Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ted's logline

From Ted:
After reading your blog post on creating loglines, I had a ton of fun introducing the idea to my monthly writing group. Within a few minutes, the group helped me come up with this logline for my most recent manuscript:

A brilliant neoclassical composer is lured into a shadowy underworld of corrupt implant software and drug-induced raves, revealing ominous secrets about his employer that threaten to ruin his career and force him to take drastic steps to protect the woman he loves.

I'd enjoy getting a few words of critique from you. Thanks!

You're right-- crafting log lines is a great group activity! Now I'll bet they'll all want your help on their log lines.

This is a one-sentence log line, very packed. I probably wouldn't be upset if you went with two sentences. Or you could trim out the words that aren't needed and see if it's shorter then. I really enjoy stories where some innocent is pulled into a honeytrap or whatever, and ends up triumphing over the bad guys.

Let's take it in pieces:

A brilliant neoclassical composer

I'd probably cut "brilliant"-- I at least assume if you're a neoclassical composer, you're probably brilliant. :) But also, it's not interesting, and feels like padding/bragging. As he's going to get lured into something nefarious, I'd think of setting up a conflict with an adjective, like "naive" or "introspective," something that actually says something about who he is that he might get lured into something.

is lured into a shadowy underworld of corrupt implant software and drug-induced raves,

I like the word "lured"-- that really is precisely the "luring" word, drawing the reader in and hinting at the process that will be developed more fully in the story. Also I think it indicates a more cerebral villain, which is a plus.

into a shadowy underworld of corrupt implant software and drug-induced raves,

Okay, here you lose me. I don't know what you mean. I'm with Jewel Tones (commenter) on this-- "implant" means breasts to most of us. What is a term that non-technical types (that includes most editors) can understand? Computer viruses? And "drug-induced raves" -- you mean raves like a music rave? Or a crazy person ranting on the street corner? And what does his being a composer have to do with it? I wonder if it might be better if you could actually write out what happens to him and then start to boil it down. It's the right idea, but how software, raves, and neoclassical music link up isn't clear and can't be explained in a log line. What's his conflict? He's lured into something bad by bad guys. It might actually be more important what about him-- his naivete, his vanity, whatever-- makes him vulnerable to this, or maybe why they bother. I mean, I value neoclassical as much as the next guy, but it's hard to believe a composer is worth much to a villain. What is it that makes him valuable to the bad guy? That's important,and we don't get anything about that.

(I know it sounds like I'm telling you to add to an already long sentence, and I am, but when you have a complex plot, I think you should explain it all and then boil it down. Remember what Hitchcock called "the McGuffin," the object of desire-- he didn't think he had to explain what it was. There was a priceless moment in his Notorious when finally Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman locate what they've been looking for, and she asks what is it, and he replies, "Some kind of ore." That is, the details don't matter much when the action is hot and the emotion is intense.)

Also, I'd probably just go with "underworld". I like "shadowy," but I think you really have to trim this if you want to have it all in one sentence.

revealing ominous secrets about his employer

Do composers have employers? I know, you probably mean his day job. I actually knew a neoclassical composer once, and he made his living as a computer programmer. He did say that a lot of composers did find work writing music for cartoons. (Now I guess it's videogames.) Anyway, I assume you mean his day job employer, but the only profession we've heard of is the composing. Do you need to make that clearer? Is it important who the employer is? I mean, say it's the CIA. That's important. But you might want to hint at what the secrets are. I think you're using modifiers instead of information-- ominous secrets-- and it might be that the information, or at least a hint of it, is what we need here. Not much-- "national security secrets" or "sexual secrets" or "criminal secrets" or "corrupt secrets" or "industrial espionage secrets"-- just something that hints at what the nature of the secrets is.

I'm all for creating an atmosphere with words. But you don't have much room here, and you don't want to be redundant. If the noun says it, you don't need to replicate it with a modifier (brilliant composer, ominous secrets). I wouldn't have any problem with that except I think you're skimping on the important stuff, like what is happening.

that threaten to ruin his career and force him to take drastic steps to protect the woman he loves.

Here are the stakes, which is good, but they're not actually equal-- his career (which one? composing or other?) and the woman he loves. The first kind of feels trivial after such a big buildup-- you mean, it's just his career at stake? I'd probably delete that and go with the woman he loves-- that's more high-stakes.

Watch for cliches that don't say much, like "take drastic steps". What does he have to do? I don't mean actual actions, but can you characterize what he has to do, like "betray his country" or "turn the tables" or "betray his values" or "risk all"?

So... the story sounds really intriguing (of course, I do love this sort of story), but I'd suggest trimming the extras from this and then getting more informative. I truly don't know what the danger is or why he's in danger, or what about him gets him into this situation.

