Write a Terrific Novel (NaNo), Minimize Revisions, & Improve Odds of Finishing AND Publishing

Image via Flikr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful Hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

We’ve already discussed the importance of  fueling the muse BEFORE NaNo. But, fueling the muse, creativity, talent and all that jazz IS NOT enough. Finishing, while fantastic, is ALSO not enough. If we finish, yet have written something that can never exist off life-support? We’re back at Square One.

Though I am a fan of NaNo (National Novel Writing Month which is NOVEMBER) and Fast Draft, these tactics will work for writing ANY novel and minimize revisions.

AND…you don’t even have to be a plotter (Hint: I’m not. More of a Plotser–> Plotter + Pantser)

One of the major reasons many writers fail to complete the story is there isn’t a single CORE story problem in need of resolution. The story dies because it lacks a beating heart and a skeleton.

Stories with no hearts and skeletons are primordial adverb ooze and not good for much other than scaring small children.

A great trick one of my early writing mentors taught me was to go to the IMDB and look up log-lines of movies. Search for ones similar to the story you want to write and use it as a template. I will use an older and timelessly popular movie so I don’t spoil anything. Y’all have had 30 years to see the movie, so, yeah.

For instance, the log-line for Romancing the Stone is:

A romance writer sets off to Colombia to ransom her kidnapped sister, and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.

Okay, so here is “Kristen’s story”:

An OCD accountant sets off to Mexico to find her missing little brother and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.

It’s good enough. But, I am a perfectionist and not a fan of “good enough.” Let’s give more detail. When it comes to log-lines, I would have written Romancing the Stone THIS way with this formula:

Protagonist must do X (active goal) in order to stop X (antagonist) before super bad thing happens (ticking clock).

A fraidy-cat romance (INHERENT PERSONALITY TRAIT THAT ASSUMES ARC) author (PROTAGONIST) must travel to Columbia and partner with a shady smuggler to rescue her sister (ACTIVE GOAL) from jewel thieves (ANTAGONIST) before they feed her sister to alligators (SUPER BAD THING/ TICKING CLOCK/STAKES).

Using this formula and log-line, we can use it as a pattern for my made-up-this-morning story:

An OCD accountant (PROTAGONIST) must travel to Mexico City and partner with a former Green Beret ex-patriot to save her prodigal brother (ACTIVE GOAL) from a drug cartel (ANTAGONIST) before the cartel makes him an example to other dealers who lose shipments to Border Patrol (SUPER BAD THING/ TICKING CLOCK).

I just made up this log-line, but doesn’t it speak VOLUMES about the story? Why is the accountant OCD? Is she the older child who took care of a younger brother who was out of control? The more little brother got involved with bad people, the worse her OCD became? By using “prodigal brother” we get a sense that maybe he was trying to turn his life around and leave being a user and a dealer.

Ah, but “getting out” isn’t so easy.

By saying we have an “OCD accountant” we’ve picked the WORST person to send into the filthy bowels of cartel-land, let alone partner with a Green Beret. She’s going to want to control everything and maybe even use disinfecting wipes on all things in sight (including her Green Beret friend). We see how this could easily be a thriller, a romance, or even a comedy depending on how we write it.

With just this ONE sentence, we KNOW how the story ends and where. It ends in Mexico with brother alive and drug cartel either dead or in jail. So, we know where we are GOING. This makes plotting (even very basic Pantser-Plotting) simple. If our OCD accountant ends up in Kansas instead of Mexico, we know we took a wrong turn.

NaNo can feel a little like THIS...

NaNo can feel a little like THIS…

There are now only so many options that lead to Mexico and finding little brother. There are only so many ways she can encounter an ex-pat Green Beret. Does he save her from being mugged? Does she HIRE him? Does he hit on her in the airport and she turns him down because his clothes are wrinkled and now she can’t get rid of him?

This log-line tells us VOLUMES about character arc, and, as the late Blake Snyder said, “Everybody arcs!”

Accountant is going to have to get over her OCD and become less controlling/neat-freakish and probably FORGIVE little brother, and maybe Green Beret needs to lighten up or even be more serious. If he’s an ex-pat, he could be running a sunglass kiosk on the beach and his motto is “Don’t worry, be happy” because he spent enough years being serious. His relaxed manner might drive her insane.

