Last week we talked about how to come up with a high concept for your novel.
A high concept pitch is not the same as a logline. A high concept is an intriguing idea that can be stated in a few words and is easily understood by all. A logline is a one- two-sentence description of a story that tells us what it is.
1. Inciting incident
2. Character + adjective
3. The hero's (primal) story goal
4. What's at stake
The sentence might look something like this:
When ____1____ happens to ____2____ he must ____3____ before ____4____ happens.
A(n) ____2____ does/experiences ____1____ and must ____3____ before ____4____ happens.
If you're not writing a high concept, you should still try to craft a logline that meets the high concept elements of being universal, unique, and having a hero dealing with a BIG problem. Also, the logline doesn't always include the inciding incident. As long as you have a WHO, a GOAL, and an OBSTACLE, you're in good shape.
An outcast teen (2) finds therapy writing her enemies into her story (3), but when her novel is published (1), she must face the consequences of using her pen as her sword (3). The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill.
Let’s try it with one of my ideas. And let me just say, it's not easy to get a 180k epic fantasy idea down to once sentence. I totally understand how difficult this is.
I started off with: When the ocean swallows their homeland(1), the survivors of two enemy kingdoms(2) take to the ocean to look for new land(3), but their common plight isn’t enough to stop the war between them(4).
I’ve got the #2 WHO (survivors), the #3 GOAL (finding new land), and the #4 OBSTACLE (they’re at war).
But it’s not great, either. Why?
-33 words is way too long. I like to shoot for 25.
-My WHO is no good. I need a single main character for the logline, even if the book has multiple POVs.
-I used the word “ocean” twice.
-It’s wordy and can be condensed.
So… I’ll try again.
When his homeland is destroyed, a prince(2) leads a fleet of ships in search of new land(3), but an enemy gives chase, bent on war(4).
-I like focusing on the prince. It makes the story feel more personal.
-And saying the enemy is chasing them adds a sense of urgency.
-All in all, it's a descent logline.
Going back to last week's high concept, is there an easier way to say this? What comparisons can I draw for a displaced kingdom? Searching for a new homeland? The threat of an ongoing war? Can I get these ideas into a single high concept?
Nope. I couldn't. I spent months on it and totally gave up. But my agent spoiled me when she came up with this:
Fantasy Battlestar Galactica at sea.
This is much better! It’s a “TV show in a new setting” high concept and it’s only five words long. When you read it, you have a pretty good guess about the kinds of things that will happen in the plot. And the fantasy setting and “at sea” aspect gives the “people searching for a home” concept” a unique twist.
Your turn! Let's focus on the logline today. Can you summarize your concept in a sentence of 25 words or less? Be sure to give a WHO, a GOAL, and an OBSTACLE or try one of my two fill-in-the-blank sentences. You might have to play with the words and rearrange a little. And that's okay.
Paring your idea down to a few words forces you to focus on what your story is about and keeps you on track as you write. Loglines are the way agents and editors sell your idea. And when you make it simple to remember, you make it simple for them to pitch. Give it a try. And then help someone else with their idea.