The Art of the Single Sentence
By Lane Shefter Bishop
Everyone in the entertainment industry has heard of the quick-sell, the logline, the elevator pitch, and they also know the necessity of creating that selling sentence, since most network and studio execs barely have time to eat lunch these days. But the struggle arises when it’s time to actually put down on paper that all-important marketing device. Then the question looms large – how can you possibly condense your story into only a single sentence?
It’s not easy to do but once created, that logline is invaluable for highlighting what’s special about your work and for ultimately helping to make the sale. My new book Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence; Advice from the Frontlines of Hollywood (available on Amazon) goes into much more detail about how to cultivate a top-notch logline. However, below are the broad strokes in order to get you started, which I’ve developed over years of teaching the craft at writer’s conferences both across the country and around the world.
First of all, think long and hard about what is most unique about your content because this is truly the heart of your logline. Additionally, understand that the answer to that query always involves you being as specific as possible. Why is that? Because it is the details of your tale that make your material different from everyone else’s. When you describe your story with generalities like “a woman trying to save the world” or “ a man determined to fall in love” your masterpiece sounds terribly generic – one of many in the same arena – which is never a good thing when you are trying to sell. But by being as specific as possible you immediately bring front and center what’s wonderfully different about your work. Using the same two examples as above, see how being specific changes everything: “a woman determined to free sex slaves through an underground sting” or “a heterosexual man who suddenly falls in love with his gay best friend”. Immediately, these two stories become more exciting because by concentrating on the specifics, we are starting to discover what makes them special.
Next, bring your attention to the top three essentials of every great story – Who is the protagonist? What do they want? (an actual want, not an emotional one) and what is at stake if they don’t achieve that goal? These fundamentals make up the meat of your logline so it’s imperative to always define them first. Once you have those tenets in place, you are ready to begin the process known in editing as ‘killing your babies’. Essentially, what can be cut out in order to make your new sentence tight and focused?
I always recommend starting by cutting out any names because your audience has no idea who Stephanie, Fred or Jim are. Better to write about what they do – a nurse, a fireman, a lawyer – than that their name is George or Susan because that way the words you use have some value. Of course, if the character is Queen Elizabeth or Superman, those can stay because we already know who they are (unlike with Amy or Sam).
Next, cut out adjectives as they can bog down your sentence unnecessarily. Look at the difference between “a young, creative and intrepid reporter must use her lifelong, creative acting abilities to infiltrate a down and dirty mob” and the redo: “a reporter must use her acting abilities to infiltrate the mob”. See how cutting out the adjectives re-centers the focus of your rough logline on what’s important? Sometimes writers tell me that they think the adjectives give a hint of their writing ability but I feel that if they keep the logline from being streamlined they’re not helping the content creator’s ultimate goal of having the buyer ask to read the work.
Lastly, cut anything else that doesn’t directly help you market your material, such as teases like: “…but she would soon discover what was wrong”. Once again, that part of the sentence communicates nothing about your particular story and is much too general. In addition, the ‘tease’ can leave the listener or reader feeling like they’ve been left out of the loop – never an impression you want engender in the buyer.
Content creators often tell me with concern that they don’t want to “give it away” and I always ask “why not?” My feeling is why not “give it away” if it will ultimately help you get someone to read and hopefully buy your material? After all, isn’t that the goal?
About Lane Shefter Bishop …
Lane is a multi-award winning producer/director who has received numerous accolades for her work including an EMMY, six Telly Awards, a Videographer Award, three Communicator Awards, a Sherril C. Corwin Award, an Aurora Award, a Davey Award, a New York Festivals Award and the DGA Fellowship Award for Episodic Television.
Dubbed “The Book Whisperer”by CNN, Emmy-winning producer/director Lane Shefter Bishop’s SELL YOUR STORY IN A SINGLE SENTENCE, shares advice from the frontlines of Hollywood—on creating loglines for stories, screenplays and novels/plays/teleplays, scripts, and TV pilots