Formula for AWESOME conflict.

By looking at the IMDB, we can check out movies we loved and likely find there was a solid core story problem (code for “good log-line”). Most of the movies we hate? The ones where we are all like, “Great, two hours I can NEVER get back.” Odds are? Crappy log-line.

Worst….movie….ever (and I don’t give a rip what Sundance says). Melancholia. But I should have known from the log-line:

Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth.

Image from "Melancholia" but also Kristen's face the ENTIRE TIME WATCHING THIS MOVIE.

Image from “Melancholia” but also MY face the ENTIRE TIME WATCHING THIS MOVIE.

Who is the protagonist? There ISN’T one (trust me on this). What is the active goal? Again, NOT THERE. “Finding a strained relationship challenged” is NOT AN ACTIVE GOAL.

It’s a sentence for misery. And, yes, I am bitter.

The movie is literally two sisters b!tch!ng at each other until everyone dies….and there was much rejoicing because I hated everyone in the movie and was happy they were all obliterated.

Yes, there is a super bad thing/ticking clock (a mysterious planet threatens to collide with the Earth) but there is NO WAY TO STOP IT. So the viewer is trapped with the Family from HELL until everyone dies.

The end.

ARRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

We can learn a lot about what TO DO by studying what NOT TO DO. Yeah, yeah, Melancholia was pretty and had great cinematography and if you watch the movie on MUTE, it probably rocks. But for story? Not there. Trust me. This is three and a half hours of my life I will never get back AND $15 because I was stupid enough to BUY the movie and I can’t even regift it because there is no one I hate that much.

Sorry if I have offended any readers who LOVED Melancholia.

And for a movie that was NOT just supposed to be “art” here’s an older post about how Spiderman 2 (also known as THE MOVIE THAT WOULD NOT END) blew it because the log-line was LAME. Never underestimate the teaching capabilities of movies or books we hate. Why did we hate it? When did we lose interest? Why? Now, make sure WE don’t do that in OUR book😉 .

But, feed your muse a solid log-line to keep hold of and this will help you spot Bunny Trails of DOOM far easier. It will keep you on track and make that 50,000 words something solid that can be revised, because there will be the bones and beating heart of an actual story beneath all the superfluous description, poor dialogue or small rabbit trails all of us have to edit out later.

What are your thoughts? Does this formula help? What are some of the best/worst movies you have seen? Can you tell a stinker from the log-line? What catches your attention? What loses it? What movies are ones you watch over and over and buy a copy? WHY? Why THAT movie? For me? Minority Report, I Robot, and Monty Python’s–The Holy Grail. Generally because every time I see these movies I catch something NEW.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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  1. #1 by TheOriginalMimi on October 29, 2014 - 8:40 am

    Love this! And if you can’t define it, you probably don’t have a very good story!🙂 Hugs.

    • #2 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 29, 2014 - 8:41 am

      I HAVE MISSED you, Mimi!

      • #3 by TheOriginalMimi on October 29, 2014 - 8:57 am

        Ditto! Let me know if you’re ever in the Denver/surrounding area. I’ll make it happen. (I’m trying to come up with a Log Line using your formula for my current, tender (sappy) Christmas romance novella😉 )

  2. #4 by Etta Jean on October 29, 2014 - 8:47 am

    I just want to know when I can read this story about the OCD accountant and the Green Beret, because no matter the genre, it sounds awesome. (I’ve always thought of a log-line as being almost an elevator pitch as well. “You have two sentences to tell me why I should read/watch [thing].”)🙂

    • #5 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 29, 2014 - 8:51 am

      I might use it for NaNo, LOL. I just riffed it and hope the trick helps. But even if YOU wrote it, it would be different because of execution and VOICE.

