Step 2. Create Building Blocks
A common question is “Where do I start to write a book trailer?” Answer: "The log line."
A log line is a sentence or two that summarize the book, including the plot and hook. The term comes from the motion picture/television screenplay. A common problem is that authors lack an elevator pitch for their book. A log line is even shorter. Good log lines are ironic, concise, clear and emotionally intriguing.
The log line elements can form the basis of your book trailer. Let’s look at the anatomy of a log line.
NOTE: You will see this spelled as “Logline,” “Log-line” and “Log Line” in the industry. In Book Trailer 101, we will use the two-word version, except when referring to a source in which it is spelled as one.
Some non-fiction should use a fiction log line. Out Of The Box by Julie McSorley and Marcus McSorley (http://bt101.info/ootb) is the true story of Reg Spiers but told using creative fiction techniques. As such the trailer is fiction like. If the book is told like a novel then use a novel log line structure.
This is the list of all possible elements. Select the ones that are appropriate for your book. Don't force fit an answer. If there is no ally or the ally comes late in the book, then skip it.
- The hero or protagonist. Use a description of the person. (Examples: a mother, boy, criminal…)
- Their character flaw, usually an adjective (Examples: alcoholic, crippled, blind …)
- Act one crisis or life-changing event
- Protagonist’s goal (objective). What is driving them and the story?
- Protagonist’s Motivation. Why the protagonist wants it.
- Obstacle - What is standing in the way of achieving the goal?
- Antagonist – again description, not name.
- Ally – sometimes included if there is a partner significant to the story.
- Stakes – what happens if the goal is not met?
- Deadline - when do the stakes happen
- Set-up (ordinary world) – important, as the setting is not familiar to the reader.
- Genre - List of Genres (from Step 1.)
- Theme - most common
- Death as a Part of Life
- Good vs Evil
- Loss of Innocence
- Love Conquers All
- Man vs Himself (Woman vs Herself)
- Man vs Nature (Woman vs Nature)
- Man vs Society (Woman vs Society)
- The Battle
- Triumph over Adversity
In essence, your log line will let the reader know who the story is about (protagonist), his or her motivation (goal), and what obstacles are in the way (antagonistic forces).
Log Line - Pulling it together
There are many ways to create a log line. Here are a collection of formulas various people have come up with. None is the magic answer for all books. Once you have the elements filled out for your book try the various formula. These formula are just a launching point for ideas. If an element, such as ally, is not specified then drop it out of the formula. Jami Gold (Paranormal Author - http://jamigold.com ) wrote an interesting article The Ultimate Guide to Pitch Writing (http://bt101.info/tugtpw) on various formula for writing what she calls a pitch and what I call here a log line. Jami gave me permission to use her ideas here.
Work up several log lines. Five is a good target. The trailer needs to tell a story to engage the reader. A set-up is often used to hook the viewer.
- Basic Formula
- When [inciting incident] occurs, a [flaw] [protagonist] must [goal], or else [stakes].
- If there is an ally:
- When [inciting incident] occurs, a [flaw] [protagonist] with the help of [ally] must [goal], or else [stakes].
If the setup is significant to the book, it may be the lead.
- Focus on the Stakes
- An [flaw] [protagonist] must (ACTIVE VERB) the [antagonist] before [stakes] preventing him/her from reaching his/her [goal].
- Focus on the Goal
- An [flaw] [protagonist] wants [goal] with (ACTIVE VERB) because [motivation], but he/she must first [obstacle] with (ACTIVE VERB) and [stakes] with (ACTIVE VERB).
