Welcome to all of you who are busy writing a novel for NaNoWriMo this month. Today is November 8th, so by now you should be well on your way to finishing your 50,000 words. Whether you are working on NaNo or are just polishing up that other MS you've been toiling over, one thing you might consider doing is......
STOP WRITING YOUR MS AND WRITE A LOG LINE NOW!
You know log lines, those 1 or 2 sentence pitches that both summarize and market your entire 65,000 word novel in 30 words or less? For some people, writing log lines and queries and summaries are all works of the devil. "Why can't someone just read my first pages or first chapter and see if they like it?" us writers sometimes like to think.
The truth is, you may have a good first page, first chapter, first few chapters. But you may also have significant problems with your story. And writing a log line can be a quick way to figure that out.
David Macinnis Gill has a great piece on his blog about how to write a log line. Follow his directions, then write your log line. After you work on it a while, you may come to any one of the following conclusions. And all of these have happened to me at one time or another.
A. Your story isn't that interesting - You may be a lovely writer but this isn't the kind of log line likely to inspire someone to pull your book off of the shelf and start reading. Rethink everything. Honestly, there's no reason to polish up five pound bags of crap. If what you've got isn't interesting, move on.
B. Your story isn't really a story - It's a situation but not a story. Bulldozers that turn into vampires after dark might have been a nice idea, but until you introduce stakes, choices, complications and all that jazz, you don't have much. Evaluate whether or not your MC is really forced to make choices, to change his or her life. Does stuff of great consequence really happen in your story?
C. Your story is really two stories. - You find the log line frustrating to write because it's like you have two stories smashed together. And guess what? You're right. I think this happens quite a bit to people. Sometimes the very best thing you can do is simplify, simplify, simplify. Take out one of the stories. Reduce, rework. Make what you have stronger and better. The log line can help with that.
D. Your story is good - Believe it or not, you may have written something of value. If so, you need to get off your ass, stop procrastinating, stop coming up with reasons not to send your story out, not to finish your story, not to "fill in the blank". Real writers write and ship. After you ship your work, some people will tell you it's no good. But along the way, you will get some instructive feedback about how you can make your work better. You will write more and ship more. Some day, your book will be in a book store or library and you will be answering interesting interview questions like "What time of day do you write?" and "How many drafts does it take you to get a final manuscript?". If your log line shows you your story is good, then stop the excuses and do whatever you have to do to finish the damn thing and go be famous.