      • #6 by Etta Jean on October 29, 2014 - 8:54 am

        Voice alone is why I never let anyone tell me “that idea has been done to death.” We all bring something new to the table. I’m not saying we all bring something GOOD, but we do bring something new. :p

  3. #7 by thegatheringfire on October 29, 2014 - 8:53 am

    Oh, man! You had me laughing so hard when you were complaining about Melancholia. I totally get the annoyance of wasting your time on a bad movie though, so I feel your pain.😉 I’m currently editing my first novel, so I’m having to make a lot of changes, obviously. And redirecting the focus where it should be is one thing I’m trying to always keep in mind. Thanks!

  4. #8 by Melinda on October 29, 2014 - 9:08 am

    Thanks Kristen for explaining the log line so simply! I *finally* understand how a log line is supposed to work.
    Log Line of a movie I didn’t like:
    A paraplegic Marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.
    I don’t see an active goal here or a defined protagonist. Yes, the movie was visually amazing from what I’m told, but the story just fell flat for me.

    Thanks,
    Melinda

  5. #9 by Keith Manuel on October 29, 2014 - 9:17 am

    I’ve been struggling with my story question since I read that I needed one. Ah, well, this clarifies things a mad lot. Thanks! And now I think the problem is that I was focusing on the wrong character, who didn’t quite have the problem, instead of the guy who did. If that makes any sense.

  6. #10 by robin witt on October 29, 2014 - 9:18 am

    Thanks for a great description of the log line – Active Goals!! Yes!

    I’m a vocal advocate for Walking Out of bad movies (or stopping the DVD before it’s over), because I feel like I might be out the 15 bucks, but I can cut my losses on the time side…

    thanks for blogging🙂

  7. #11 by Ruth Hartman Berge on October 29, 2014 - 9:19 am

    I had a good plot line, but I really wanted to fine-tune it to incredible and mine-blowing before Saturday’s Nanowrimo start. Yes, I went nuts and signed up. This blog post was JUST what I needed to read. Love it! Thanks!!

  8. #12 by Dan Kaplan on October 29, 2014 - 9:27 am

    Kristen: you are truly an inspiration. I want you to know I for one, would be willing to PAY for access to your blog…that is how much I’ve derived from your exuberance! I go into this years’ NaNo with 100,000 words completed over the past two years – half of which is “clean”. Goal now is to finish the medical mystery and move to self publish. Making time has been daunting, but this WILL happen.

  9. #13 by apocalypticwriterskye on October 29, 2014 - 9:34 am

    1) I think a movie named “Melancholia” pretty much sums up its essence in its title. It’s one I wouldn’t have even given a shot.
    2) I give you the log line of “Black Sunday” – “A terrorist lures a blimp pilot into a plot to spray the Super Bowl with darts.” Needless to say, I didn’t watch it.

  10. #14 by marthafouts on October 29, 2014 - 9:49 am

    Thank you so much! This was extremely helpful to me!

  11. #15 by Susan Pope on October 29, 2014 - 9:49 am

    Lots of good ideas but a bit ‘information over-load’. Most writers can fire-up with a one word prompt.

    • #16 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 29, 2014 - 10:14 am

      Firing up isn’t the problem. I have fired up and written 30,000 GORGEOUS words…that led into a corner of no escape. And different methods for different writers. Not everything works for everyone. Some writers naturally have a sense of plot. Others of us? Need help.

  12. #17 by serins on October 29, 2014 - 9:51 am

    I’ve signed up for the NaNoWriMo….. I’ve had the story idea for some time now… I know where it starts and where it is suposed to end….. And I have workded out some of the characters etc…. hmmmm I will take your advice to hart…. i still need a ticking clock. 🙂

  13. #18 by sharonhughson on October 29, 2014 - 9:55 am

    Love your logline advice. I have used your formula with every novel since taking your Antagonist class in summer 2013.
    It must have worked. Got the critique of the first third of my novel back from the illustrious Jami Gold, and she said I have goals, story problem and stakes nailed. Which is why, even though my characters are confused lame-os, she believes the book is salvageable. Hurray!
    I would be so lost without my WANA peeps.

  14. #19 by Jennifer @ This Off Script Life on October 29, 2014 - 9:56 am

    I love this. I’m a screenwriter as well as a prose writer, so this post makes perfect sense to me. I’m going to write a log-line for my novella today.

