Monday, April 20, 2009

Log Lines #5

I'm exhausted from the mad dash to prepare for RT, but I faithfully promised Ian that we would post his log lines today. And there's still about 40 minutes left of today in my time zone, so we're getting it in just under the wire.

So, with no further ado:

1. Three young mercenaries trapped in dead-end jobs get the opportunity for one shot at fortune and glory, so long as they can avoid getting killed in the pursuit of a fragile and highly-prized collectible.

2. With only three collectible bottles left in the entire world, it will take the best wits and skills of three young mercenaries to retrieve one and destroy the other two when it seems like the entire world is allayed against them.

I really like the first one. We could say that "liking" something is purely subjective, but remember, I've heard a lot of pitches over the years. I'll sit through four hours' worth this week alone, and that's not counting the elevator-and-bathroom stalker pitches, the casual mingling-in-the-bar pitches, the you've-got-to-hear-about-my-friend's-book pitches -- really, there's an almost infinite variety of pitches at conferences. It's part of what makes a conference fun.

So I tend to trust my subjective responses because they've been honed by repeat exposure to the pitching process. That said, subjective responses are still, um, subjective.

But once we start to pick apart the sentences, we can see distinct differences between them that might give rise to that knee-jerk subjective response. The first one, for example, starts off with people. Most readers want a story about people, about characters, rather than about concepts or objects. (There are exceptions. Remember that movie that followed a dollar bill around for a day? There were people in it, interesting people even, but it was pretty much a story about the adventures of a piece of green paper.)

The second log line winds through 19 words before we get to the people. By comparison, it feels a bit disembodied and maybe even a little flat. This could be intentional, though.

I also prefer the verb choices in the first one. Not just the verbs, but the verbals. Look at how gritty they are and the way they set up a theme. Trapped, dead, shot, killed. (No, dead's not a verb or a verbal, but it fits the theme. These characters are in Oh Crap Big Trouble.)

In the second, what do we have? Retrieved. Allayed. Seems. Eh. Throw in some wits and skills (what kind?), and it begins to take on a mildly cerebral feeling.

In one sense, that almost detached feeling in the second log line works in its favor. I keep thinking about that bottle. It's the most concrete and tangible object in the log line, so it jumps out at me. Why a bottle? It's just an old bottle, and there are hundreds to be found in every landfill. Right? But then I realized that this sentence might be setting us up to understand that the bottle itself isn't all that important -- the sentence creates distance, right, so we can remain a bit detached from the bottle as a physical object and just accept it as a concept. Think of it like a plain gold ring. It's important because of what it stands for, and this sentence is already training me to think of that bottle as a symbolic object like a wedding band. So if this is a mildly cerebral book about a symbolic object, the second log line might be the better option.

But I still like the first log line better.

What do all of you think? I'm barely awake right now, so I could be missing some obvious details. And Ian needs our help. He'll be pitching this book soon. Let's help him get ready.



Unknown said...

My completely unprofessional opinion: The first log line had more immediacy and impact. If Ian's novel is selling an action/adventure piece, or thriller--yes, number one will grab more people's attention. I hadn't thought of your p.o.v. Theresa, but you make an excellent point that if the story is more cerebral, Log Line 2 is the better set up.

Jeanne Ryan said...

i liked " fragile and highly-prized collectible" much better than "only three collectible bottles."

Also, I feel the stakes for the mercenaries in the first. "trapped in dead in jobs" and "opportunity for one shot at fortune and glory" are more concrete than "it seems like the entire world is allayed against them." The word "seems" really waters the second one down.

I like the "destroy the other two" in the second one. It leads me to wonder about these bottles.


Riley Murphy said...