- Focus on the Conflict
- When [inciting incident] happens to [flaw] [protagonist], they have to overcome [obstacle] to achieve [goal]. (via Nathan Bransford) (http://bt101.info/htwosp)
- Focus on the Obstacle
- Identify the protagonist and what they want and why. Describe what keeps him/her from getting it. Think along these lines: [flaw] [protagonist] wants [goal] and has [obstacle]. (via Jane Friedman) (http://bt101.info/bpf)
- Focus on the Ticking Clock/Deadline
- When [flaw] [protagonist] discovers [inciting incident], he/she must overcome [obstacle] before [deadline], or else [stakes]. (via Naomi Hughes) (https://twitter.com/NaomiLHughes)
- Focus on the Twist
- Identify what’s unique about the protagonist and what connects that to the core conflict and the inciting incident or first turning point. That plot point is where the story changes to put the protagonist in a bind and is often a “gotcha.” (via Janice Hardy here and here) (http://bt101.info/jhfu1) and (http://bt101.info/jhfu2)
- Focus on the Choice
- Identify the protagonist, the choice he/she faces (conflict), and the consequences of that choice [stakes]. (via Query Shark) (http://bt101.info/qs)
- Focus on the Inciting Incident
- Identify genre/setting, what makes protagonist unique, inciting incident, core conflict, and consequences of failure. Unlike the Focus on the Conflict method, this approach often only hints at the goal. (via Stina Lindenblatt) (http://bt101.info/wkl)
- Focus on a Question
- Identify the Character, Situation (why the protagonist has to act), Objective [goal], Opponent [antagonist], Disaster [obstacle]. Sentence one states the character, situation, and objective. Sentence two is a yes/no question asking if character can overcome the opponent and disaster. (via Camy Tang) (http://bt101.info/fwep)
- Focus on the Character
- Identify the protagonist’s flaw, the job or situation that forces him/her to deal with that flaw, the action he/she takes to overcome the flaw, and what he/she wants (and is prevented from getting because of the flaw). Flaw + Situation + Action + Goal (via Cyndi Faria) (http://bt101.info/osh)
- Focus on the Theme
- Complete this formula: When a [flaw] [protagonist] wants [goal], he/she must learn THEME in order to FINAL OUTCOME.
- Graeme Shimmin’s Killogator™ Formula
- In a [set-up] a [protagonist] has a (PROBLEM) caused by an [antagonist] and faces (CONFLICT) as they try to achieve a [goal]. (http://bt101.info/gsk)
A trailer seldom uses all elements. Some even focus on just one, such as a character or ordinary world.
A non-fiction log line describes the area and problem, how you will solve the problem and why you are different. If your book is a true story, consider a fiction log-line.
- Genre: Topic of the book.
- Key problem addressed: What is the reader problem you are addressing.
- Promise: How does the book solve the problem?
- Differentiation: How is the book different from other similar titles.
Now put these four elements together. It is critical that the log line convey a reader benefit. What's in it for me?
Tag Line – a phrase for marketing materials designed to sell the book. Think high concept. Think SHORT! Think imagery, clever puns, something people can grasp quickly.
An excellent example from The Escape from Furnace Series – “Beneath Heaven is Hell, and beneath Hell is Furnace.”
Another favourite from Leviathan – “The question is do you oil your war machines? Or do you feed them?”
A high concept book is one that can be summarized in a few words. The premise often starts with a "what if" such as 'what if dinosaurs could be cloned?' - Jurassic Park. Or 'what if a lawyer could only tell the truth for 24 hours?' - Liar Liar.
Common characteristics of high-concept:
- Start with a "what if" question
- High entertainment value with mass audience appeal
- Original idea - often with an ironic twist
- Highly visual
- Strong emotional focal point - primal emotions: love, joy, fear, hate, rage
- Unique aspect to the idea
The opposite to high-concept is low-concept, which is more concerned with character development and other aspects of the story that are not easy to summarize.
The advantage of high-concept stories is they are easy to pitch because the audience gets the premise of the story easily and starts visualizing it. High-concept ideas often result in a great tag-line.
- What if dinosaurs could be cloned?
- Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton
- What if women stopped having babies?
- The Children of Men - P.D. James
- What if Martians invaded the earth?
- The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
- What is man terrorizes the monster?
- Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
- What if a top assassin is offered half a million dollars in 1962 to assassinate Charles DeGaulle?
- The Day of the Jackal
- Conquering The High Concept (http://bt101.info/cthc)
- The 7 Qualities of High-Concept Stories (http://bt101.info/tsq)
- Dissecting the High Concept Logline (http://bt101.info/dhcl)
- 50 Weirdest Movie High Concepts (seriously funny) I love Poultrygeist - Zombie chickens attack a fast food joint. (http://bt101.info/wmhc)
I can’t summarize my book in a sentence. It can’t be done.
I hear this comment when asking authors to create log lines for their books. I figured, why not look at the marketing summaries of some famous epic tales and see how they did it?
- Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett (992 pages)
- Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through 40 years of social and political upheaval as internal church politics affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists.
- War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy (1296 pages)
- War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.