And remember-- two sentences, okay. :)



Julie Harrington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Harrington said...

I clearly need more sleep because I read "corrupt implant software" and thought, wow, bad silcone breast implants? When they go bad, they go very, very bad. ;)

I think it leaves me with more questions than anything else like...

Why would a composer (brilliant, neoclassical or otherwise) have anything to do with software and the corrupt underworld of raves?

And what could a composer possibly know about his employer that would relate to software? And what drastic steps does he have to take (I'd like more specifics on the conflict source and the threats) to protect this woman? How does she even fit in here at all?

I think we have some great pieces of info like the composer, the implant software, the raves (though drug-induced raves? I had to read that twice because I thought you meant 'drug-induced rages' at first. Do the drugs cause the raves? That's where my mind went. Might need a word tweak there), ominious secrets isn't bad. A little vague though, which I think lends an air of confusion to the rest of it because you have no clue what the drastic steps might involve. Then the girlfriend kind of comes out of left field for me at the end.


Edittorrent said...

Sorry, I hit the wrong button. Meant to actually analyse it first. :)

Will fix!

JT, that's a good point about "implants". We associate it with breasts. :)

green_knight said...

I think it's a question of audience - this SF reader had no problems with implants (they're a pretty common feature in science fiction) and that kind of edgy urban modernity background goes well with the drug-fuelled raves. ('Induced' sounds as if people are high and decide to hold a rave; as they're usually organised and need some degree of planning and equipment, and as people are perfectly happy to go on raves without drugs, I'd change the term.)

But what are the stakes? Career, well, he can probably pick up from anywhere and under any name - if he's good, if he knows the business, he can run away and set up shop elsewhere. So that's not a stake that seems big enough to me. 'The woman he loves' is clicheed and slightly insulting (ok, *so* not a Romance reader) - why does she need rescueing, and why does she need rescueing by him? Why can't a guy work together with the woman he loves for a change?

Also, I haven't met her. I don't care about her. Right now, she's a plot vehicle to make him act. What I would like to see for the second part after 'drug-fuelled raves' are clearer stakes. Do people try to take over the minds of a whole generation of music-lovers? Is his music subverted for subliminal messages? What happens to the manipulated people? Are the stakes 'just' money or do the villains plan something more sinister? How real is the threat of deaths?

Crittias said...

Thanks to everyone that posted comments! As green_knight said, a few things in the logline are audience-specific (like implants), but I might be able to fix those.

I'm going to post a few more details about the story, in the hopes that people reading/commenting will have more to work with, and can help me hone the logline. I’ll be giving away a lot of the plot, so if you’re planning on reading the published work in the future (haha!) stop reading now.

My MC, Isaac is a neoclassical composer, and also the primary spokseperson for a company called Thematic. Thematic, and their product, Theme, is like an iPod on steroids: it's implanted under the skin, and provides the user with mood-based music, memory enhancement (via subliminal audio cues), and medical treatment (via legal, prescription-based drug patches).

When Thematic releases their newest version: software that allows implants to communicate with one another (previously the system was a closed system), Isaac holds a concert to introduce the new product. He uses the technology to create compositions based on audience response and direction. His girlfriend, Emily, a virtuoso singer who was completely deaf before receiving her Theme implant, is the star of the concert. Their combined efforts are an instant success. Thematic’s CEO, Cedric Harris, congratulates him on a job well done. Life is perfect.

The next day, Isaac is accosted by an underground composer, Ahmed Ghazali, a member of the Discord movement. After the encounter, Isaac starts behaving a bit erratically. He downloads some Discord "riffs," which take him on strange, hypnotic adventures through the city, introduce him to strange characters in the Discord scene, and lead him to a 21st century rave: a music party that is as much fantasy role-playing and drug-induced hallucination as it is anything else.

The next day, Isaac discovers that he unwillingly participated in a burglary at Thematic's headquarters. He's arrested, but eventually released. Emily, normally supportive of everything he does, now refuses to even speak to him after the debacle. He loses his job as Thematic spokesman. He’s thoroughly disgraced.

Isaac decides he must convince authorities that he was tricked into perpetrating the crime. He is determined to find Ghazali, the Discord composer that was the beginning of his downfall. When he does find Ghazali, the man is deranged: apparently a victim of a software virus. Isaac comes to realize that Theme's latest version has glaring security holes that allow a skilled programmer to hack a person, taking control of their emotions and behavior. One of his Discord friends, a tinkerer named Parker, helps Isaac disable his implant, freeing him from the Ghazali virus. Isaac then realizes that Emily has been poisoned against him by the same software virus.

With Parker’s help, Isaac breaks through Emily’s implant virus, but due to the specific nature of her implant, he cannot actually remove the virus without permanently destroying her hearing. He decides to face off against Thematic’s CEO, Cedric.