I went back (earlier post) to look at the other ones Ian posted because I had a feeling there was something there that he had taken out of these two - or maybe put some additional things in? It doesn't matter I guess. I had some ideas prior, so I'm working at looking at all four (just in case anyone says: where did that come from?)and I hope no one minds - Ian?;)
I liked a number of things: mercenaries in dead end jobs (but tightened)the amount of 'collectible' bottles when only one has to be recovered and spaning the globe getting away from wealthy and powerful enemies and term'enslaved', this is what I came up with:

A select group of mercenaries in a rut, have to retrieve 1 of 3 collectible bottles and destroy the other 2 as they span the globe evading wealthy and powerful enemies in their quest to accomplish this task; otherwise they will be enslaved by the collector forever.

em said...

I like the first one better and the combination that Murphy came up with except I would probably add 'fragile and highly prized' to it like Ryan mentioned.:)

Lisa Katzenberger said...

Here’s why I like #1 the best. I read “mercenaries” and I think, ooh, that’s different, and then I read “dead-end jobs,” and think, hey, I can relate to that. Then “one shot,” so we know the stakes are high. “Fortune” and “glory” are good, universal themes. I want to “avoid getting killed,” don’t you? Plus, it shows us just how high the stakes are. They’re in “pursuit,” yummy, there’s a chase! “Fragile and highly-prized collectible” tells me they better not be all butterfingers and break it, and lots of other people will want it, hence the pursuit and avoiding getting killed parts. I like the word “collectible,” it sounds fancy and ancient, even though bottle is more specific. Because when I read #2, I thought, really, all this over an empty beer bottle? I haven’t read Ian’s earlier versions, so this is my first take on these log lines, and I really dig #1.

Laura Hamby said...

I like #1 best. I don't love "get", tho, and it's used twice. I think there's a stronger way to phrase it without using "get" in the first instance (I substituted "grab" below). I just think there are better verb choices that would enhance the strong words Ian's already used (mercenaries, dead end jobs, fortune and glory, pursuit, highly-prized collectible)---heh, yeah, I liked most of the words he used, so I'd really like him to find a terrific word to replace "get" in "get the opportunity" to add even more OOMPH to this log line. :D

I also liked Murphy's rework of the log line, btw.

Three young mercenaries trapped in dead-end jobs GRAB(?) the opportunity for one shot at fortune and glory, so long as they can avoid getting killed in the pursuit of a fragile and highly-prized collectible.

Julie Harrington said...

I much prefer Log Line #1. It's tight, gets you into the characters right away and really gives you a great summation of the main action and conflict.


Ian said...

All these comments are very useful. Murphy's pitch line feels overly long for something to say between elevator floors, say, but would be a good part of a query or synopsis.

Laura's observation about "get" is great too. I replaced the first get with "discover", because that feels even more opportunistic. I'm leaving "getting killed" alone, because it has different implications than "dying." Anyone can die from falling into a river or having a heart attack. Getting killed implies you had help in your dying. And that's much more accurate an assessment of the risks in this book.

Love the analyses-keep 'em comin'!

Samantha Elliott said...

I agree that #1 resonated best, but I was somewhat turned off by vagueness of some of the descriptors. I like bottle rather than collectible, because it's more specific. "Fragile and highly-collectible bottle" automatically has me wondering what the Hell is so special about a bottle. Also, I would prefer specifics in the place of "fortune and glory." Are they getting a fat paycheck and bragging rights? Or will the UN be presenting them a Nobel prize and accompanying check? The specifics always sell things better, because they reveal so much about the tone of the novel, the writing, and the characters.

Good luck, Ian!

Babs said...

How about 'jump at?' the opportunity...I like dead-end or 'in a rut'. I went back to the earlier post that Murphy was refering to. I do like the phrase 'enslaved by', strangely, it reminds me of Jabba the Hutt for some reason.

green_knight said...

Number two immediately had me picking at the plot: if these things are so rare, why would they destroy two of them? And what's the fuss (life or death situation) involving a glass bottle anyway?

See, this is why I like fantasy. I'm immediately willing to accept that kind of setup if magic is involved; but for ordinary goods, it will take a lot of work to make me believe that people will kill for a glass bottle.

The first one has a lot more items that make me go 'how did these people get into that situation? What are they hunting?'