Welcome back to the ongoing series about writing a novel called, intuitively enough, “Let’s Write A Novel”. On this post, I’m going to start with a very important topic before you even begin putting pen to paper (or your fingers on the letters on a keyboard with a word processor–it’s a little long to say that). As I have said in previous posts, I use what is called the Snowflake method (https://tleemessick.com/articles/the-snowflake-method-and-everything-else), so I’m going to start there.
Using the first step of the Snowflake method, I need to come up with a single sentence of twenty-five words or fewer (if you can’t then come as close as possible; it’s your tool for progression anyway). This will become very important because once you come with this sentence–we’ll call it the logline from now on–you can use it to tell everyone who asks, what your story is about. This is not, however, without its guidelines. Remember, this is supposed to get a potential reader, agent, or publisher interest in your work. In a logline, there are a few things you need to know to make it work for you.
Loglines must have, at a minimum, a protagonist, a goal and an antagonist.
Loglines must have, at a minimum, a protagonist, a goal and an antagonist. There is no need to put the protagonist’s name, just a descriptor to be able to identifying him or her. For example, for Copper Rain, I used a sleight-of-hand swindler to describe my protagonist. You know that he uses sleight-of-hand magic to con people out of their hard-earned coin. Next, we need the goal. Kalan’s, my protagonist, goal overall was to end a long drought that was causing problems for the people of the north. So, would the antagonistic force be the drought? It could be, but in my case it wasn’t. My antagonist is a meglomaniac wizard attempting to control a chimera so that he could control the weather. My initial logline ended up looking like this: A sleight-of-hand swindler must perform a spell to end a world-wide drought brought on by a megalomaniac wizard seeking to control a chimera.
So we have a character with a goal and an antagonistic force. Bonus: It was under twenty-five words. Cool! Precise and to the point. Now, there might be a few things we can add to it. Sometimes it’s better if you add a bit of setup into it. Maybe we can make it better. To end a cataclysmic drought prompted by the theft of an ancient artifact, a sleight-of-hand trickster afraid of magic must cast a spell to end a meglomaniac wizard’s hold over the world. Now, that is much better. More succinct. I’m sure it could be made better, but the point is that this is where you want to start. This can and usually will change over the course of planning and I’m certain it will be changing during and after the writing as well. Mine certainly did. Even now the one above is much different than what I put on the novel’s cover.
I chose to show this to point out that no matter how well you write, there is always a better solution. So don’t let the fact that you can’t get it on the first try keep you from trying at all.
With our current story, if you’ll remember, our protagonist is one of three children who had an encounter with a bugbear named Bixby. We could write it with whichever child we would consider to be the protagonist. It could be argued that all the children are the protagonist, depending on the point of view a scene is in. I typically try to keep to one point of view throughout the story (but that’s for another topic). So, I will write my logline as one of them. Which leads me to another topic…how do I decide who the protagonist really is?
Again, here is where a logline can help. You can find all the potential protagonists and plug them into your logline and see which one fits better and can take you all the way to the end of a 50,000 to 100,000 manuscript. As a reminder here are our three potentials: A boy who is a gifted storyteller with his mind always in the clouds and his face stuffed in a book, a girl who is tomboyish, yet still maintains an air of femininity and a brutish boy who is seen as a bully, but is actually quite sensitive inside.
1. A gifted storyteller must help a poor bugbear to return to his kingdom in order to save it from usurping trolls.
2. A tomboy must help a poor bugbear to return to his kingdom in order to save it from usurping trolls.
3. A brutish, bully must help a poor bugbear to return to his kingdom in order to save it from usurping trolls.
Personally, I think either one or two could be interesting enough to pull me through to the end. I like the first one because it takes the idea of a person who doesn’t normally get into the physical world often and is now forced to act. Not only that, but he takes the one person who picks on him and invites him in to something that he wouldn’t normally experience and could change his life. Also, having the tomboy there gives a possible love (really a “like”) interest.
So my protagonist for this story is going to be my storyteller with his nose in his book and not really here in the physical world. As you can already start to see, I’m formulating my ideas of how this character should be. That’s for a future topic.
So to recap, in order to help find out who your protagonist can be, you can use a logline. Loglines are helpful in selling your story to friends, family, coworkers, agents and publishers. In order to get it right, you need a protagonist, a goal, and an antagonist. Also, shoot for twenty-five words or fewer, but don’t worry if it’s not right the first time through.
I hope this has been helpful and that you’ll continue with me on this journey in writing a novel. If you have any questions or concerns, want a specific topic covered, just leave a comment below or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (I know, hard to remember, right?) I’ll do my best to answer your questions (as long as they’re writing related). As always, Happy Writing!