue a beautiful woman. That kind of irony hooks readers. If your plot doesn't have an ironic twist, see if you can ramp up the emotional impact in another way.

6. No spoilers. Although you need to summarise your plot, Miranda Sajdak reminds us not to spoil the movie (or novel) before we begin. Consider the following: ‘After a bungled robbery, a pastry chef kills the feisty waitress who could testify against him, and hides out in an amusement park until detected by the restaurant critic who destroyed his career’. Fantastic! I don’t need to read the book now.


Some authors have simplified the process further by developing formulas for loglines.

1. The Graeme Shimmin Approach. Shimmin advocates a six-step formula for writing killer loglines: Setting (if needed) + protagonist + problem (i.e. the inciting incident) + antagonist + conflict (i.e. the major obstacle or complicating factor) + goal. Here’s my attempt at using his formula to write a logline for my novel.

A shipwreck survivor (PROTAGONIST) searching for her siblings (PROBLEM) in 1880s Nova Scotia (SETTING) must unravel the schemes (CONFLICT) of a ruthless industrialist (ANTAGONIST) if she's to reunite her family (GOAL).

For more detail and examples, please see Shimmins' blog here.

2. The Kristen Lamb Approach. Lamb has a five-step formula: Protagonist + active verb + active goal + antagonist + stakes. Here’s my attempt at using her formula to write a logline for my novel:

A shipwreck survivor (PROTAGONIST) must conquer (ACTIVE VERB) her greatest fear is she's to defeat (ACTIVE GOAL) the ruthless industrialist (ANTAGONIST) who's keeping her family apart (STAKES).

For more detail and examples, please see Lamb's blog here.

Which of my loglines do you like better and why? Do you have suggestions for improving them? Why not try writing a logline for your own current work-in-progress or one of your favourite novels. I’d love to hear your examples.

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