This weekend I gave a writing workshop for teens on story development. It was sponsored by Adaptive Studios – a company that takes old screen scripts, turns them into novels (primarily YA) which are then turned into movies (I know, it’s kind of like YA Inception.)
The workshop starts off with the assumption that you already have a story and it walks you through creating a logline. The logline (a term that is typically used when talking about movies and scripts) is a 2 to 3 sentence description of your story. It must answer:
- Who is the main character (protagonist)?
- What is the inciting incident?
- What is the protagonist’s quest?
Note: Adaptive also suggests that you include the film’s genre, but for obvious reasons I’m leaving that out of this discussion – although you should always know your writing genre and who will be your reading audience.
I spent much time on this part of the workshop. For many of the young writers, it was a new concept. A few of them questioned why you needed to know this information at the beginning of your work. Couldn’t you put it together very quickly when you were done?
I took a piece of paper, drew a few lines and showed it them, saying “This is why you need the logline.”
A logline is the essence of your story. It is the backbone of facts from which you can then create the body of your work. “How on earth,” I asked the group, “can you hit your target if you don’t know where your target is?”
The logline created at the beginning of your work gives you a place from which to start.
Let’s say you want to write a story about a young girl (protagonist) who doesn’t appreciate her home and what she already has (quest). Her house gets washed away in a flood (inciting event) and she meets friends who help her discover that she really wasn’t missing anything in her life.
Okay, so you’ve got the log line, you can start writing. You create your characters, the landscape, the inciting incident and then… you hit a brick wall. You have writer’s block (which is another term for “I’ve gotten lost in my story’s roadmap.”)
Because a house washed away in a flood is a house that is *probably* destroyed. And a house washed away in a flood is *probably* a house that didn’t travel that far away from the problem.
Hmm, you go back to your logline, that initial target. What if, you say to yourself, what if I turn the flood into a tornado and the house gets lifted intact and is then dropped somewhere that is far away?
Not likely, but it *could* happen right? But now you’re talking, you’ve gone back and refined your initial premise to something that is more specific and more helpful to the quest.
You get back to writing.
As you can see a logline is not cast in stone – *especially* at the beginning or for a work in progress, but it does show you the initial direction you need to go. It points you to your ending, your target.
Take a few minutes to figure out the backbone of your story and write a logline. Write it on an index card and then tape that card to your office wall to remind you of your story’s path. Look at it often.
Because, not to get all zen on you or anything, in the end, you can’t know where to go, if you don’t know where to go.
Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.
Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.