Loglines…Polishing the Rough Idea

Okay everyone, let’s start to dig into the first steps of writing your novel.

At this point, you may have a rough idea of what you want to write and you may have some particular scenes worked out in your head or in notes.  Maybe you’ve jumped into the writing itself.

These are all great steps, but let me ask you a quick question…have you written the logline yet?  Actually, I should ask this instead…have you written and rewritten and re-rewritten the logline for your novel?

If you haven’t, let me make a friendly suggestion.  Do.

There are lots of approaches to loglines, and lots of definitions, but basically a logline is a tool that helps you describe the heart of your story in the shortest, clearest way possible.  And it seems like everybody has a different way to do this.

One of the best that I’ve studied is from Blake Snyder, a screenwriting instructor and very good guy who sadly passed away in 2009.  His recommendations for a good logline were simple and direct.

In one sentence (maybe two) describe the protagonist, the antagonist and what’s at stake.

Want to practice a bit?  Think of your favorite movies and books.  Write a quick logline for each, then work on honing them until they’re interesting and capture the heart of what’s going on.

Though it’s simple, it’s definitely not easy.  But it’s worth the time it takes to practice and hone the skill.  Because once you have, this simple little logline will give you a much better idea what is going on in your story.

Here’s how it works and what you can get out of it for your own story…

One of the biggest problems that writers run into is the feeling that their story is stuck.  It usually happens about 100-200 pages into the book (30-50 pages into a screenplay), somewhere between the first act and the midpoint.  Some people call it writer’s block (which I may just rant about in another post), but what it really is is a lack of clarity about what is going on in the story.

And a good, clear logline is the first step in getting that clarity.

You see, your logline has a description of your protagonist, so you know something of the heart of your main character.  It also has the stakes, which tells you what the hero is after and how important it is, and the antagonist gives you a good idea of what the hero is up against.

Knowing what’s important to the protagonist not only gives you a goal that points to the plot, but it also informs you about the theme or underlying meaning of your story.  This can even influence subplots and character design.

In short, this is a very useful tool that can help you in many ways.  Plus, it’s very useful for queries and describing your book to people that you meet (a short description to a stranger is much more enticing than a whole plot summary, trust me!).

One final piece of advice I would have on loglines is to rewrite your logline at every stage of writing.  Start the process with a logline, do one after your first outline, after your final outline, after your first draft and even after you’ve polished the manuscript.  It can help you at each stage.

Talk to you soon!  Please don’t hesitate if you have any questions!

Bruce

Writing – Absorb What is Useful

Have an idea for a story, but aren’t sure what steps to take or how to do it?  Don’t worry.  You’re not alone.

It’s hard to start a new writing project, and looking for advice on how to tackle your story might even make it worse.

Now, I don’t want to come off as a doom-and-gloom writing instructor…what I’m really talking about is the fact that there are many different ways to approach your story, and because people are human, most everyone loves to shout about how their method is the best and only way.  It makes it hard to pick which way to go.

But here’s the thing…while it seems that there are dozens upon dozens of different approaches to writing, they really break down into two different camps: structure and style.

The structure people say you have to outline, outline, outline and figure out each little thing before you start writing.

The style people say you need to learn how to write decent sentences.

And boy, can these two camps hate each other.  The style people say that all the outlining takes all the spontaneity out of writing and make it formulaic.  The structure people say that the style writers waste tons of time because they don’t know where anything is going and will have to do endless rewrites.

Most literary fiction writers tend to fall into the style camp.  Most screenwriters tend towards structure (I did say most…not all).

As for me, I’ve been lucky.  When I was working on my MFA, I studied both approaches, and after my grad degree, I continued to study both…and I think I know why I did this instead of picking one over the other.

I’ve been doing martial arts almost all of my life.  It’ll soon be 30 years of study I’ve put in, with the vast majority of that time spent in Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee’s martial art.  I’m also honored to be an instructor under Guro Dan Inosanto, who was Bruce Lee’s top student.

And one of the things that has made the biggest impression on me, aside from how to take a punch, is what Bruce Lee said about absorbing what is useful.  Here’s the full quote…

“Research your own experience.  Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

You see, the great thing about Jeet Kune Do is that it’s not just about how to win fights.  It can teach you some great ways to approach life…and writing.

I won’t belabor each point of the quote.  You can do your own research about different ways to approach writing, you can discard what doesn’t work for you, and you can add in what specifically and uniquely helps you the most.

The one I do want to talk a bit about is how you can absorb what is useful.

Whether you are working on your MFA or writing a screenplay, know that you aren’t stuck with just one approach.  If you are working on a literary novel, do some outlining, so you know where your characters are headed.  If you are stuck on a spot in your outline, start writing that scene and see where the prose leads you.

Jeet Kune Do stresses the individual over any particular art or approach.  Do the same with writing.  Put yourself and your process ahead of any particular school of thought on how to write.  Just remember to have fun.

And I want to help.  While I’m releasing my novel Schism here on the blog I’ll also be posting information on both structure and style, so you can absorb what is useful.

Let me know any questions you have along the way!

Bruce

Writing – The 6 Month Novel Challenge

I’ve got a challenge for you.

This year, I’m working with a group of High School students and over the next 5 months, they are each going to write a novel.  I’ll be joining them, and I’d like to challenge you to join in as well.

Doesn’t matter if you’ve never written more than a short story, of if you have novels published, join in, write alongside us and see that you can write and start to polish a novel in 6 months.

Here’s the basic schedule…

2 months to plan and outline

2 months to write (6 pages a day for 60 days = 360 pages, a perfect length for publication)

2 months to do the first 2 rewrites

Does this sound hard?  Yup!  But if you can squeeze in 1-2 hours a day, you can plot, write and begin to polish a novel in that time.

And…you won’t be alone…

Along the way, I’ll be talking about loglines, characters, plot, outlining, theme, style, dialogue, subplots, the myth of writer’s block…and everything else you need to write a kick-ass novel.

So, no matter what your favorite genre or idea, come and join us.  Send me a note, let me know what you are going to write, let me know what questions you have or problems you’ve run into in the past.

Talk to you soon!

B

Welcome to the new site…Guess what’s coming…

Hello and welcome to my newly updated site.  I’ll be posting occasionally on writing topics and giving updates on the new novels and projects I’m working on, but the main purpose of the site is a place where you can come to get free stuff!

Specifically, I’ll be giving away two novels this year.  The first will be Schism, an Urban Thriller with a paranormal twinge about a man who hears voices and the police officer tasked with tracking him down.  The two men become friends as they try to save the city that is burning around them, but what the bad guys don’t know is that the voices are real.

I’ll be releasing Schism as a weekly podcast with accompanying pdf files that match the chapters in the audio, so you can listen, read or both every week.

After Schism is done, I’ll be releasing Voodootown, a Young Adult novel about the little cloth sidekicks that hide under our beds during the day and come out to right the wrongs we suffer at night.

So, please stay tuned and tell your friends.  A couple of great books are coming your way at a price you can’t beat!

Bruce