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  • Writer's pictureThe Unbelievable James Harris

Pitch Your Story in One Sentence

So. What's your story about?

Oh you know, it's about 35,000 words long.

Great joke, and well deflected! Sometimes it can be hard to articulate what it is you're actually trying to do. But occasionally you're going to want to describe the plot of your novel (or screenplay) in a clear, quick and succinct way, for example when someone important like an agent, a movie producer or your mum asks "seriously though, what are you writing?"

Hot take: if you can't distill your story into a single sentence (also known as a logline), there's a strong possibility that your story lacks clear focus. Writing a logline can help you clarify some key questions, such as: Who is your story about? What do they need to achieve? What do they do about it? And what happens if they fail?

Here is a useful formula for the perfect story-telling, story-selling logline:

When [a significant event happens], [your protagonist] must [achieve the main objective] or [bad thing will happen].

Using this formula should allow you to convey your story quickly and dynamically. Because it contains four key bits of information for anyone who might be interested:

First, it tells us what the inciting incident is. By which I mean the significant event that kicks off the story. Such as... When a giant Great White Shark starts eating swimmers off the tourist town of Amity

Why? It sets the scene, hints at the before-world of your character. You can also use this bit of the sentence to add place and time...

Second, tell us who your story is about. We don't really need a name for this, although if your protagonist's name is bold and memorable it can't hurt to include it, but we definitely need a description. Such as... the town's brand new, hydrophobic police chief

Why? Because we want to know what kind of story we're talking about. An eighty-something widowed librarian with a passion for crosswords and cake is going to have a very different adventure to an alcoholic ex-cop with anger-management issues and a gun called Barry.

Third, we need to know what the main objective that character will be trying to achieve is. Such as... must travel out to sea with a young marine biologist and a crazy shark hunter to find and kill the beast

Why? This is the meat of your story. What is your protagonist going to achieve? Will they defeat the evil wizard who has cursed the realm of Tdhednvbdlgard? Will they discover who murdered the President? Will they come to terms with the loss of a loved one? What's their mission? And the important word here is MUST. It's IMPERATIVE that they complete their mission. MUST adds urgency and dynamism and interest to any sentence! You MUST use MUST.

Fourth, we need to know the stakes. What will happen if your protagonist doesn't complete their main objective. For example... or more tourists, and the town itself, will die.

Why do we need to know the stakes? Because it gives a sense of the importance of the journey to your character. The stakes don't need to be literally life-threatening (as they are in Jaws but they need to be potentially devastating to your protagonist, either physically or emotionally. Because if not, then who cares whether they achieve their objective or not?

That formula again:

When [a significant event happens], [your protagonist] must [achieve the main objective] or [bad thing will happen].

Give it a try!

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