Fiction/Non-fiction Story

This is the list of all possible elements for a fiction or non-fiction story log line. 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, disabled, 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.
  • Challenge – The challenge that the protagonist accepts.
  • 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).

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).

Pulling it together

There are many ways to create a log line. Here is 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 formulas.

These formulas are just a launching point for ideas. If an element, such as ally, is not specified, then drop it out of the formula. 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.

Jami Gold (Paranormal Author) wrote an interesting article, “The Ultimate Guide to Pitch Writing”, on various formulas for writing what she calls a pitch, and what I call here a log line. Jami gave me permission to use her ideas here.

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], he/she has to overcome [obstacle] to achieve [goal]. (via Nathan Bransford)

Focus on the Obstacle

Identify the protagonist and what he/she wants and why. Describe what keeps him/her from getting it. Think along these lines: [flaw] [protagonist] wants [goal] and has [obstacle]. (via Jane Friedman)

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)

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)

Focus on the Choice

Identify the protagonist, the choice he/she faces (conflict), and the consequences of that choice [stakes]. (via Query Shark)

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)

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 the character can overcome the opponent and disaster. (via Camy Tang)

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)

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

In a [set-up] a [protagonist] has a (PROBLEM) caused by an [antagonist] and faces (CONFLICT) as he/she tries to achieve a [goal].

A trailer seldom uses all elements. Some even focus on just one, such as a character or ordinary world.

Examples of Action Verbs

  • assaults
  • attacks
  • battles
  • bombards
  • bombards
  • brawls
  • challenges
  • combats
  • competes
  • confronts
  • crusades
  • defends
  • duels
  • feuds
  • fights
  • grapples
  • infiltrate
  • invades
  • locks horns
  • neutralizes
  • raids
  • spars
  • struggles
  • tangles
  • wages war