About Those Log Lines…

November 5, 2014


Whenever I talk to authors at conferences, they seem to be all about delivering their log lines, which is fine because time is short, and they only have mere nanoseconds to tell me the concept of their books. It’s an invite for me to say, “Tell me more.” I’m usually rushing down the hallway to a meeting, seminar, or pitch sessions, so brevity is much appreciated.

However, a log line isn’t your pitch – it’s a concept – so these aren’t helpful in a query letter. For that, you need to lead with your story’s plot.

If you lead with this:

Log Line: “Newly free from the rat race, Twist McPherson becomes the reluctant publisher to five saucy ladies in their seventies and an internationally famous legal thriller writer with a nasty case of writer’s block and urgent desire for anonymity.”

An agent may do the literary equivalent of hanging up on you and stop reading after one sentence. Yah. It happens. A. Lot.

If you want them to keep reading, just jump right in and belch out the plot:

Twist McPherson, on permanent hiatus from the rat race, moves to Palm Springs and sets about writing the Great American Novel. Her timing couldn’t be worse; the sour economy has publishers signing only the big blockbusters, like world class author Jack Crawford and his courtroom dramas. After one too many Harvey Wallbangers with her best friend Roz, Twist agrees to dust off her advertising talents and create her own publishing company.

During her weekly Mah Jong game with a group of saucy ladies, all in their 70s, Twist casually mentions her publishing plans. Before she can eat the olive out of her martini, Dirty Little Secrets, LLC is born, and Twist has a stable of five new writers who, under nom de plumes, have spent the past three years writing some of the hottest, yet refined erotica to hit the electronic bookshelves. As southern belle, Lucinda Du Pont, drawls over tea spiked with Jack Daniel’s, “Smut sells, dear.”

In the midst of cover designs and distribution, Twist—so named for her metaphorical gifts of rearranging the male anatomy during tough business negotiations—meets the mighty Jack Crawford, newly arrived to the desert to finish his faltering tenth book and meet his thrice-past-due deadline. He absolves his writer’s block by writing for Twist under the name Marcella de la Prentiss.

It wouldn’t have been so bad had Chicago Times book reviewer Carl Beckenham not smelled a story in the young new publisher who blasted onto the scene with her classy advertisements and sophisticated promotion. But Snarlin’ Carl’s nose for a hot story has him digging deeper into Twist’s business to find out the identity of her writers, which threatens Jack’s career and the ladies’ dirty little secrets.

It may seem a small thing, but I know many in the business who will stop after the first sentence. If that first sentence is cliché, the person reading it will roll their eyes in your general direction. And that’s the thing with log lines; they can be quite cliché, and that’s okay…so are lots of movie log lines. However, your job is to tell the acquiring editor or agent what your book is about, and a log line only offers up the overall scheme. Big difference.

Save the log line for racing down hallways with errant editors and your neighbor, who you really haven’t forgiven for borrowing your weed whacker and never returning it.

Writers – A Different Breed

November 6, 2013

writers brain

I remember the occasion well, even though it was years ago. The hubs and I were out to dinner at a fancy schmancy restaurant. The sun was sinking into the horizon, painting the waves in gold. Surfers were catching their final rides before heading home. Romantic doesn’t even begin to describe it. And there I was…in another world.

Hubs: Lynnie? Helloooooo, anyone home?

Lynn: <stares off in a fugue state>

Hubs: <picks up butter knife and clangs it on my wine glass> Hey, guess what? Antonio Banderas just walked in asking for a brilliant editor for his new book.

Lynn: <mentioning Antonio gets her attention, and she endures neck spasms looking for his backside> You dog. Antonio wouldn’t come to Laguna Beach without telling me. It’s the law, you know.

Hubs: Um yeah, I’m tired of holding a one-way conversation. You’re as exciting as a bowl of warm fish.

And there it was. A fabulous dinner in a fabulous setting, with a fabulous hubby, and I’m thinking of how I’m going to have to kill one of my characters…and it grieves me to no end. I’m almost in tears because I’ve come to adore this character. My muse’s timing couldn’t be worse, but my dear hubs is patient and waits for my inner plotting situates itself.

I’ve learned that ideas hit on their own schedule. They don’t wait until I’m at my computer, ready to pen brilliant tomes. They strike at weddings, fancy dinners, driving to the vet, shopping for jeans, or at 3 a.m.

I’ve also learned that we owe a platter of gratitude to those who suffer because they’re crazy enough to live with us. They’ve learned to inhale that coconut shrimp so we can madly scribble down a delicious plot twist on their cocktail napkin. They’ve learned to clarify our conversations about someone dying by making sure we’re talking about a character and not a real person.

Writers are a different breed, and I salute those brave souls who love us in spite of our passions…and insanity.

What are some of your crazier stories about writing and your loved ones that have gotten you into trouble?

About Those First 30 Pages…

March 20, 2013


Kristin Nelson has a great post today on the top two reasons she passes on sample pages and, as usual, she’s spot on.The prime death knell with reading the first 30 pages of a manuscript is a lack of red meat. Sure, you may have a ton of action going on, or great dialog, but it needs to be a set up of the plot.

Kristin suggests that authors read their first 30 pages, and outline the plot points in a list list by chapter.  Don’t summarize the chapter, simply list the action found in it.