- The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand (704 pages)
- On the surface, it is a story of one man, Howard Roark, and his struggles as an architect in the face of a successful rival, Peter Keating, and a newspaper columnist, Ellsworth Toohey. But the book addresses a number of universal themes: the strength of the individual, the tug between good and evil, the threat of fascism. The confrontation of those themes, along with the amazing stroke of Rand’s writing, combine to give this book its enduring influence.
- Life of Pi – Yann Martel (356 pages)
- Martel’s Pi is Piscine Molitor Patel, a boy from Pondicherry, one of the few Indian towns to be colonized by France. Pi is an intelligent, unusual child: he has a scientific turn of mind but is also a practising Hindu, Moslem, and Christian. Pi’s family runs a large zoo, but they decide to sell their animals to zoos in the United States and emigrate to Canada. Crossing the Pacific (with their animals), they’re shipwrecked halfway between China and Midway. Pi survives, only to find himself sharing a lifeboat with an injured zebra, a spotted hyena, an orangutan, and Richard Parker–an immense Bengal tiger.
- The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (368 pages)
- In the Republic of Gilead, we see a world devastated by toxic chemicals and nuclear fallout and dominated by a repressive Christian fundamentalism. The birthrate has plunged, and most women can no longer bear children. Offred is one of Gilead’s Handmaids, who as official breeders are among the chosen few who can still become pregnant.
- To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (384 pages)
- Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus–three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up.
- The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver (576 pages)
- The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
- The English Patient – Michale Ondaatje (320 pages)
- The English Patient traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burned man who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal,and rescue illuminates this book like flashes of heat lightening.
Use of Praise in a Book Trailer
A common element in a book trailer is praise, be it in the form of a review or quote. A question is, when should you use praise?
If we think of the principal of “show vs tell”, praise is tell. This person or review is telling us the book is good. Unless the reviewer is well know and respected, it holds limited weight. I watched one trailer recently that led with one page of praise, then another. Thirty seconds later, the trailer finally got around to summarizing the plot-line. I was so bored by the two pages of praise from people I had never heard of that I almost missed the plot-line.
The key purpose of praise in a book trailer is to support the message to the viewer that the book is worth their time and money to read.
Tips on praise:
- Avoid vague praise such as the book was great, enjoyable or scary.
- Don't use generalizations such as 'readers will love it.' How could you possibly know what I will love? Even if qualified such as restricting to a specific genre or style it is a weak statement.
- Use examples: Instead of the 'main character is mean,' quote lines in the book that show doing/demonstrating/thinking mean.
- The more objective praise is the more it will be believed.
- Subjective: One person's opinion
- Objective: Based on facts, measurable and observable
- Quoting an expert or authority helps assuming the expert is recognized
- Authoritative: Reliable, accurate, true.
Praise should be specific. By this I mean instead of generic phrases, specific points about the book. Here are examples for Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig.
- "Visceral and often brutal, this tale vibrates with emotional rawness that helps to paint a bleak, unrelenting picture of life on the edge."
- Publishers Weekly
Well known publication adds credibility. The powerful language resonates with the target audience.
- “A gleefully dark, twisted road trip for everyone who thought Fight Club was too warm and fuzzy. If you enjoy this book, you’re probably deeply wrong in the head. I loved it, and will be seeking professional help as soon as Chuck lets me out of his basement.”
- James Moran, Severance, Doctor Who and Torchwood screenwriter
From a fellow author in the same genre with elements of humour injected. This dulls the sales pitch feel while actually enhancing it.
- "This story races forward, twisting in a new direction every few pages, its characters spinning my emotions from affection to frustration, anger to compassion. You'll have no choice but to tear through this book!"
- Jay Asher, author of the New York Times bestseller Thirteen Reasons Why
Praise for Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver from a NYT best selling author. The copy is vibrant and engaging.
Praise Placement in a trailer: In most cases, praise is appropriate before the amaze step or as part of the directive. It should be brief. Video is not the place for paragraphs of text.
The bottom line is – SHOW me your book is good rather than TELLING me others think it is good.
Step 2. Building Blocks Worksheet
|Building Blocks - Fiction|
| The hero or protagonist description:
| Character flaw (adjective):
| Act one crisis or life-changing event:
| Protagonist’s goal (objective):
| Protagonist’s Motivation:
| Set-up (ordinary world):
|Building Blocks - Non-Fiction|
| Key problem addressed: