Thursday, July 23, 2009

Your story – In a nutshell.

When it comes right down to it, you can have written a beautiful, lyrical story that you are completely unable to describe to anyone foolish enough to ask. At the moment I’m working on my synopsis for my soon to be finished WIP, Catch me a catch, and in order to do this successfully, I’ve been looking at some of the basic skills used by scriptwriters to sell their stories to us – the public.

I was introduced to these ideas by Blake Snyder, wonderful author of Save the Cat, and have found the examples below on the Internet Movie Database,
There are so many options out there when it comes to picking a film to go see, and the methods used to catch our attention I believe can also be applied to sell a book. (Although it should be noted that I haven't sold one, yet!) First, you have a poster, which combines a picture and a title, and somewhere there you should find a one line summary, the tagline which draws you in. Wikipedia defines taglines like this: The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and premise of a brand or product (like a film).

My current favourite is for The Proposal. This picture is great, it tells us so much about the movie, and the tagline is a classic in the making –

Here comes the bribe…

In the writing world, we’re used to thinking about the story, the synopsis and the query letter, but I think that in searching for an agent or publisher I can also learn a lot from the world of film packaging, so defining a tagline for my books is something I always strive to do, it helps me to keep focused on my story’s core.

The next step is the logline, a max 3 sentence description of the story.
Trusty Wikipedia says : The log line first came into use and was recognized as a separate form during the old studio days of Hollywood. The studios had script vaults in which they stored screenplays. Readers wrote a concise one line summary of what the script was about either on the cover of the script, on the spine of the script, or both. The log line on the spine of the script allowed people to read the log lines of scripts that were stacked without having to unstack them.

One of my favorite films is Working Girl, I love the script, and its succinct logline captures the film’s essence perfectly: For anyone who’s ever won, For anyone who’s ever lost, and for everyone who’s still in there trying.

Here’s the poster for The Family Stone – the tagline, Feel the love, is wonderfully sarcastic, and blends so well with the picture.
The logline was: An uptight, conservative, businesswoman accompanies her boyfriend to his eccentric and outgoing family's annual Christmas celebration and finds that she's a fish out of water in their free-spirited way of life.
Which sums it up perfectly, and lets the buyer know what sort of a story they're in for!
I also like this one, for Sweet Home Alabama – one one side is Reece Witherspoon's new life, represented by the fancy suitcases of her Melanie Carmichael persona, and on the left, the coon dog she
left behind when she relocated from Alabama. Rather than get into a long, complicated story about old husbands and new fiancee's the tagline simply states:
sometimes what you’re looking for, is right where
you left it.

Here are some more taglines and loglines that I hope you'll enjoy, I applaud the writers who managed to convey, in so few words, the heart of their stories - I'm striving for excellence with mine, if only so I can answer that question - So, what's your book about?
Independence Day - Aliens try to invade earth on Independence Day.
Dead Calm - A married couple, trying to recover from the death of their only child, are terrorized at sea by a handsome maniac.
The Hunt for Red October - A Soviet submarine captain uses Russia's ultimate underwater weapon as a means to defect to the west.
The Last Boy Scout - A private detective must team up with an ex-football star to catch the killer of a topless dancer.
The Notebook – Behind every great love is a great story.
The Lake House – How do you hold on to someone you’ve never met?
Blind Date – She’s the perfect woman, until she has a drink.
Meet the Fockers – and you thought your family were embarrassing
Love actually – Love actually is all around.
Four weddings and a funeral – he’s quite engaging, she’s otherwise engaged.
The Bourne Identity – He was the perfect weapon, until he became the target.
Romancing the Stone - She's a girl from the big city. He's a reckless soldier of fortune. For a fabulous treasure, they share an adventure no one could imagine... or survive.
PS I love you – sometimes there’s only one thing left to say
The Da Vinci Code – Seek the truth.
My best friend’s wedding - Julianne fell in love with her best friend the day he decided to marry someone else.
The Matchmaker - A comedy for the incurably unromantic.
Tin cup - Golf pro. Love amateur.
The Thomas Crown Affair - How do you get the man who has everything?
The Abyss - A place on earth more awesome than anywhere in space.
Alien - In space no one can hear you scream
X men - Evolution Begins.
Big – have you ever had a really big secret?
He’s just not that into you - Are you the exception...or the rule?
Twilight - When you can live forever what do you live for?
Confessions of a shopaholic - All she ever wanted was a little credit...


  1. Great post Sally. Think coming up with something catchy is an art form in itself. You've got me thinking anyway :-)

  2. Thanks Lorraine, I'm completely addicted to taglines, and a good logline is a great way to start a synopsis!

  3. Excellent post, Sally! I've linked to you on my blogroll.

  4. Thanks mulberry! off to have a browse on your blog...XS