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How to use loglines to focus your writing

A child writing in school

No matter how experienced a writer you are, sometimes your writing takes too much of a life of its own. Your writing rambles, it lacks focus, it doesn’t lead the reader anywhere.

It’s frustrating when that happens, especially when the idea underlying that writing is sound. But how can you focus that piece of writing?

There are a number of techniques you can try to get around that problem. But one that I’ve been experimenting with lately shows a lot of promise. That technique involves writing loglines.

Curious? Then read on.

Loglines?

Loglines are tool that screenwriters use to briefly describe they story they’re trying to tell in a screenplay. Loglines are designed to give a sense of who the story revolves around, what that person is trying to achieve, and the obstacles in that person’s way. And it all has to be done in a sentence or two.

A logline isn’t a tagline (which acts as a teaser). A logline is more like a compact elevator pitch.

By writing one, you zoom in on the core of your story, why it’s important, and what to expect from what you’re writing.

The key is to use strong verbs and descriptive language. For example, you wouldn’t describe someone as just a man …. Instead, you’d write A man haunted by a past he’s desperately trying to escape …. You want to convey a sense of drama, of tension, of anticipation.

You can read some example loglines here and here.

Not just for screenplays and fiction

It’s obvious how you can use loglines when writing a screenplay, a short story, or a novel. With a little imagination, you can tweak the format and use loglines to help focus non fiction writing, too. Here’s an example:

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Opensource.com about a web application called wallabag. My idea, and my outline, had a couple of interesting threads that I tried to follow. The problem was that the article was ballooning beyond the maximum word count.

Because of that, I started stressing a bit. Those worries about the length and direction of the article were making me second guess my approach. So, I stepped back and fired up a text editor. Then, I started writing loglines.

I locked onto the who, what, and why of the story. It took three or four tries but I managed to come up with this:

Disappointed by the death of a favourite web application, a determined French developer embarked on a project that enables anyone to install and control their own read-it-later software.

That logline won’t be winning any awards. It did the job for me, though. The logline helped me zoom in on what I wanted to cover and helped me prune my outline. I got rid of information around installing and configuring wallabag, and instead concentrated on its origins, purpose, and how to use it.

So what happened to the material that I cut? I used it to write a blog post that complemented the article.

For more information

Here are some useful articles and blog posts about writing loglines:

Final thoughts

Loglines can be a great way to focus your writing. And don’t forget their original purpose: to help you pitch an idea to someone who can publish your writing. They’re definitely not for everything you write, but loglines definitely are a tool that will come in handy when you need them.

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