Monthly Archives: October 2015

Why you should write a logline for your novel

Save The Cat by Blake Snyder - a screen writing book that you can apply to your novel
Save The Cat by Blake Snyder – a screenwriting book you can apply to your novel

Following on from my previous post where I came out (of the novel-writing closet), I thought I would tell you a little more about the novel and share a tip I picked up from reading Save The Cat – a brilliant book about Screenwriting. It’s author, Blake Snyder, believes the one killer question you need to answer before you even begin to write is . . .

WHAT IS IT?

Think about it. You mention to your friend that you’re writing a book. Their first question?

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Cue a couple of minutes of you umming and erring, scrabbling around for way to explain this great story waiting to burst out of your head. After the first thirty seconds your friend – no matter how polite – will start to get that faraway look in their eye. The look that says ‘I wonder what I can have for tea tonight?’ or ‘Did I put the bins out?’. You fail to capture, let alone hold their attention, because you haven’t really stopped to answer that single question:

WHAT IS IT?

The best way to do that? Come up with a logline. That’s a screenwriting term, but it’s just another way of saying ‘elevator pitch’ – a concise one or two lines that capture the essence of your story. It needs to give a sense of who, what and where this story is. Is it obvious in what genre you’re writing? Snyder also thinks it should have at least a whiff or irony about it and perhaps even some kind of time frame.

Drafting loglines in Scrivener
Drafting loglines in Scrivener

Hmm. It’s harder than it sounds. I sat down (after already having written more than twenty thousand words of my story) and began to see if I could boil it down to two sentences. My first effort was something like this:

‘Mickey Blake, an aging safe cracker and mastermind behind one of the crimes of the century, returns to the UK after 18 years on the run. Forced out of retirement for the sake of his dying wife, Mickey must outwit local gangsters and an undercover copper to stay alive long enough to pull off one last job.’

It’s not terrible. It includes some important elements of the story and it gives a vague description of my protagonist, but it feels too long. I tried two or three more iterations – mainly changing word order and including the additional detail of an estranged son – but it still didn’t sing, didn’t say where the story was set and didn’t really reflect Mickey’s personality. So, after a lot of refining, here’s what I’ve settled on. For now . . .

‘For the sake of his dying wife and a son that hates his guts, acid-tongued safe cracker, Mickey Blake is forced out of retirement to rob a rundown casino in Skegness. He’s got one week to do it and all that stands in his way are a few old scores, two local gangsters and an undercover cop.’

Better? I think so. It has a similar word count to my first attempt, but has more information, gives a sense of who Mickey is and reveals my setting . . . Skegness! Yes, Skegness. For those unfamiliar with it, Skeggy (as it’s known locally) is a seaside town on the East coast of England and these days is probably most famous for being home to a large Butlins holiday resort. I think revealing that location and the part about ‘a son that hates his guts’ provides the ironic whiff I was looking for. I’ve also squeezed in the ‘one week’ time frame and created a mental image of some of the challenges he’s going to face.

I actually think it would work as a ‘one-liner’ – the first sentence does most of the work. Having this ‘one-liner’ has already helped me to focus and means I will at least have a chance at articulating my story the next time someone asks me what I’m spending all my spare time on.

I’m going to be posting regular updates along my novel-writing journey, so let me know which parts of the process you are most interested in and subscribe to the blog to keep up to date. I would love to hear your opinions on my logline and whether you’re intrigued to find out more about the story. So why not give it a try – write a logline for your novel or next short story – and let me know how you get on in the comments below. Alternatively, tweet me.

It’s a NOVEL – there, I said it!

My WIP Progress as of 24th October 2015
My WIP Progress as of 24th October 2015

Listeners to the Joined Up Writing Podcast may have heard me talking about my latest WIP – ‘a crime story’ is the way I have been describing it. And that’s exactly what it started out as – a short story. After a few thousand words I started occasionally using the word ‘Novella’ and today, in an email to a writing friend, I unintentionally confessed . . . I’m writing another novel!

Yes, another novel, because this will be my second. You may recall I typed ‘THE END’ on the first draft of ‘Let Sleeping Gods Lie’ a few months ago and I have been outlining another project on and off for over a year. Only thing is . . . that’s not the project I’m working on! This is a seat of the pants, first person POV crime novel and I’m just coming up on 22,000 words. I’m slightly in love with my protagonist and so far he is the engine for my plot. I have a vague sense of the end game, but I’m deliberately only outlining a few chapters ahead. This ensures I always have something to write, but that I don’t lock myself in to a story that becomes purely driven by plot instead of character.

My other breakthrough? Scrivener!

Yes, I’ve finally cracked it and have found a way to use it that really works for me. I’ll do a separate Scrivener post in the future, but my epiphany came after watching a short video from Joanna Penn. You will need to subscribe to her free mailing list to get access to it, but I really recommend that you do. It’s one of the first links I received from her and it really was as simple as seeing how she uses the software to write her novels. I also got loads of useful info from All Things From My Brain which has a great Scrivener Quick Tips series here.

I’m not going to make any more rash promises about blogging weekly or anything, but I am going to try to give regular updates on my progress, share some of my process and also give you a bit of a sense of what I’m working on. So, there will be word count updates, character insights, research topics and anything else I think fellow readers and writers will find interesting.

It would be great to spark up a few conversations with other novelists, but also fans of crime fiction so drop me a line in the comments and follow me on Twitter as I would love to hear from you. Perhaps you have some professional expertise in one of the areas I’m looking at for my research? In particular, I want to pick your brain if you have knowledge of how British undercover policing works or if you know any retired safe crackers?! No? Well, it was worth a try.

In my next post I’ll give you a little more detail around what I’m working on, as well as my early attempts at writing a log line for the book. Yes, I know that’s a script writing term – but I’ve been reading books about Screenwriting and it all helps.

So, get ready to follow what I’m sure will be a bumpy journey to the end of my first draft. I’ll need help – are you with me?