  15. #20 by Constance Burris on October 29, 2014 - 10:10 am

    You blew those log lines out of the water! I’m now off to revamp my loglines.

  16. #21 by L.E.Hollis on October 29, 2014 - 10:32 am

    I think an element is missing—that of an internal crisis or disaster expressed in terms of the character’s underlying passion—something they care about enough to sacrifice or betray for. Without that, a logline only expresses the external events and can lead to escapist fiction.

    For me, for years now, the core of a logline is a passionate character, an inciting incident that expresses a need, a risky or difficult goal, an obstacle, and an internal crisis or disaster expressed in terms of the underlying passion … in 30 words or less. I don’t tell a story that doesn’t meet this criteria.

    • #22 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 29, 2014 - 10:38 am

      The external log-line is ONLY for plot—events. If you want to write notes about the deeper stuff, go for it! I LOVE writing character backgrounds. Why is she OCD? What is the brother like? Is he a flake? What’s been dumped on her? Are they close? Estranged? But I wouldn’t put all that in the log-line. And when an agent asks what your book is about? That ONE sentence starts the conversation and then all those deeper issues can be discussed.

      And the thing is, without a solid plot as a delivery mechanism? We can’t express any underlying motivations in an unfinished book because we wrote ourselves into a corner. I’ve learned this the HARD way and speak from experience. Thanks for the comment!😀

  17. #23 by Tamara LeBlanc on October 29, 2014 - 10:39 am

    Movies that catch my attention these days are action/adventure and preferably Sci-fi in nature. The new movie Interstellar get’s my attention. Logline: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.
    I’m a science nut, watch the science channel and Discovery and Nat-Geo religiously. I follow their shows on the Universe and space like some follow Kardashian Tweets.
    I’m totally interested in seeing this movie and hope to one day catch the interest of a reader with my logline and writing like this has me.
    Sorry I haven’t visited in a while. Working 2 jobs and waking at 4am is exhausting me….
    Have a GREAT weekend!
    Tamara

  18. #24 by John Keller on October 29, 2014 - 10:40 am

    Kristen,

    First let me say I have the upmost respect for you Kristen. Love your blog and see that you are really making a difference with your many fans. I include myself as a fan!

    I do wish to say that I loved Melancholia. It is obscure. It is everything that you wrote about the story. I find that my experience on a movie is different than most folks. The movies I love tend to take me on a journey to somewhere I have never been. Movies like Wings of Desire, Paris Texas and Melancholia are some of my favorites. Deep, meaningful and worthy of repeated viewings as they reveal themselves in different ways as I age and mature. 

    If I could refund your $15 I would. Thanks for trying. 

    Best,

    John

    • #25 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 29, 2014 - 10:54 am

      John,

      LOL. Maybe I am TOO PLEBIAN. I just DIDN’T get it. Maybe you could write a blog that would show me what I missed. ((HUGS))

      Kristen

      • #26 by John Keller on October 29, 2014 - 12:03 pm

        Long ago I realized I was odd. Not weird but odd. I didn’t get what others found obvious. Then when I saw a movie like Melancolia I came away with a nagging desire to understand the message. I was overpowered by the cinematography and the tight characters in this movie. I started to dig and found I was not alone. One scene stood out and I asked the Internet what it meant. This is what I learned. I found clarity and comfort in reading what others got. Here is the link:

        http://movies.stackexchange.com/questions/960/what-is-the-symbolism-of-the-uncrossable-bridge-in-melancholia

        Let me know just how odd I am OK?

        Best,

        John

  19. #27 by symplysilent on October 29, 2014 - 10:57 am

    Hi Kristen,

    On Scribophile, we have a loglines group, and that is where I usually start with story ideas. And our template is similar to yours except it has another component – the personal, primal consequences of the MC’s failure. (When incident occurs, character with role and motivation pursues goal, only to discover that opposition threatens disaster).

    The other key piece to a story is to come up with the theme – what the story means, e.g. Love conquers even death. And, if I never forget that theme (or premise or story idea or whatever we call it) it becomes my lighthouse, guiding me to my safe harbor in Part Four.

    Thank you for encouraging people to write NaNoWriMo, and come up with something that can be turned into a workable plot.

