People are always sending me treatments, or outlines (usually rough ones, not proper ones addressing specific story structure and development) and asking “Nick what do you think of my story?”
So here’s the thing.
Almost every story that’s ever come across my desk has some merit. Every story, if done right, can be a genuine story. It’s extremely rare that something hits my desk that’s such a stinker, it can’t be saved. (Even then, those stories can usually be saved if someone has the passion to rework them.)
Telling someone the rough plot or undeveloped components of your story isn’t actually going to reveal too much. All those blunt little details in your synopsis or outline really come down to execution. If you develop and execute them properly, you’ll have an engaging, genuine story. If not, you won’t need a box spring for your mattress—just use all those unsold copies of your book.
// That’s actually a huge point that all you newer writers should read again. //
When you’re looking for validation of your story, keep these points in mind:
- The kernel to a unique, surprising, high-concept story is very small.
- Not every genuine story is high-concept.
- A great concept won’t compensate for bad development and execution.
I can hear some of you moaning already. “So you’re telling us it’s all in execution and the details of my outline won’t reveal to a good editor (or story consultant) if my story is worth doing? That there’s no point in asking what anyone thinks of my concept early on in development?”
Not so fast grasshopper.
I’m saying there’s a large “margin for error” as it were, for a few paragraphs or even a couple of rough pages. Don’t misunderstand me here—it’s always great to get a developmental editor involved in a project as early as possible. A professional can work with whatever amount of material you send them and be tremendously effective in helping you build out your concept. But that level of analysis and help is extremely time consuming–on the clock, cash money. What we’re talking about here is the casual review (see opening paragraph).
And the zinger is, on a casual level, one line is as powerful as a few hundred.
Enter the 7th infinity stone… the all powerful “Logline.”
(Ok, maybe it’s not that powerful, but I like dramatic entrances.)
In my web article “Are You Working on a Phantom Story?” I define the “Logline.” In Storycraft for Comics, I devote a chapter to developing the Core Concept of a story, which includes developing a solid logline.
This article isn’t about making a logline, so I’m not gonna explain that again here. This article is about explaining how useful they are and why you might want to start working with them.
The single sentence synopsis of your story, when done correctly, captures the entire essence of your story.
Its simplicity gives direct insight into the overall concept… and when you’re asking “What do you think of my story?” at the early stages of development, that’s exactly the feedback you’re looking for.
As an experienced developmental editor I can “tell you what I think of your story” by your logline alone, with the same margin for error as reading your single page treatment or multi-page rough outline.
Actually, a single logline is usually a little more accurate.
Capturing an entire story (including specific elements) in a single sentence is no easy task. Reading someone’s logline immediately reveals the writer’s skill level (many amateur writer’s have never even heard of a logline) and how well the writer knows his own story. (If you don’t have a really strong grasp of your story, you can never write an effective logline.)
One of the beautiful things about the power of the logline, is that it applies to everyone, not only professional editors/writers.
Monologuing your three page treatment will probably put your pals to sleep.
In all likelihood it’ll be in one ear, out the other, until it gets to the one element they connect with. Their final critique: “yeah that’s great, I loved the bit about the ninja on unicorns…” Unable to see the forest for the trees, these kind of critiques won’t leave you any better off.
Somewhere on the site, or in Storycraft for Comics (can’t remember off hand), I mention pitching a logline to your friends and paying attention to their emotional reaction. If you get a rise out of them with a single sentence, you’re on to something.
Most of your friends won’t know the proper structure of a logline. They won’t know if its missing key components like clearly defined stakes, or a sense of irony. But at the casual level, friends are a good litmus configuration test.
People (honest ones, not your mother!) generally get excited about interesting, cool things. People are pretty good at picking up on concepts on a broad level. The interpretative subconscious mind is a powerful one. If they get excited about a twenty-four word synopsis of your story, you most likely have something original and engaging in your concept.
If you deliver your logline and there’s no reaction, you either flubbed your logline bad or your concept is falling flat.
Of course, there are other considerations in choosing your best story to pursue (all of which I tried to cover in Storycraft…) While concept is super important, don’t put blinders on and make it the only thing you’re concerned with.
And the next time you’re going to reach out for casual feedback to myself, some other editor/consultant or the public in an open forum, try pitching the logline. You’ll get a more accurate reading of the water temperature and have a lot less words to type.▪
About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S. Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.