Saturday, April 11, 2009

Log Line #1

Jordan sent us these two log lines.

Undercover as a priest, an FBI agent must root out the mob in a Catholic parish before his feelings for the parish secretary blow his cover.
(protagonist + goal + deadline/ticking clock)

When her priest is murdered, the parish secretary didn’t expect to fall in love with his handsome replacement—or to discover the new priest was really an undercover FBI agent.
(inciting incident + obstacle + black moment)

They're both fine, strong sentences, packed with juicy details and easy to follow. This makes it harder to choose between them.

The first thing I notice when comparing them is that one focuses on the hero, the other on the heroine. (By the way, can you spot the ellipsis in the preceding sentence? Pop quiz!) So perhaps the first thing to establish is whether the book is more about the hero and the heroine, and let that establish the ultimate decision.

Except, well, the bit about the murder in the second log line really snaps, doesn't it? What kind of person would murder a priest? That's a one-way ticket to hell, for sure. Anything that shocking and dramatic deserves a first-row seat in your pitch. So I want that tidbit in the log line.

I have the same inclination about the reference to the mob in the first sentence, but this could be due to my abiding love for mob stories. I don't know that others will perk up as I do after hearing that. Anyone? Or is it just me?

So part of me wants to move that mafia reference down into the second pitch, but there is one possible drawback. When I think of mafia stories, I automatically expect a certain structure. Antihero protagonist, mafia activity shown from the pov of one or more mobsters, strong mafia world-building, themes of redemption figuring in the crisis and denouement.

That's probably not what we've got here. And that's slightly problematic because mafia stories allow us to have mixed feelings about criminals. Drug cartels, gangs, and the like are almost always true villains. Mafioso? Eh. There's room for charming rogues there.

So if the mafia is meant to be a pure villain, I want this signaled in the log line, front and center, before I hear the rest of the pitch. Otherwise, I'll listen to the rest with an eye -- or, to be precise, an ear toward figuring out the way the mobsters will be presented in the text. One possible solution would be to use a different term. "Crime syndicate" might be a good option.

This leads us to something like:

When her priest is murdered, the parish secretary didn’t expect to fall in love with his handsome replacement—or to discover the new priest was really an undercover FBI agent investigating a crime syndicate that secretly operates out of her church basement.

It's longer, but it gives us a clear premise, at least two functional characters, the romantic conflict (forbidden love), a nice "secret identity" hook, even a slice of plot. I assume the heroine will have some trust issues she'll be forced to resolve after she discovers the hero's duplicity, so I already suspect I know something about the internal conflicts.

I have no idea, by the way, whether the mob is operating out of the church basement. That's my own insertion because I also wanted some hint of how the mob was connected to the church. The priest's murder may have been accidental, but the plot is stronger if it's not. Indicating a connection like this right away leads me to a question: did the first priest know the bad guys were right underfoot? Was he an accomplice or an interloper?

So what does everyone else think? Got any reactions/suggestions for this one?


Wes said...

All three are very good; far better than what I submitted. In yours, Theresa, I'd trim the part about the church basement and change crime syndicate back to mob. As it is now, some of the compelling interest created by the beginning is lost for me.

Riley Murphy said...

I like root out better than investigate - isn't the point that the FBI is there because they (the criminal element) has already been discovered to be doing something that they shouldn't at her church? So, it would seem to me that the investigating has already been done. Now it's a matter of simple discovery, right? As in 'rooting' out the bad guys? And if they have been using the church as cover for their criminal activities I would probably work that in too.
On the fence about Mob v.s crime syndication - that's why I used the term criminal element.

So, my version would go something like this:

When her priest is murdered, the parish secretary didn’t expect to fall in love with his handsome replacement—or to discover the new priest was really an undercover FBI agent sent to root out a widespread criminal element that is using her church to cover their illegal activities.

Julie Harrington said...

I'm a sucker for a mob story, and I admit to having major crushes on several TV and movie characters who play the bad guy like Mel Gibson's Parker in Payback or Jason Morgan on General Hospital. Hey! Hit men can have hearts of gold too! ;)

So the whole combination of an FBI agent posing as a priest and a romance happening in that setting definitely appeals.

The 3rd log line does a good job of melding all the information together, but I admit to missing that dun-dun-dun factor of the time bomb that the first one gave. I'm a sucker for that.


Babs said...

I like the second one with maybe a few tweaks here and there but over all it's good. The third I like but as was mentioned the idea of investigating might no be right with this one. I'm not sure about root either. How about keping tabs on or something like that?

Jordan McCollum said...

Thanks so much for all the input! I did find myself wishing I could get all those elements into one logline, but I guess there has to be something left for the rest of the pitch, huh? I'm gearing up for my first conference later this month, so I'm very excited to have the chance to work on pitching.

Clarifying a few things that have come up:
* The story probably does focus more on the hero/heroine relationship, but that whole mob angle thing is a little important. ;)

* There are really only two fully developed mobster characters (I can't call them mafiosi because it's not an Italian mob). One wants to make good and the other is the boss (no interested in making good). There are some themes of redemption because the FBI agent has some major guilt issues for lying to honest parishioners, and he helps the mobster who wants out. On the whole, you're right to assume the mob is villainous.

* The dead priest's murder has everything to do with the mob. (I feel like I'm playing guess the plot here, LOL).

* Murphy's closer in saying they were using the church as a cover rather than operating out of the basement.

* I prefer the succinct "mob" rather than "crime syndicate" or "criminal element," though perhaps only for brevity's sake.

* The agent's mission, specifically, is to both investigate and root out (if they had enough evidence to just catch the guys, they would have already arrested them), not just watch them. And again I think "root out" is more active and shorter, so I'd go that way.

I'm leaning toward:

When her priest is murdered, the parish secretary didn't expect to fall in love with his handsome replacement—or to discover the new priest was really an undercover FBI agent sent to root out the mob using her church as a cover.

Riley Murphy said...

I like it! The best of luck to you with this one - it sounds great.:)

Jolie said...

I much prefer the first log line. The high stakes and ticking clock are what do it for me; I like my love stories with a big helping of suspense.

Unknown said...

Wow--great work on the originals! I do like combining them--making it clear that both protags are important--but any way you go about it, I love the premise!