    Silent

  20. #28 by C.C. Wiley on October 29, 2014 - 11:29 am

    Reblogged this on C.C. WILEY.

  21. #29 by Clara Bush on October 29, 2014 - 11:36 am

    Just tried out your formula. It’s works!
    Thank you, Kristen for another AWESOME idea.

  22. #30 by Antara Man (@Antara_Man) on October 29, 2014 - 11:55 am

    Have you written a novel using NaNoWriMo?
    I saw you have only two books out there

    • #31 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 29, 2014 - 12:51 pm

      I have actually published three NF books and am under contract for three more. And yes, I have finished NaNo many times. 50,000 words isn’t the trick (after ur able to WRITE 50K). It’s having a decent story at the end. I finished NaNo three or four times and had a MESS…which is how I came up with this method.

      I fast-drafted my first two books of a trilogy (one during NaNo) and am going to finish the third this Nano. I have a publisher who wanted the trilogy at Book One, but I wanted to finish the trilogy to make sure it’s all smooth and connected. But the books already have a publisher (traditional) when I’m finished in case ur curious. I fast draft everything I write, but that’s my preference.

      Until this year, I was traveling WAY too much to focus on fiction AND NF if that helps.

      But I even NaNo/Fast Draft NF. One year, I wrote a NF AND a fiction using Nano. I nearly killed myself with 110,000 words in a month (but I write full-time so my pace is different). Hope that answers your question.

  23. #32 by kbeck13 on October 29, 2014 - 12:12 pm

    Melancholia, is that the one that starts with her on her wedding day and she’s all sad and taking a bath when her guests are waiting on her? If so, yeah, I fell asleep, tried to watch again, and then couldn’t finish it.

    I love this idea, it’s similar to what Holly Lisle teaches in her writing course. She calls it THE Sentence and I’ve found I cannot begin a story without this. It’s tricky for me to do, but absolutely necessary.

  24. #33 by Bethany A. Jennings on October 29, 2014 - 12:14 pm

    Not sure…but…I think…you may have actually…convinced me to do NaNo. O.o

    A question about ticking time bombs, though. What if the ticking time bomb is a sub-plot until book 3? My main WIP is a trilogy, and the first book could be summed up as: “An overprotective older brother joins an otherworldly army that is shielding Earth from invasion, and must hide that entire world from his sister, because she’s already had her memory erased once and a second time could fry her brain.” The ticking time bomb is the invasion threat to earth, obviously, but this first book is more focused on the danger of the sister finding out about the other world and the war. Should each book have its own ticking time bomb…?

  25. #34 by Helen Landalf on October 29, 2014 - 12:54 pm

    This is one of the most clear descriptions of a log line that I’ve ever read. Thank you!

  26. #35 by tkmorin on October 29, 2014 - 2:32 pm

    I never would have thought of IMDB! Thanks Kristen. This is my first year trying Nano … nervous not knowing what to expect (will my mind go blank just because there are other peple around me while I write?). But since I’ve been following you through a few years of NANO, I decided to at least try it. Thank you! 🙂

  27. #36 by Lisanne Cooper on October 29, 2014 - 3:00 pm

    Yet another fantastic tip, Kristen. Next to writing the synopsis, the log line is the hardest for me. With your well-explained formula, I think it just got a bit easier. Thanks!

  28. #37 by olganm on October 29, 2014 - 3:21 pm

    Thanks Kristen. I’m taking part but writing part 3 of a trilogy so I have a fair idea but I take the advice to heart.
    Ah John Keller, I also loved Melancholia, and do seem to share much of your taste in movies. But then I’m a psychiatrist and I think being odd is a plus!

  29. #38 by lonestarjake88 on October 29, 2014 - 3:52 pm

    Some of the worst movies I’ve seen:
    Avatar (an overrated sci-fi remake of Fern Gulley: The Last Rainforest)
    Flying By (weak “follow you dreams” story)
    Plan 9 From Outer Space (basically, how not to make a movie)
    Batman & Robin (I can’t take George Clooney seriously anymore)
    The Last Airbender (totally ruined the beloved animated series)

    I liked your formula. I’ve not read Gone Girl, so I can’t speak to that. I hate books with so many characters I forget who is who in the plot. That drives me nuts. I also am not crazy about subplots that have nothing to do with the main plot and then it suddenly mixes together in the last chapter. That is really annoying.

