Using a Logline to Build a Query

After delving into loglines and discussing what I’ve learned about them (here and here), I thought I would try illustrating how one can use a logline as the foundation for constructing a query.  One problem we often see when writers first attempt a query is that they throw in everything but the kitchen sink — names of numerous characters, places, and objects, an entire paragraph of back story, a long synopsis-y description of the plot that tries to bring in all the secondary plot lines, etc..

The key is finding the central plot line and choosing the most significant elements to focus on, and then developing that enough to make it both clear and intriguing, without trying to include and explain everything.  What makes this far more difficult than it sounds is that when you’re looking at your own story, which you know so well, it’s hard to stand back and see it objectively enough to break it all down into something so brief.  Naturally, you think all of it is important (otherwise you wouldn’t have written all those words). 😉

This is why starting with a logline, in which you’ve already pared the story down to that essential kernel at the heart of it, can be helpful.  So I’m going to walk through the process here, in the hopes that this may make the task easier for anyone who’s having a hard time wrestling with the big bad query beast. Continue reading

Logline Critique Session

I apologize that it took me longer to get this set up than I’d hoped, but I ran into a bit of a quandary regarding time zones!  Specifically, the first thirteen entries I received were technically before the submission window was open, but knowing how much confusion can be caused by daylight savings time, I decided not to disqualify everyone who was an hour early.  (And if I did, I wouldn’t have gotten up to thirteen entries!)  But . . .  since I also didn’t want to penalize anyone who did get it right and waited till 9:00 MST, it turned out to be more complicated than I’d planned.

In the end I considered all the submissions that came in between 8:00 and 5:00 MST (most of them came in the first couple of hours), and since I couldn’t do first come-first served and still be fair to those who figured out the Great Time Zone Puzzle, I sorted the entries by category and took the same percentage of each, based on how many I received in each category. So we have five Adult entries, six YA entries, and two MG entries.

As I’d said that each qualifying submission needed to be a legitimate logline, I gave preference to those who not only followed the submission rules but who at least included most of the basic logline elements.  Although I certainly understand that some people may have just discovered Baker’s Dozen and not had a chance to follow the critique sessions at MSFV or to do a lot of research on loglines, if you spend just half an hour reviewing the information readily available on that site you’ll know what should be in a logline — and what shouldn’t! 😉 Continue reading

More on Writing Loglines and How They Can Be Useful

Last year I did a blog post about contests and about composing pitches or ‘loglines’.  In that discussion I summarized what I’d learned from my research about loglines, and illustrated how they may be of different lengths and levels of development, depending on what’s required.  Now I’m digging a little deeper to explore how to write more effective loglines and also how to use them as a tool for looking objectively at a novel — which, among other things, can make it far easier to tackle writing a query letter and a synopsis.

While revisiting the subject of loglines due to the upcoming Baker’s Dozen auction at Miss Snark’s First Victim, I’ve learned some new things that I feel have given me a greater insight into what makes a compelling logline that will grab a reader’s attention. This is mostly thanks to Holly Bodger, aka ‘The Logline Guru’.  In the past few years Holly has imparted her wisdom about loglines at MSFV, both generously offering her comments on all the logline critique rounds and sharing her thoughts in a number of posts about the problems she sees in the participants’ entries.

In her basic guidelines for composing a logline, Holly gives this formula: “When [MAIN CHARACTER] [INCITING INCIDENT], he [CONFLICT].  And if he doesn’t [GOAL] he will [CONSEQUENCES].”  While this exact order may not be what works best for every story, Holly also stresses that “loglines are stronger when they come in the order that has the greatest effect“.  In any case, the capitalized components all need to be included.  And in critiquing loglines it sometimes seems that the best advice is to suggest that the writer go back to the drawing board and use that formula to figure out exactly what those components are in their own book. Continue reading

The Clarion West Write-a-thon 2014

Once again it seems the Write-a-thon has come up awfully quickly. I haven’t had a chance to do much in the way of planning, as far as either writing goals or fundraising efforts. I have to admit it makes me feel better to see that a number of the other participating writers confess in their profiles that fundraising is not one of their better skills — I saw a couple of those confessions that were so refreshingly honest and charming that they made me laugh!

