This question used to make me sweat. I’m not talking about a bit of perspiration on my brow or trickling down my back. No. Way. The sweat I’m talking about was an Albert-Brooks-news-anchoring flood like in the movie Broadcast News. It was the kind of perspiration tsunami where a shower and a fresh change of clothes were in the offing.
Writer friends, do you feel my pain? Was I alone in my streaming pours?
I didn’t think so.
I believe that for many writers this question triggers a mother lode of anxiety.
Here’s a snapshot: We toiled for weeks, months, and years on a story or novel. As writers we knew everything about the characters, setting, plots, and subplots. Yet, we quaked when—heaven forbid—someone asked for a brief description.
Let me be the first to raise my hand and admit that I have been guilty of answering such questions with a rambling road of story scraps, details, and information on every major (and minor) character.
However, that’s in my past.
Today, my approach is different. Instead of perspiring, I’m calm, with my thoughts concise and collected.
How did I manage this turnaround?
Years ago, I entered a screenwriting contest that required entrants to attach a logline to their screenplay—those catchy one or two sentences that described the story. It was meant to hook the person who read or heard it.
At the time, I hadn’t a clue how to write a logline. So, I taught myself. I turned to the HBO guide on my TV and its endless buffet of movie descriptions. They were basic—something akin to a picture in a coloring book, a picture still waiting for crayons and markers to work their rainbow magic.
After a few practice lines about movies I’d seen, I went to work on my screenplay. I broke the story down to its core: character, situation, resolution. I used wording as plain as See Jane Run.
I did something else, too. Something important. I cut myself some slack.
My initial logline was a start—far from the end goal. It was bland, not grabby, and more of a crooked finger than a hook. Revision added spice, description, setting, heart, and color. I reworked those two sentences over and over again, until they were filled with dimension. I ran it by family and writing friends; anyone I knew who had ears was forced to listen to me.
Then I revised some more.
In the end my originally “meh” sentences grew into “whoa.” They became interesting, engrossing, and entertaining. People told me, “I’d buy a ticket to see that movie.”
After that experience, loglines became a staple of my writing process.
I create one before beginning new projects. It’s how I focus my intentions. As I write, the logline stays fluid and free to change, but starting with one allows me to write and revise with greater precision.
When I finished my most recent novel my logline became my launching pad for writing a query letter and synopsis. It made the process far easier.
My summer and fall have been pretty social, time filled with get-togethers with friends near and far. In September, I flew to Albuquerque to take part in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association retreat. I met and became friends with many wonderful writers from all over the country. As expected, conversations tended to focus on our work and a common question was “Where are you in your writing journey?”
It was easy to answer—time frames and milestones rolled off my tongue.
Of course, the next question was inevitably about my novel and it went something like this, “What’s your book about? Can you talk about it?”
“Yes, I can,” I would say, followed by my carefully thought out logline.
And the best part—I didn’t even break a sweat.
Sharon Kurtzman is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post and BetterAfter50. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and her writing has appeared in numerous journals, including Hippocampus Magazine, South Writ Large, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Crack the Spine, Cleaver Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers, and Main Street Rag’s anthologies: Voices from the Porch and To Unsnare Time’s Warp.