    I like straightforward characters who have conflict, solve conflict, and then have explosions, gunfire, and/or swordplay. All of this mix-things up crap is driving me crazy. I just want a good story to keep me entertained.

  30. #39 by Temple Cone on October 29, 2014 - 3:53 pm

    Thanks for the advice, especially the IMDB trick! It’s a bit like the elevator talk entrepreneurs often promote, but it’s an important reminder that readers go to stories first for the story, and only after that for the style, setting, etc.

  31. #40 by smkay70 on October 29, 2014 - 4:05 pm

    Great post. I have a log line for my NaNo project, and I feel pretty confident about it. My current work in progress is a mess, and nope, I not only don’t have one, I can’t even really think of one that will fit at this point.

  32. #41 by michellehowardwrites on October 29, 2014 - 4:22 pm

    Love this and hope it will help me have a smoother Nano this year. Thanks Kristen. Linking to my blog post for tomorrow at http://www.michellehowardwrites.com🙂

  33. #42 by DeAnna Browne on October 29, 2014 - 4:28 pm

    Thanks for the blog. I enjoyed the advice on log line. Plot is a big thing for me. I have been known to throw books down the stairs, when it is lacking.

  34. #43 by vsvevg on October 29, 2014 - 4:48 pm

    This cracks me up, as you often do, I loved “Melancholia”(no I am not offended)but certainly agree it was not a for a viewer looking for an actual storyline. It’s just beautiful and weird and occasionally I find desolation is consolation somehow. Anyway, another great post, love reading you, always. paz, Abby

  35. #44 by Kelly Roberts on October 29, 2014 - 5:54 pm

    This is AWESOME! I was just telling someone I wanted to get back to your blog and find your post(s) about log lines, and what do I find in my inbox but what I wanted! You’re so smart! My newly created log line will be at the top of my outline, to remind me of where I’m going…and WHY! Thank you!!

  36. #45 by MonaKarel on October 29, 2014 - 5:57 pm

    this made so much sense.
    Off to finish planning this year’s NaNo

  37. #46 by saralitchfield on October 29, 2014 - 6:48 pm

    Yes this doooooes help! You always do… My NaNo novel of last year is now published and it took So Much Work!! My main aim in the run up to this year is to do myself some favours like the ones you recommend😀

  38. #47 by Anna on October 29, 2014 - 7:18 pm

    I have read about log lines once before and thought it was great. Seeing your post about it and tackle in with clarity helped me out with my plot for NaNo. (Admittedly, I am still not 100% sold on my plot.) Thanks so much for talking about log lines! It really is helpful when starting a novel.

  39. #48 by cpbialois on October 29, 2014 - 9:48 pm

    Reblogged this on The BiaLog and commented:
    Some awesome advice with NaNo just around the corner.

  40. #49 by aspergerspoet on October 29, 2014 - 10:23 pm

    Thank God for NaNoWriMo! People too literate to enjoy college football have something to do in November now!

  41. #50 by Aften on October 29, 2014 - 11:32 pm

    *scrambling* gotta write a log line!
    This is GOLD! I’m the worst at log lines, pitch fests, even query letters. But, this formula is my best chance. I’ve been agonizing over nano prep, because yeah–plotser resonates with me, as does the million turn street sign. I need a goal post.
    I’m also crap at revision…
    But, I don’t have to think about that right now. Just the log line😀

  42. #51 by Deborah Makarios on October 30, 2014 - 12:02 am

    I love writing log-lines. If only writing the rest of the book didn’t require a more sustained effort!

  43. #52 by jackiemarilla on October 30, 2014 - 1:48 am

    Oh, yeah! I’m planning to draft my second novella in a series during NaNo next month and am excited to try out the log-line to help keep me focused. Thanks, Kristen.

