Conventional wisdom about writing is conventionally wrong.
That’s the acid test for every writer: four words.
If somebody in line with you for the Largest Latte Known to Man asks what you’re working on, can you explain it in four words?
How about eight words?
Because if you can’t, you’re not really done.
And I don’t care that you’ve spent the last seven years locked away in a French monastery, slaving away 25 hours a day, eight days a week to perfect (a) The Great American Novel, Even Though It Was Written in France, (b) the movie script that will turn Hollywood on its ear and stop it from spending $250 million apiece on Michael Bay explosion-fests involving robots that transform into cars or whatever or (c) a punk-rock masterpiece with song after song with lyrics so beautiful, and rebelliously ugly, that anyone who listens to it quits working for The Man and buys an electric Fender so they can learn the only three chords you need to know to become AN INSANE ROCK GOD.
So let’s get down to it. If you haven’t already, read these posts to get all educated and such, even though it is technically cheating — because today, there is a quiz.
THE MOTHER OF ALL LOGLINE QUIZZES
Loglines, which, if you weren’t paying attention, are short little summaries of movies and books and such.
There are two ways to score this quiz, the first involving length and the second quality.
Four words or less gets you an A, five words is a B and so forth.
Quality is subject, but even if your logline is insanely brilliant, anything over eight words gets a big fat F, and F that glows in the dark and follows you around for a week like a bad cold or a moldy metaphor, which is like a simile, but different.
Sidenote: If you are a Literary Muffin of Stud, go ahead and share your brilliant answers in the comments. Then we’ll talk smack.
Sidenote on the side of that sidenote: If you are a shy lurker, as 99.9 percent of writers are, print this and scribble your answers, then share your brilliant answers somewhere, with somebody. Because it’s time you stopped being a shy lurker writer type. YOUR HEAD WILL NOT EXPLODE. Maybe you’ll even make a friend over the Series of Tubes and such, fall in love, get married and move to a former dairy farm in Vermont or whatever. These things have happened.
Quiz Part 1) Write a logline for your favorite movie, but turn the villain into the hero without changing the story.
STAR WARS: Wise ruler fights to stop murderous rebels, who keep blowing up invaluable public property.
Shot the length rule to bits there. Let’s shorten it to five words.
STAR WARS: Wrinkled leader battles murderous rebels.
There we go. I like it. Could have nailed four words if we smited “wrinkled,” but I don’t care.
Bonus, because we hit five words and give ourselves an A++ and such: Palpatine’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1.
Quiz Part 2) Take your current project — movie, novel, performance art piece involving a dance number that expresses your feelings about unemployment — and write a logline making fun of it.
Go ahead. Have at it.
It’s more fun than you’d expect.
Quiz Part 3) Write five fresh loglines by twisting or rewriting stupid books and movies that had promise, then took all that promise and blew it to pieces with The 12-gauge of Utter Stupidity.
MATRIX REVOLUTIONS: Man wins war against robot enslavers.
Six words. It’s a better plot, because not Keanu “Whoah” Reeves doesn’t sacrifice his life to play virus cleaner for the robots, therefore protecting the status quo and ensuring a cycle of endless war and nuttiness. His death actually changes things with this logline. But six words is still too long.
MATRIX REVOLUTIONS: Man frees mankind from robots.
Five words. Too many “mans” in there. Where’s Trinity and such? But it’s better.
ONE SHOT: Tom Cruise is a foot too short to play Reacher.
Yes, I am a bad man. The trailer still looks awful. Couldn’t they find some short actors to play the thugs who Tom Cruise beats up? It looks like junior high bullies hassling a second-grader for his lunch money.
ONE DAY: Man meets girl, loses girl, gets girl back.
That’s the standard plot for every romantic comedy ever, but it’s also 1,398 times better than the actual plot of ONE DAY where man meets girl, man loses girl, man loses girl again, man finally marries girl, girl gets RANDOMLY PANCAKED BY A TRUCK, man is sad, roll credits.
TRANSFORMERS 3: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON OR WHATEVER: Magic robots leave Earth, because why would magic robots need our lame technology and such anyway? Also, Megan Fox buys a pair of pants.
I’m cheating again, though it is fun. Alright, TRANSFORMERS 3: Robot war obliterates Earth.
Much better. Also, it’s right up the alley of Michael Bay, who loves nothing more than blowing up stuff anyway.
Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.