But it’s a bit depressing to be reminded that my Write-a-thon didn’t go very well last year, and particularly to realize that I’m still working on the project I’d hoped to complete then, even though I knew it was an ambitious goal. I’ve done other things in the meantime, of course, but I really want to get that novel completed, so I’m going to use it as my Write-a-thon project for 2014 as well.

However, I’m going to try approaching it a little differently this time. Instead of going by word counts, which many writers use to gauge their progress, I’ve decided I’m going to set a goal of six chapters, one per week. This is partly to keep the task from seeming too daunting (and the hope is that I will do more than meet my goal), and partly because it’s always been part of my novel-writing routine to work chapter by chapter. Continue reading

Write Club — A Not-So-Serious Writing Contest

Recently I learned of a contest called Write Club. Unlike most other online writing contests that I’ve seen, this one is mostly just for fun, rather than designed to help connect authors with agents or editors. Apparently it’s been going on for at least several years, and has even been copied by others who’ve created similar contests.

The inspiration for the contest is Fight Club, so the rules are modeled on the Fight Club rules, which is rather cute. It even includes Rule Six: No shirt, no shoes. That’s a joke, of course (no one expects the authors to refrain from wearing a shirt or shoes while writing)! Though in my case, if that were an actual rule I’d already be partly in compliance; since I can’t stand wearing shoes in the house, I almost always write without shoes. 😉

I confess that although I’m definitely a Brad Pitt fan, I’m not really a big fan of that film. I saw it just once and while I didn’t dislike it, it’s not something I’d be interested in watching again. I suppose most people would say that the quintessential masculine version of a ‘chick flick’ is something like the Die Hard films, filled with intense action and things blowing up from the first moment to the last. But I might say that Fight Club is a more intellectual form of a ‘guy movie’; it certainly has a lot more depth, but I would guess it still tends to have more appeal for men than women. Continue reading

On Flouting Conventions

I remember my oldest brother laughing about how he’d heard that there was an actual formula for Harlequin Romances, and each significant story element was supposed to happen on a specific page. So the moment when the heroine first meets the hero, when they first kiss, when they have their first misunderstanding, when they reconcile, etc., all had to happen on designated page numbers.  That was many years ago, and I don’t know where he came across that information or how accurate it was.  But even when the formulas involved are nowhere near that detailed, it seems that today there are many restrictive conventions and expectations when it comes to the structure of a work of fiction.

Some are blatant, like the idea that prologues and epilogues are strictly verboten, while others are not really talked about or even consciously recognized. When I discovered Miyazaki’s films (which I talked about here) I had an epiphany about ‘unconscious conventions’, because it made me realize how much American-made films fit into formulaic guidelines.  Why is it that foreign films usually have a different ‘feel’ that brands them as foreign more than the language difference?  It’s because they don’t follow the same conventions when it comes to everything from the perspective and the pacing to the inclusion of certain standardized elements.  So it can be something of an eye-opener when you realize how many other things can be done with film that American filmmakers simply never do.

For instance, we have an unwritten convention that animation is for children’s stories and comic adventures. With the possible exception of an occasional film that would be considered avant garde or ‘artsy’, no one here would do a contemporary drama in animation. That rule certainly isn’t present in Japanese film-making; Wishes of the Heart is one example, and I’ve also seen another animated film put out by Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli that’s a realistic contemporary romance (it’s essentially an ordinary ‘chick flick’).  And I’ve realized that even when people rave about an American movie and say how much it surprised them and was ‘different’, when you really take a good hard look at such a film, you’ll see that it still follows most of Hollywood’s unwritten rules. Continue reading

Genre Definition Revisited: Thoughts on Science Fantasy

It’s occurred to me that my current WIP, The Heart of Elebfar, might be labeled as ‘science fantasy’. Since the entire story takes place on one exotic world, it technically also fits the definition of a ‘planetary romance’ — although it’s certainly not ‘space opera’! But ‘science fantasy’, like many subgenre classifications, can be a bit nebulous, as it essentially just means something that combines elements of both science fiction and fantasy.

Some say science fantasy is fantasy ‘dressed up’ as science fiction, while others say it’s science fiction that includes fantastic elements that are not explained via science. But I think that brings up the question of how much of the science in science fiction is truly explained. It seems that, even in a lot of hard SF, the essence of it is about speculating that a certain premise might be scientifically plausible — either in the future or on another world — more than it is about trying to explain just how it might be plausible.