  44. #53 by marthaosullivan on October 30, 2014 - 5:29 am

    Great perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  45. #54 by Glynis Jolly on October 30, 2014 - 6:56 am

    What about stories that follow a section of a protagonist’s life? There is an antagonist, sometimes more than one and there are hurdles to jump but they may not be life threatening. This type of story makes it. An example: The Notebook.

    • #55 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 30, 2014 - 9:24 am

      Not all stakes are “life-threatening” and the tension in The Notebook is mostly generated by the earlier timeline which is a parallel timeline structure. The life-changing stakes are “Who will get the girl?” Will the poor boy win her heart?” Without the earlier timeline, him reading her the story has no meaning.

  46. #56 by Laura on October 30, 2014 - 7:19 am

    Going to be spending a lot of time on IMDB, I see…

    Do you still do editing?

  47. #57 by Laura on October 30, 2014 - 7:36 am

    I would love to do NaNo this year. I just can’t imagine that I will be able to get that many words written during flu season. My highest word count was June, at 47k, and that included staying up late after work every night during the eight ten hr nights I work, and not visiting family during my six days off. All I did was write. I could do that because June wasn’t so busy at work and I wasn’t so tired when I got home. November? Not likely to be as slow. I need NaNo in the summer… lol. Plus I leave here on the 25th… I guess I’ll try it anyway, lol.

  48. #58 by Jackie Saulmon Ramirez on October 30, 2014 - 7:43 am

    Great post! You have the coolest images.❤

  49. #59 by Kate on October 30, 2014 - 10:11 am

    I’m off to write my log line right now. Thanks for the direction!

  50. #60 by R. A. Meenan on October 30, 2014 - 12:40 pm

    Kristen, like always, I LOVE your advice. I’m gonna have to do this for my NaNo project. I already have a super detailed outline, but I think the logline will make the story that much tighter.

    I just recently picked up Rise of the Machines and I’m reading it with a highlighter and pen in hand (because I am an English professor and I must annotate everything) and I have to say, I’m learning SO much. I can’t wait to get back to reading this. =D

    You’re an inspiration!

  51. #61 by Sara on October 30, 2014 - 2:31 pm

    I know Glynis mentioned this a bit but I’m curious how one would apply this to stories that are coming of age. What if there is no obvious end goal but to grow up? Or stories like Heaven is Real (which I have not read or seen so forgive me if I miss the plot) where it’s about an emotional journey? I like formulas and these, to me, don’t fit the formula but I know they can be wonderful stories. What if the end goal is to just try to understand but there is no ticking clock to that understanding (except maybe death?)?
    I ask, not to be argumentative, but because I have a few projects that fall into this and I want to make them stronger stories without losing that path.

  52. #62 by StephenK on October 30, 2014 - 2:33 pm

    Thank you for this! I generally like reading your blog posts, but this is the best example of how to analyze a log line I think I’ve ever seen. I’ll blog my own thing tomorrow and make sure to link my (rather small following) back toward ya.

    • #63 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 30, 2014 - 3:26 pm

      When it comes to more literary journeys, there are STILL stakes. In Heaven is Real, what if others don’t believe him? It divides people on what they believe about their existence and what happens after that final frontier. Coming of age stories are often driven by something internally (represented EXTERNALLY) that MUST be faced and conquered or life will be…less.

      For instance a single mother, her boyfriend and young teen boy (and siblings) spend the summer where the teen gets a job at a water park run by a perpetual Peter Pan. A 40 year old “loser” who becomes the kid’s mentor.

      Boy and Mom were ditched by father and new boyfriend is a hypercritical jerk (with a good and stable job). What boy learns from working at the water park is he is more than what he believes about himself and finds the courage to stand up to jerk boyfriend, thus opening Mom’s eyes to what she is settling for.

      No, there are no bombs or terrorists, but the stakes are…after THIS particular summer, what will this boy face or fail to face that will change who he becomes as a human being and an adult? a tale of the unlikeliest of mentors.

      “Joy Luck Club” it was a collection of stories over three generations of Chinese women. The mothers moved to America but geography didn’t change the patterns of the past. The stakes are, WILL THESE DAUGHTERS FINALLY CHANGE? Will they stand up to the controlling husband? Will they realize what they are worth? Will they find the courage to forgive? Will June-Mei board that long bloat to China at the end to meet the long-lost twins, her half-sisters her mother “abandoned” during wartime? If she doesn’t? She fails.

