For a newbie like myself, these can seem bewildering concepts which are only relevant to screenwriters and of no value to fiction writers.
What do you say when someone who is genuinely interested in you works asks the killer question ‘What’s the Story about?’ and 10 minutes later you are still giving him the backstory about the villian’s demonic mother in the Ukraine, and your potential agent/publisher/friend is desperately signalling to a colleague to find an excuse to get away from you.
Why?What do I need to know BEFORE I can create a compelling, and hopefully High Concept Compass Logline/Story Line for my latest bestseller?
Because you are boring, rambling, and worse, you have not answered the question.
Or, even worse, you are just getting into your stride on all of the research you completed on the causes of the Franco=Prussian War and – wait for it – there is no story because you are still looking for characters who can postulate your theory.
And in doing so you have just demonstrated that you are anything else EXCEPT a professional author.
AHHH! Career alert!
So. What is your Story About?
To me, I have to be able to give a simple answer like this -
My story is about someone [ your protagonist]….who strives for [goal]… and this stands in his way [ forces of opposition and antagonism].
WHO she is, WHAT she wants, and WHAT she is going to have to overcome to get it.
For a short story it could be;
‘ Little Sarah, aged 4 and a half, is promised by her mother that she can have a chocolate ice cream, but first she has to eat her dinner vegetables. And they are ALL GREEN. Can she survive such horror?’
For a movie, how about;
‘Set in West Texas, a man on the run with a suitcase full of money is pursued by a number of individuals.’
Or ‘ When an attorney gets zapped by his son’s birthday wish, he learns that he can no longer tell a lie even when he tries, so he must now win the biggest case of his career by being honest.’
One sentence. A logline.
This is a SELLING TOOL for your work. The 30 second elevator pitch.
But what if you want a logline to keep YOU, the writer, on track during the writing and editing and re-writing. The paragraph you have taped to your PC monitor to remind you that this is what you are meant to be writing about?
For me, that is when the Logline becomes the Story Line. And it has to serve different functions.
Clearly states The Main Desire line for your hero which will drive the story from start to finish. This is the spine and passionate force in your story. Even for ice cream.
Sets up the Story Question. We know the tale is over when the Goal set out in the Desire line is achieved and the reader turns the last page.
Sets up the Character Arc for the protagonist.
The Unknown Screenwriter calls this his ‘COMPASS LOGLINE’ and provides this list of essential elements for an ‘High Concept’ Compass Logline:
- The Protagonist’s main character trait that begins his or her transformational arc.
- The Protagonist’s main function in the story.
- The main story conflict and the central question of the story.
- The Antagonist or forces of antagonism.
- The Protagonist’s goal and transformational arc.
I need to know who my Protagonist is.
What is she like? What are the character traits which make her unique and interesting. Her backstory and, most importantly, what motivates her to make the decisions she is taking in her ‘ordinary life’.
I need to know how my Protagonist will change by the end of the story- and why. I can then use this to focus on key aspects of my heroine’s character.
I need to know what the Inciting Incident is, and how this will create a compelling GOAL for my Protagonist which becomes the Story Question which will be answered by the end of the story.
What will she have to ENDURE on this journey?
Who or What is going to block my heroine from achieving her goal?
For me, I have to complete at least a first draft OUTLINE of my novel BEFORE I can answer these questions. The key turning points. A character bio for hero and her antagonist.
In some cases I have to write the first draft before I can answer these questions, since my ideas were still fluid at the Story Idea point.
I did not know HOW the character arc would be complete until my heroine took me there.
But I did have a basic Story Line from Day One.
I THEN use the extended logline to help during the revisions and editing.
PLUS I can use this one paragraph outline to create the perfect Back Cover Blurb for the book, and the extended selling material. Not a word wasted.
No one said this was easy…but, sheesh.
What am I listening to at this moment? Baroque Internet Radio