Kristin says that if you find…

1) The work is missing a plot catalyst to really start the story (so there is a lot going on action-wise but no actual story unfolding).

2) There is nothing at stake for the main character.

…then you might think about going back to the drawing board. I run into this a lot, so I’m glad Kristin blogged about it. If your first 30 pages don’t give the reader a solid idea where the story is going and what’s at stake for the main character, then they’re going to close the book. *Ungently.

Take a look at your first 30 pages. Do you feel those pages set up the plot and present the high stakes for the main character?

*Yes, I realize “ungently” isn’t a real word

Series of Events or Plot?

January 7, 2013


In playing catch up with queries, I’ve noticed a heavy concentration of queries written by authors who have mistaken a series of events for the plot. Thar be a difference. I don’t care about the series of events; I need the plot because it’s the guts to your story. It’s the reason your book exists. It’s the kapow.

A series of events is a collection of scenes that happen in the course of a book – it ain’t da plot. Note the difference:

“Sally goes to college, where she meets John, the hunky prime slab o’ beef who sits behind her in Math 207. They begin dating, only John is confused because he’s still hung up on his hometown girlfriend, Jane, and can’t figure out who he likes more. Sally, in the meantime, meets Derek in Science 101 and has her own share of confusion. It’s impossible for her to resist his curly hair and the fact that he can speak Pig Latin with a German accent.

Sally sticks it out with John, but lusts for Derek, until John goes home for semester break. Over a pizza party with a group from their science class, Sally ends up making whoopie with Derek. When John returns from semester break, Sally decides to tell him it’s over, that she’s in love with Derek and his German accented Pig Latin. John, meanwhile, discovers that Jane, his hometown girlfriend, has taken up with the undertaker’s son. His mind is made up and Sally is the only girl for him, only now she’s with Derek

John is so undone, he decides to transfer to Podunk University, so he can forget all about Sally. Sally, in the meantime, grows weary with Derek’s Pig Latin, and almost faints when he decides to shave his head. Goodbye sexy, curly locks, hello buzzhead. She begins to think about John. Was he really the one for her? She considers contacting him on Facebook, but he won’t accept her Friend Request. Her emails have gone unanswered, and he won’t answer her phone calls.

She gathers up the nerve to take a road trip to Podunk U and confront him, only to find out he’s disappeared. She goes over to the house of one of his friends to see if he knows where John is…”

…blah, blah, blah…get to the point already. And the problem is, there never is a point, and the query letter continues on for far too long, describing general scenes, but never revealing any reason this story exists. There is no purpose. What’s worse is we don’t even know who is the protagonist (I made this, btw).

Now there are times when a story is all that…a big conglomeration of nothing…and if your story looks like this, you may be in Lack-of-Plot Hell. On the other hand, your story really may have a point after all, but you’ve hidden it too well under long underwear and heavy jackets (forgive the frigid metaphors…it’s really cold in Pitts – yay!). If you don’t reveal the plot within the first couple paragraphs of your query letter, I’ll quit reading…pinky swear.

On the other hand, Plot (as defined by Dictionary.com) is the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story. And here’s the thing; it may be completely different from your boring series of events. I had this very thing happen last week. I read a query that consisted of nothing but a series of events. I rejected it and explained why. A few days later, the author wrote back, thanking me, and included the actual plot. It was much more interesting, and vastly different from the original.
So let me show you what I mean. Here’s the plot to the mess I wrote above:
Sally feels terrible about the way she treated John while they attended university, so she travels down to the campus he transferred in order to forget her…only he turns up missing. Sally begins to consider the possibility that his disappearance is related to his math thesis, which challenges Einstein’s theory of relativity. Since Sally had worked with him the project, she wonders if she’s a target as well, and she’s torn between digging deep to find him and being concerned for her own well-being.

Boom. There it is in one paragraph. It’s a mystery, we know who the protag is, and the plot. All that other blather in the first example has squat all to do with the plot – and it’s this kind of writing that makes it impossible for me to care about reading more – which is sad because you can see the first example has zip all to do with the real plot as revealed in the second example.

So take a look at your query letter and see what you have; a series of events or the plot. Remember; the plot = your character’s journey.

  1. Something happened that created an experience for your main character(s). What is it? A murder? Cancer? Threat to world peace? Job loss? This experience is your trigger point for the story.
  2. Your character is uniquely qualified to have this experience. What is it? Was her loved one murdered? Does she or someone close to him have cancer? Is he a spy who can avert the threat to world peace? Did he lose his job?  What I’m looking for is how the experience relates to your main character.
  3. Your main character can make certain choices that will change the outcome. What are they? Call the police about her loved one’s murder, or investigate it herself and possibly become a target? How does she deal with cancer – does she fight or give up? Does he have enough strength and know how to avert world tragedy? Does he go on welfare, or does he take the only job available to him – which won’t cover the rent? I want to know what the personal stakes are for your main character. I’m looking to see how big the stakes are for them. If it’s a matter of a chipped nail, then there isn’t much to pull me in. However, if we’re talking about finding sanity and comfort in the wake of a major killer of a disease, then I can get wrapped up in that.

If you look at 1, 2, and 3, you’ll see that it’s far easier to avoid committing the Series of Events query letter, which I guarantee will result in a rejection.

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