Grow Your Story from a Log Line

This technique is excerpted from our StoryWeaver Story Development Software.

Introduction

First, write a log line for your story. A log line is a concise one-sentence description of the essence of a story.

A good way to approach this is to consider If someone asked you “What’s your story about?” how would you respond?

That can be a tough question to answer! After all, you’ve probably done a lot of thinking about your story and have all kinds of bits and pieces you might like to include.

Still, you aren’t likely to tell them every single idea you have for your story.  That wouldn’t have a spine or a central thread. It would just be a big cloud of creative notions and probably a bit boring since you wouldn’t be actually telling them your story but telling them about the things you want to include in your story.

What they really want to know is the gist of your story – a short description of the plot, the principal characters, and perhaps the setting and genre. But trying to boil down all your ideas into a concise description that does justice to your concept and captures the essence of your topic can seem well nigh impossible.

Here is some additional information to help you get it done:

Creating a log line centers your story, provides it with an identity, and ensures that all your story development work will be guided by this beacon so your story becomes sharply focused and every element is clearly connected to the hub. It is like when a huge cloud of dust and gas condenses into a solar system and ignites into a sun around which all your story concepts orbit.

Without a log line, a story often remains just a cloud and the telling of such a story tends to meander aimlessly. Rather than forging ahead with a clear direction, it stumbles forward, tripping over its own unfocused feet and landing in the lap of your readers or audience with a dull thud as an amorphous lump with no form, no purpose, and no meaning. Now isn’t that sad, perhaps even pathetic? So let’s avoid that.

As you write your log line, think about the story any initial material you may have already developed or have in mind. Think about the reason you want to write this particular story in the first place, and then write a log line that embraces that.

Once you have your log line, it becomes the seed from which your story can grow with focus and purpose. In the steps that follow we’ll draw on your Notes and also develop new material to expand your log line into a full-blown story concept called a synopsis that includes all your major plot events, your principal characters, your thematic topic and message, and the elements of genre that give your story its personality.

Tips:

A log line sums up the essence of what your story is about in a concise little nugget.

For example, a log line for Hamlet might read:

A prince of Denmark seeks revenge against his uncle for murdering his father and feigns insanity to buy time to plan the best method, but ultimately fails to achieve his goal.

Now clearly everything that makes Hamlet amazing is missing from the log line. But it does serve to capture the gist of what is going on and most important answers the question “What’s Hamlet about?”

For a longer example, here’s a log line for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

At Christmas time, an unhappy and miserly man has isolated himself from emotional attachments as a shield against his own childhood pain of loss and rejections, but through the intervention of three ghosts who force him to confront his past, present and future, he ultimately sees how he has victimized both himself and others, repents, seeks to make amends and rediscovers the joy of Christmas.

Though this log line meets the requirement of being a single sentence, it’s a run-on sentence. That defeats the purpose of refining your story concept until it’s sharp as a tack.

A better attempt would be:

A wealthy but stingy businessman who has become bitter due to great personal losses in his youth learns the value of giving after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas eve.

In this shorter version there’s a lot of important and meaningful material that wasn’t covered, but the longer the log line, the less focused your story concept becomes. Of course, the Log Line Police are not going to bust down your door and confiscate your keyboard if you exceed one tight sentence, but the point here is to boil down the heart of your story to its essence in the least number of words you can manage.

Now it’s your turn to write a log line. After you do, make sure it is only one sentence. And no cheating by trying to cram more information into it by writing a big long convoluted James Joyce sentence. Seriously – you’d be surprised how many writers hate leaving anything out. They hate it so much they would rather bloat their log line to the point it is unusable rather than lose a single thing, which completely defeats the purpose!

Don’t do this! The whole point of this exercise is to get your wonderful, passionate, inventive, compelling story boiled down to one dull, boring (but informative) line.

Example:

The example log line we’ll be using for the next few steps is:

A sheriff is trying to stop a gang of cutthroats from repeatedly robbing his town.

Sound like dozens of cliché stories you’ve read or seen before, right? Your story’s log line might seem the same way at this stage. Not to worry.  As we progress through the next few steps, you’ll see this simple example expand and refine until it becomes a truly rich story world, just as yours will.

This article is excerpted from our StoryWeaver Story Development Software.

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