Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tools for Selling Your Novel: The Three Sentence Logline (Or the Short Pitch)

The beauty of the three sentence logline is its structure: one sentence each for the beginning, middle and end of your novel. I can whittle almost any plot down to a single sentence, but selling a project is not always just about how few words you can use to sum up the plot.

Here's the strongest one sentence logline for The Steampunk Novel: A young magic-handler desperate to find her Da confronts conspiracy, murder and forbidden magic under the streets of 1888 London.
It's good. It covers the plot. It identifies the protagonist, her goal and the obstacles she faces. All in all, it does exactly what it's supposed to do. But, when I entered The Bakers Dozen Agent Auction in November I felt like I needed something that touched on the specifics of the story.

This is what I came up with: Magic-handler Keira Fennel's search for her father intersects with shape-shifter Lowen McCrae's hunt for a murderer in the alleys of 1888 London. When they uncover a plot to construct a mechanical heart from stolen flesh, Keira's skill with gears and magic makes her the target of the otherworldly villain. She's forced to participate in the experiment or lose both Lowen and her father.

This version is also good. It covers the plot. It identifies the protagonist, her goals and the obstacles she faces. It also provides details that highlight the uniqeness of the story and the final conflict.

Is it better than the shorter version? No. Probably not. But it is capable of serving a different function. Because of the added length it is not just a logline, it's also a very short synopsis and there are times when that property will be more important than the brevity of the shorter version.

Just like a synopsis (which should have 1-2 page and 4-10 page versions) there's no harm in having loglines of different lengths one very short one to sell the heart of your story and one slightly longer one that covers the plot arc from beginning to end. If anything, identifying the guts of each act of the novel is helpful in writing both the query letter and the normal length synopsis.

So. What are the three acts of your novel? When you distill them into a single sentence each, what does it look like?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ideas Under Words

Last week I went through some of my "archived" stories. Mostly bits and pieces of novels that I started and then shelved during a long case of Shiny-New-Idea-itis. (Seriously. It was almost ten years of moving from one project to the next and not finishing any of them. Blech. I have developed a little more discipline since then. But I still have a massive back-log of Unfinisheds clamoring for attention.)

A couple of things immediately stood out to me.

Firstly, my writing up until about three years ago... kind of sucked. And there isn't some magic point after which my stuff doesn't suck, but there's definitely a point at which I started focusing on writing better. I found a lot of earlier stuff written in squashy Omni. And some of it is not bad (for Omni which I still suck at), but most of it is just... squashy. After I began to focus on writing only one character's POV per chapter there is a vast improvement. (And this isn't to say that there is anything wrong with Omni, but I don't do it very well. At all.) And my characters got a little more personality. Not that they didn't have flaws before, but there's more nuance to the more recent characters. Some of them have downright unlikeable traits. (Like my Fey detective who compares his college-educated female partner to a stripper. Or the Marine Sergeant who is a not only a chauvinist but also a bigot through and through.)

I know why this shift in quality happened.
I started analyzing my work. I began looking for things to improve. I began writing for more than just fun. (And again, nothing wrong with writing for fun, but for me personally, it didn't spur me to grow as a writing because the only person I had to please was myself. And that used to be easy.)

Secondly, despite the lack of skill in the writing, the ideas were sound. And this, is one reason why I used to have so much trouble finishing things - I didn't have the skill to tell the story. Deep down I knew (and still know) that I'm not quite ready for the epic cyber-pagan novel I first drafted when I was fifteen. It has a scope and language that is just a touch beyond me. One of these days I'll sit down to try it again and it will flow, but for now... I'm just not ready for it. But the idea... that's been solid since the beginning which makes me think that maybe there are no bad ideas, just poorly executed ones.

I remember a few years back, when I was still in college so maybe a decade ago, I ran into a fellow in an online community who was developing an idea for a Sci-Fi story. He had a planet that was always dark on one side and always light on the other. And there was a giant bridge connecting the planet with it's orbiting moon. That, in and of itself, is a bit of a stretch but it could be feasible. HOWEVER, he wanted it to be Earth. Not just a version of Earth, but OUR EARTH. And his explanation for why one side was always day and the other always night? "The moon stopped orbitating [sic] around the Earth."

I tried to explain that the moon's orbit has nothing to do with why we have day and night on all sides of Earth. He was offended. AND he accused me of being the opposite of a "creative". He said I was *gasp* "AN EDITOR."

After I stopped laughing, I realized that he had a prime example of a poorly executed idea. Because he wanted to make it "real", but he A) didn't know enough about the subject matter and B) wasn't willing to adapt his premise.

But I digress. The point here is that even the ideas I had a memory of being awful were not so bad when I looked at them again. They do, however, need some retooling. Not bad ideas, just poorly executed. Even the stuff from my early years that I really want to print out just so I can set it on fire is not "bad" it just needs better words to flesh it out.

And that, quite frankly, is just a question of practice. In fact, that's a large part of what I do when I write - get rid of the bad words in a story and replace them with good ones. Because the idea is sound. I think, really and truly, most of them are. Maybe even all of them are. I just have to find the right words.