Monday, September 5, 2011

Log Lines Are Hell.

Or, how describing your book usually ends up like a Warfail, but your book doesn't have to.

Here in America we've had several less-than-totally-successful military encounters since the end of WWII. Okay, many have started out looking pretty good in the "stop communism!", "stop drug trafficking!", "stop terrorism!" line. Unfortunately, they've ended up with rather different results and, often as not, the discovery that we were actually after something else instead. With a lot of death, destruction, and heartache along the way.

Fortunately, novels are not wars. But describing them in the dreaded log line can be informed by the manner in which we are sold each new, shiny war.

I've said several times that your log line (and consequently your novel) has got to have a concrete goal. You cannot build a novel around someone looking for personal fulfillment. That may be a knock-on effect, but the goal you mention needs to be more like going off to fight the Evil Empire or win an Olympic medal or whatever.

Likewise our latest-but-one military endeavor. George could not sell us on either "spreading freedom and democracy with tanks" or "finishing what my dad started." But he could sell us on finding Weapons of Mass Destruction. And to be honest, although I am not an apologist for GWB and his cronies, the British are the ones who first said they were there and if they were, I'm guessing they'll turn up in Syria if Assad leaves anybody alive to look for them. That said, WMDs were a concrete goal, along with putting Sadam and his cronies out of business. Let's admit that stopping a genocidal maniac was a worthy goal.

That said, no WMDs. So we've arrived at the end of the first hundred pages and the Olympics are over and we lost. So what is our story about now? What you can't do is then turn to "seeking personal fulfillment" or "spreading freedom and democracy." We need something else we can take a bite out of, and GWB couldn't come up with anything. In a novel, this is where you you stop reading. In Iraq, it would have been a good time to move on to the next war. Oh, wait, we did....

Concrete goals. Have them. Put them in your log line. If they change, they should change to bigger and harder ones. A hint: find the WMDs anyway.

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