Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tutor Tuesday - How to Write a Logline/Hook Line

UPCOMING EVENTS: Thursday the 28th, join us on the Operation Awesome Blog for a live chat on queries with the fabulous Elana Johnson! 9 pm EST.
Monday November 1st, join in a Logline Blogfest hosted by Steena Holmes - check out her post HERE for details :)

So, since we've got a fun logling blogfest coming up, I thought I'd repost a post I did last year on How to Write a Logline/Hookline.

It is important to remember that every story is different. Some will need a little more information, and others can get the point across in three words or less. Well…maybe a few more than three words, but you get my drift.

First of all, what is a hook line/logline?

A hook line is exactly what it sounds like – a line that will hook someone into wanting to read your book. It is basically the same thing as a logline, which is a one line summary of a screenplay or script (I'll use the terms interchangeably so just go with it) :) They can run two or three lines, but no more than that.

Why do you need one?

Your hook line, like a logline, takes a story full of complex plotlines and high-concept ideas and breaks it down into a simple sentence that can be quickly and easily conveyed to a wide range of people. Your hook line is your first pitch in getting someone interested in your book. It can be used as the first line in your query letter, to help hook the agent into reading the rest of the letter and requesting information. And it is especially useful for those pitch sessions at conferences or lunches. When a prospective agent or editor asks you what your book is about, your hook line is your answer. Because it is a simple line or two, it is also handy for those family dinner parties when Grandma asks what your book is about.

How do you create a hook line/logline?

This is actually easier than it sounds. You do not need to condense your entire book into one sentence. But you do need to give enough information that the agent/editor/curious acquaintance you are addressing gets the gist of your book and is interested enough to want more.

Elements of a Hook Line

• Characters – Who is the main character? What does that main character want? What is his/her main goal?

• Conflict – Who is the villain of the story? Or what is the main obstacle to the main character obtaining their goal?

• Distinction – What makes your book different then all the rest? What is the unique element of your story that makes it stand out? Is your book a romance between a young man and woman? What makes them different?

• Setting – for a novel, adding a little about the setting, time period, and possibly genre (if it’s not obvious) is a good idea. For example, the hook line for my book, which is an historical romantic suspense, could begin “A young woman in Victorian England…”.

• Action – Your hook line needs to have action, excitement. For example, which hook line catches your interest more?

1. A woman has an affair and runs off with her new beau.

2. A neglected wife and mother has a torrid affair with an ex-con and kidnaps her children as she flees across the country with her lover.

The difference is the inclusion in the second example of action and description words. The woman becomes a “neglected wife and mother.” She has a “torrid” affair. The beau is an “ex-con,” implying a world of danger and crime. She doesn’t just run off, she “flees,” kidnapping her children in the process.


Here are a few examples of loglines from well known movies. (Yes, I know we are creating hook lines for a book, but the concept is the same, and examples of loglines are easier to find). :D

• When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (Gladiator)

• In a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs, a cop struggles on the lam to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed. (Minority Report)

• A 17th Century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England's daughter and reclaim his ship. (Pirates of the Caribbean)

• A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love, must outwit her abusive fiancĂ©, and find a way to survive aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea. (Titanic)

• A comedic portrayal of a young and broke Shakespeare who falls in love with a woman, inspiring him to write "Romeo and Juliet. (Shakespeare in Love)

• An archeologist is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

For your own hook line, you need to decide which elements best convey what your story is about. It is interesting to see how adding different elements affects a hook line. For example, take a look at these two movie loglines.

1. After a twister transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home. (logline by Brian A. Klems, found at http://blog.writersdigest.com/qq/What+Is+A+Logline.aspx)

2. Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again. (Log Line attributed to Richard Polito of the Marin Independent Journal, who writes humorously sarcastic briefs for the paper's daily TV listings)

Both of these loglines are for the film Wizard of Oz, but they each give the film a distinctly different tone. Personally I like the second one best :D but the first probably gives a better idea of what the film is about.

It might take a little while to get your hook line perfected, but if you stick to the main elements of your story (the main character, the villain or conflict, what is unique about your story, and spice it up with a little action), your hook line should almost write itself. Just to show you that ANYONE can do this, (because if I can do it, anyone can), the hook line for one of my books is below.

A young woman in Victorian England is swept into an illicit affair with a semi-reformed thief and must find a legendary necklace to ransom their lives from a corrupt lord.

Can you spot the elements?

• Characters – a young woman and her love interest who is a semi-reformed thief.

• Conflict – a corrupt lord (the villain) is threatening her life and the life of her love interest unless she can find a legendary necklace.

• Distinction – my story is not just a romance, but has a big dose of suspense and mystery thrown in. The love interest is not a typical man but a thief, and while the romance comes in with the affair, it is an “illicit” affair (implying something out of the ordinary, something forbidden).

• Setting – Victorian England. And the description of the story gives obvious clues to the genre – young woman = YA; Victorian England = historical; illicit affair = romance; a treasure hunt/mystery and lives threatened = suspense….Genre = YA historical romantic suspense (though that is really long LOL In queries, I would either say YA historical or YA romantic suspense and let the blurb get the other elements across).

• Action – instead of saying my story is about a girl and guy who fall in love and search for a necklace, I describe the love story as an “illicit affair;” the necklace is “legendary,” the lord is “corrupt,” the love interest is “a semi-reformed thief.”

All these little elements help make the hook line more exciting, more interesting. And that is what will help hook the interest of potential agents, publishers, and readers.

Now you try :D And be sure to head to Steena's blog for details on the blogfest! :)


Matthew Rush said...

Man! What great advice Michelle, you really break this down quite eloquently. Now if only it were that easy ...

Lisa Marie Miles said...

Excellent post and perfect timing for me!

Amparo Ortiz said...

Brilliant!! I believe you have just saved my life.

Thanks for the tips!

Jen Chandler said...

This is a great post, Michelle! Thank you!

I've been struggling with a hook line for my NaNo novel! Everytime I try to write one, it turns into a full blown outline.


Liza said...

What a helpful post. Thank you!

Colene Murphy said...

Amazing! In the beginning of this post I thought "aw, crap. This is going to be hard." But you explained it so well and clearly, that I got it! Thank you!

And the second WofOz line cracked me up. I had to read it twice to connect it to the story. haha.

Tamika: said...

Love this post! I've been formulating a hook line for over a week, and my gray hairs are begging me to find some relief:)

Quinn said...

Great advice for loglines! And perfect timing! Thanks.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Man, you are amazing at how-to's! I think my problem is wanting to include too many elements, or not knowing quite which angle to play up: the romance or the death threat?

Le sigh.

I'll be referencing this post frequently in the next week, so THANK YOU!

Elana Johnson said...

Great post! I love your how-to posts.

The Golden Eagle said...

Great advice! I'll definitely have to remember this post.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great advice, Michelle. *rushes off to make sure logline kicks ass for Monday*

Jan Markley said...

Thanks for explaining what a log line is and all the examples!

Melissa said...

This is great advice and for once you managed to break it down so this concept actually made sense to me. I doubt I'll ever be able to make a snappy hook though. SIgh.

Kittie Howard said...

Great info! I'm happy I found your blog.