Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Log Lines for New Project

There's a story about Mark Twain where he received a telegram one day that said:


He replied to this by sending back:


Which highlights an important truth about writing, that often the shorter a piece of written fiction is, the more difficult it is. Especially to make it good. The shortest form of storytelling that people see all the time, and don't realize it's a form of storytelling, is the log line. 

Here's a quick example of a log line for a movie that a few people probably watched:

When the chief general of Rome's army is betrayed and sold into slavery, the only way he can get his revenge is to rise to fame as a gladiator in the Colosseum.

I bring this up because it shows the problem I have with developing the log line for the novel I'm working on. Words like "Rome" and "gladiator" and "Colosseum" are familiar and carry a lot of information about the world, setting, and situation. 

The world, setting, and situation for my novel are all odd, and there are no words out there to help me establish context. Imagine how much more clunky that Gladiator log line would be without all the familiar context. 

In fact, here's an example. The movie Alien has a complex story that takes place in a very unusual setting, so the log lines for it can get pretty long (this one from IMDb):

After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as distress call, their landing on the source planet finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious life-form. Continuing their journey back to Earth with the attacked crew having recovered and the critter deceased, they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.

So, you can see how it can get a little long-winded. Anyway, enough rambling. Here's what I have right now as a broad-strokes pitch for my novel:
  • MEBAR is a system of worlds created centuries ago by people who are now held by some to be gods. A detective looking for her family, a resurrected murder victim, a water-fey machinist, and a forgotten rogue god each start down dangerous paths to escape the arbitrary justice of the successors to MEBAR's creators.
Because it's a novel, it can get away with having four main characters. Movies usually can't. But, having four characters makes it even more difficult to boil down the story. This summary doesn't really explain the stakes or character goals. 

I sort of need to do a log line for each of those characters mentioned:
  • After a homicide detective's family vanishes, she does everything she can to try and find them. She discovers that the answer is held by powerful beings she previously thought of as myth.
  • A young man wakes up in a white room moments after being murdered. He's told by a strange young girl that he's going to be brought back to life so he can tell everyone that the gods of MEBAR must be killed.  
  • A disenchanted young woman wants nothing more than to become a machinist and have people overlook that she's a water fey. But when a new world leader rises rapidly to power, threatening chaos all over Pan, she sets her mind to smuggle outcasts like herself to another world.
  • After centuries locked in stasis, a normally easy-going man discovers that the worlds he helped create are as corrupt as he feared they would become. He'll have to be more careful this time if he wants to overthrow the successors of those that imprisoned him. 
Not sure what the solution would be for a final, definitive log line. Maybe I need to pick one of the characters and combine that with the first half of the broad-strokes log long. Not sure, but I'll be working on it....

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