Cedric has also been poisoned by the virus. Isaac and Cedric have an epic struggle, fueled by implant-based hallucinations. It is only with the help of Parker and Emily (who, by her own volition, destroys her own implant to escape the virus, leaving her deaf again) does Isaac succeed.

Afterwards, Thematic’s product release is recalled, and government officials are brought in to scrutinize Thematic’s businss practices. Isaac, now more wary of the world, wonders if he was a pawn, used by other corporate players trying to remove Cedric from power and reveal Thematic’s deep dark secrets. The truth is not revealed.

Unknown said...

I think the part about the girlfriend needs to be introduced a little better. It does seem in the line that she is an after thought. And I'm not sure about the drug induced raves. But, all good stuff:).

em said...

I'm with you guys on the implants - but maybe as GK says, SF readers understand the word well.
Babs, the girl friend part of the line didn't bother me.
Has anyone seen Murphy...or is she still in time out?LOL:)

Edittorrent said...

Well, I'm not sure how much you can do in the log line, but I'd maybe make it clear what his job is-- a composer for a company that does XYZ or a composer of XYZ. The IPod on steroids is actually a good description, or you could say "implanted music" or something. But I think that's important and buzzworthy. He's not just a highly trained composer who pays for his creativity by working at 7/11-- his composing is actually linked to his work and the story conflict. Show that, and that might help unify this better.

Riley Murphy said...

Sheesh! You guys are relentless:). I should cut and paste your emails - they were pretty funny! And FYI, Theresa said no one was in time out (insert me sticking my tongue out here...but um, better qualify that with - at no one in particular :D) So, sorry to disappoint you - I’m not in virtual jail (hey that gives me an idea for the log line)...I just had a few things that happened all at once and now I’m going to be stuck buried in revisions for...well, a long, long time.

For the log line? Ted, I liked some of the words: underworld, corrupt - I was with green_knight on the rescue/protecting issue - rather have him see her in danger and leave it at that.

So, my version would go something like this:

When a neoclassical composer is lured into the seedy underworld of corrupt implant software and drug-inspired virtual raves, he discovers chilling secrets that threaten to put an end to his career and endanger the only woman that he has ever loved.

em said...

Dang Murphy! You look different.

Riley Murphy said...

Apparently, I’m having an identity crisis...

The bane of my existence? Camera phones and a daughter who thinks it’s funny to freak her mother out! She’s going to pay for this one – Crapatola, now it’s going to take me all afternoon to figure out how to change the darn image back.

Unknown said...

That's brilliant! :)
Thanks for being such a great sport Murphy. We'll try not to pester you for a while.

Edittorrent said...

We were just on vacation, and the dh took some pictures with his phone (what? remember the camera? Perish the thought). And then neither of us could figure out what to do. I finally said, "Let's wait till one of the boys comes home from college and have them do it. Whatever it is."

One technology too far, I think.

em said...

Alicia: I love my camera phone, of course that may be because I know how to use mine. ;) LOL

Murphy, - what band was playing in concert? The Grateful dead?:P I see you fixed up your image too.;)

Elizabeth said...

On the logline, can you get anywhere starting from something like this?:

Brain-implanted music players gave Isaac his dream job -- composing mood-responsive music for a mass audience -- and cured his girlfriend Emily's hearing. But then Isaac discovers the implants allow minds to be hacked -- including Emily's...

I dunno, might be too long... I'm very sympathetic to how hard this is!

Reading the whole summary, though, I had a bigger concern about your book. First of all, I think your world is really interesting and I might read this novel.

But: it seems to me that your hero is Emily, not Isaac. After all, she's the one who has to make the tough choice to save the day, right? (And that's as it should be, since she's the one with high stakes -- giving up her hearing after finally getting it.) Are you sure Isaac is your true protagonist?

Elizabeth said...

Also: I think my concern about who's actually the protagonist here is reflected in my biggest criticism of my own proposed logline, above: it gives us the problem, but no idea of what Isaac specifically will have to do to solve it.

Which, I think, is because (based on your brief summary only!) he's not the one for whom solving it involves any real conundrum or personal growth. Or, if that's not true, then I think it might help you to articulate how fighting the implants generates personal conflict/growth for Isaac, and try to incorporate some elements of that into the logline (even if you don't fill in all the pieces).

This is fun!

Crittias said...


You're not wrong: in many ways, Emily is a bigger hero than Isaac. The manuscript is only a first draft, and suffers from a passive protagonist. I will doing a rewrite this summer, and my primary focus will be making Isaac a more active hero in the story, instead of just a passive participant.

Thanks for the feedback!

Elizabeth said...

Cool. Glad my comment might have reinforced something you were already coming to! I'd be interested to know how it evolves.