And if we’re talking about social science fiction, it’s accepted that future technologies or alternate biological conditions may be an essential part of the foundation of the story, but no one expects the author to spend time exploring how those things might actually come about. What’s important is how they would affect human society and the lives of individual humans in that society (as discussed in my previous post about the definition of SF). Continue reading

Contests, Critiques, and the Joys of Loglines

I’ve recently discovered a number of fun contests designed to give authors a different way to get their pitch — and hopefully their manuscript itself — seen by agents.  (One good source for learning about upcoming contests is the Sub It Club.)  The gals who run these contests certainly deserve kudos for all the hard work they put in, and it’s nice to see that it looks like they usually have a lot of fun doing it, too.

It’s something I’d like to consider doing myself down the road — though I’ll probably want to enlist the help of someone more computer and web savvy to help with the logistics.  And speaking of logistics, I’ve learned a lot about loglines in the past few weeks, thanks to all the great information at Miss Snark’s First Victim, a delightful site with lots of resources for writers, as well as great contests, including the monthly ‘Secret Agent’ contest.  (And there’s quite a few success stories posted on the site, showing that the process really does work to connect writers and agents.)

One of the challenging things about writing loglines — which are required for entry in many of these contests — is that there are so many different definitions floating around as to just what a logline is and how long it should be.  My conclusion is that the answer depends on who’s asking for the logline, and what they’re looking for.  Some people want a logline that’s no more than 25 words, while the logline critiques at Miss Snarks’s First Victim permit up to 100 words (although they stress that shorter is better).  And the Halloween-themed Trick or Treat with an Agent Contest going on this week asks writers for a three-sentence pitch, with no word count restriction. Continue reading

A Misguided Definition of Science Fiction — And Why I’m Proud to Write ‘Girly SF’

There’s been a lot of discussion this week about Paul Cook’s post at Amazing Stories, in which he pontificates on why a lot of science fiction actually isn’t science fiction.  I just read a great post summarizing much of this discussion on Cora Buhlert’s blog.  While I agree, as most do, that Mr. Cook has every right to his own opinion, I also agree that the manner in which he expressed it was offensive.

Whether or not it was unintentional, the article does come across as sexist, and as a big Gene Wolfe fan, Paul Cook’s disparaging attitude toward Wolfe’s work certainly didn’t impress me either.  (He also made the error of claiming that Wolfe’s brilliant tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun, shows the influence of Orson Scott Card, when Card’s work actually came after New Sun.)

One line in Cora Buhlert’s blog post about the reactions to Paul Cook’s discourse particularly struck a chord with me.  While discussing the prejudice against human relationships — both emotional and physical — and the apparent distaste for the human body itself in much hard SF, she remarks about the “dearth of sex, childbirth and descriptions of food” in science fiction.  This made me think of several things I find significant. Continue reading

Write-a-thon 2013 Week Six

Here’s one of the upsides of seeing one’s style change with maturity and experience: because some tough things in life got in the way and this year’s Write-a-thon didn’t work out as I’d planned, I thought that coming back to my current WIP (the one I’d intended to try to complete in the past six weeks) might be difficult.  But I was pleasantly surprised that when I looked at it immediately after working on the earlier manuscript, it was clear that all that experience is showing; it was actually uplifting to see how much of the first draft material is quite strong already.

I could probably say I was raised to be a ‘lit snob’.  As a small child I’d look at the books my parents were reading — by authors like Virginia Woolf and Loren Eiseley — and think that that’s what you aim for: that’s how real, classy adults write.  Though I was used to almost everything I wrote receiving high praise from teachers and other adults, it was frustrating when I could see for myself that my own writing just wasn’t that sophisticated — and I really wanted to be sophisticated.

So it gives me a warm, solid feeling to have reached a level in my craft where the words that come to me naturally sound ‘grown-up’ — even by my admittedly high standards.  There may always be times when getting a particular passage to capture exactly what I’m trying to convey is a challenge — that’s part of the fun of it, after all — but there’s no doubt in my mind that I have all the tools now.  I know how to do what I’m trying to do, and as long as I put the time in, I can get it done. Continue reading