      If these characters DON’T change, they failed. The stakes are that the dysfunction will continue to poison the next generation or the next until someone has broken the cycle.

  53. #64 by shellywyatt70 on October 30, 2014 - 4:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Author's Page Shelly Wyatt.

  54. #65 by Lee S. Hawke on October 30, 2014 - 4:46 pm

    That *is* a great trick! Saw something similar using the Snowflake method regarding summarising everything into one sentence first and working from there. Now I’m off to IMDB!

  55. #66 by gnlong on October 30, 2014 - 4:52 pm

    Thanks. This really made me realise why I was dissatisfied with my own story. ☺

  56. #67 by Raven ShadowHawk on October 30, 2014 - 5:32 pm

    This. This is totally going to save my arse this NaNo. Thanks Kristen. Watch me beat the living snot out of this bad-boy with my bat of woooooooooooords! ^_^

  57. #68 by steve macdonald on October 30, 2014 - 6:59 pm

    Great stuff as always!😀

  58. #69 by psychopublisher on October 31, 2014 - 12:18 am

    Reblogged this on PsychoPublisher.

  59. #70 by Danielle on October 31, 2014 - 10:50 pm

    Thank you–this has given me some very specific goals in the last few hours before NaNo!

  60. #71 by katkent2014 on November 2, 2014 - 9:03 pm

    Reblogged this on writersback.

  61. #72 by jeralynls on November 3, 2014 - 12:18 pm

    I love good formulas. This one looks quite doable with the added possibility of twists and turns.

  62. #73 by Yoanna Novakova on November 5, 2014 - 11:45 am

    Hahahaha, “two sisters b!tch!ng at each other until everyone dies” –> now there’s a winning log-line (or at least an honest one).
    Thank you for this post, it was most intriguing, I would’ve never thought of browsing through the IMDB log-lines before but now it seems only logical to do it🙂

  63. #74 by AJ Lauer (@ayjaylauer) on November 5, 2014 - 3:37 pm

    Ohh that’s such a great idea! I think I’ve thought through the log line elements for my NaNo story, but haven’t actually put them together.
    I also didn’t really get Melancholia. It was pretty, but……

  64. #75 by Saralyn on November 5, 2014 - 4:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing the movie log-line idea. I will share that with my creative writing class. Your blog is phenomenal!

  65. #76 by Donna Marie on November 6, 2014 - 8:50 pm

    This is what I hate about being envious and jealous. Because I let a green monster take over my head, I missed writing tips like this that would have made my progression from being a blogger to a writer less agonizing. I have a protagonist, but my active goal, though present, is kind of weak. I also do not have a solid character that will deepen the conflict between my characters… should I fix this before writing, and just write the hell out?

  66. #78 by conniecockrell on November 6, 2014 - 10:24 pm

    I love your log-line template. For some reason I’m having difficulty with this right now and your tip is right on time. Thanks.!

  67. #79 by danielfbowman on November 8, 2014 - 8:30 am

    Such a cool idea–take the basic plot and make it your own. Almost nobody will see the connection, so there’s no plagiarism. Also, this would really help the story have a clear direction.

  68. #80 by leitis23 on November 16, 2014 - 4:48 am

    Thanks, this was really helpful. I’ve been writing but having trouble organizing my ideas. This log line idea is really helpful and looking at IMDB is brilliant! I just watched a movie on netflix called London Boulevard, which had a stellar cast, great acting, interesting characters, realistic London back drop, but I was soooo bored I kept considering turning it off, but I stuck it out thinking there would be some big twist at the end. One I clearly didn’t see coming. NOPE. Gone, two hours of my life. Now looking at the tag line, it had no point to begin with. Here it is “An ex-con with a reputation tries to go straight by working as a handy man for a reclusive actress but this is unfortunately not the wish of London’s underground crime lord.” Just like your movie I watched terrible people just fight it out until the end. That was it. So now….off to write my tag line.

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