What’s my (Log) Line?

This happens all the time: a term new to me comes up in conversation; then it seems to be everywhere. Take for example, “log line.” I heard it in the Path to Publication workshop with Elizabeth Evans, then in our Roundtable as we tried to figure out the difference between a log line, a pitch and an elevator speech.

savethecatWhen my son came home from school with the assignment to write a log line for his school film assignment, I decided it was time to learn more. Fortunately, he had brought home a copy of Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. As a “spec screenwriter” (someone who had to sell the idea of his screenplay before he ever wrote a word of it), Snyder’s livelihood depended upon his ability to write effective log lines.

Below are some of his suggestions in Chapter One: What Is It?

Very simply, a log line is a one-sentence answer to the question, “What is it?” A “winning” log line includes these components:




What comes at the end of the sentence would not normally be anticipated from the beginning. It is the sense of irony that hooks the reader.

Examples from Save the Cat!:

“A cop comes to LA to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists.” (Die Hard)

“A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend.” (Pretty Woman)

Try it: Can you describe your book using the natural irony of the situation to grab your reader’s interest?

A Compelling Picture

The reader must be able to “see” the whole movie [book], where it begins and where it ends—or at least the potential for its direction—in the log line.

Examples from Save the Cat!:

“She’s the perfect woman—until she has a drink.” (Blind Date)

“A just-hired employee goes on a company weekend and soon discovers someone’s trying to kill him.” (The Retreat)

Try it: Can you write a sentence that captures the beginning-to-end scope of your book?

A Killer Title

The best ones encompass irony and tell the tale. The following titles leave you with a strong sense of where the movie will go even without watching it for one minute.

Examples from Save the Cat!:

     Barbie Goes to Hollywood

     Airhead Apparent

     Legally Blonde

Try it: What would someone not familiar with your story picture from the title alone? Play with different options that might be stronger than your current title.

Audience and Cost

When pitching a movie idea, being able to communicate the target audience and the scope of the cost is vital.


The Breakfast Club

  • Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have more in common than they’d thought.

(Audience will be teens; cost of production will be minimal since detention doesn’t require special effects or        locations)

Jurassic Park:

  • During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.

(Audience: pre-teens and older; High cost: the theme park and cloned dinosaurs are going to cost a pretty penny)

Certainly, we want everyone to read our book, but we should have a very specific intended readership, and, while we can’t know cost of production, we can indicate how “big” we envision our books to be. This can be done by including “comps,” titles of other books that are in a similar vein to yours. (Be careful of comparing your first novel to the hottest title on the bestseller list, however!)

Try it: Can you write a sentence that implies the intended audience and “size” of your book?

Of course, Snyder’s advice is for screenwriters. Your book may benefit from a different type of log line—less “Hollywood,” maybe—but the exercise of trying to meet the above criteria and delivering it every chance you get will not only make your log line stronger; it will help you sharpen the writing itself.

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Author, Nickolas Butler: Writing and Publication

Red Oak Writing invites all aspiring writers to this intimate session with Butler where he’ll discuss the writing and publishing process.


Location: Friends of the Shorewoood Public Library Program Room


Join Shotgun Lovesongs author, Nickolas Butler, and Red Oak Writing as we present an informational session about writing and publication.  Butler will discuss his personal writing journey, the process of getting an agent, finding a publisher, working with an editor, etc.

Event is open to the public, and all are welcome to attend!

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Roundtable a GO for Tues. Mar 3

Best we can tell, the weather will taper off and roads will be passable by the start time of Jeannee’s Tuesday Roundtable, so we want to confirm that the group will meet. As always, conditions can vary widely, so please use your own discretion and make the call that is right for you. Drive safely and have a terrific Roundtable!

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Time to Write: 2015


When I talk to writers, one of their most common complaints is that they cannot find time to write. I confess, I have uttered the same lament on more occasions than one. On this topic, I would like to share some thoughts from Rigoberto Gonzalez’s commencement address presented in January, 2014 to the Solstice MFA program graduates at Pine Manor College. He talks about the relationship between writers and time:

   Time doesnʼt do the writing–you do. Itʼs not time you need, itʼs the irrefutable urge, the irresistible want thatʼs going to get the work done. Itʼs not even inspiration–though that helps. Answer the question for yourself: do you really want to write? If the answer is yes, you will write. Itʼs quite simple, and quite doable, unless you allow this thing called time to get in the way.

   Time–rigid in its order and strict in its calculations–is a failure of the imagination, itʼs the antithesis of the expansive territories of your inventiveness. If time controls you, you have not learned one of the most basic principles in prose and poetry: time is a tool, it is under your control. How you translate that control from the fictional into the practical depends on your individual situations, on your ability to discipline yourself and your surroundings.

   And Iʼm not going to sugarcoat it, that discipline sometimes means sacrifice–sleep, mostly. And sometimes that means the writing will take place slowly–and thatʼs all right, writingʼs not a race. Recognizing that every single published author accomplished the feat of writing a book should be evidence enough to prove that no matter what the circumstance, writing is always possible: books were written during wars, during revolutions, during prison sentences–whatʼs stopping you?

   So, if you are not writing when I come up behind you, tell me that you donʼt have any ink, tell me that you donʼt have any paper–easy fixes, temporary setbacks–but donʼt tell me that you donʼt have any time. If you do, youʼve told me that something else holds the writing pen, and not your own hand.

Here’s to all of us “holding the pen” in 2015!

Write on…

Rigoberto Gonzalez.previewRigoberto González is the author 15 books, most recently the poetry collection Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. The recipient of Guggenheim, NEA and USA Rolón fellowships, a NYFA grant in poetry, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Poetry Center Book Award, and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award, he is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine, on the executive board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle, and professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.
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Craft & Publishing Workshops a Hit!

Many thanks to the engaged, enthusiastic writers who participated in Kristine Hansen’s “Get Paid for Your Stories” workshop! We’re looking forward to more fantastic Second Saturday workshops in 2015. See you there!

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Publishing Institute: Ready or Not, Here it Comes!


When we first started planning for a one-day event to bring writers, agents and editors together, we set our goal at 50 participants and 3 agents. Now, we’re at over 100 participants and 5 agents, a nationally recognized keynote speaker (Bret Anthony Johnston), marvelous breakout session speakers and setting our sites on an even bigger event in 2015! Looking forward to seeing lots of Red Oak Folk this weekend!

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Standing Room Only!

Red Oak Folk and their adoring fans packed

Saz’s State Room for our fall Writers’ Showcase Reading!

Many thanks to our fantastic readers:

Pam Parker

Jonnie Guernsey

Beth Huwiler

Jack Douthitt

Jessi Vertz

Jennifer Vanderheyden

Jo DeMars

Christine Baerbock

Bruce Campbell

Jennifer Rupp


You guys knocked it out of the park!


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A Room Full of Characters

An astute, generous group of writers shared their wisdom about how to make our characters come to life for our readers.

Here’s what a couple of them had to say about our morning together:

Great workshop!

Just the right mix of craft, theory, and discussion. Really good writing exercises, something to kickstart my writing even after the class.

Great class Saturday I got a ton out of it…The exercise worked for me. [It] was perfect for my particular situation.  Really enjoyed myself!

The Saturday workshop made a big difference for me.  I learned to recognize how an author goes about creating a character; I learned how to do that in my own writing.  Your format of group activity and discussion were effective in the the learning process–and made the time fly.  Thanks for putting it all together.  I’ll never forget what we all got out of Paul Neuman clip.

Many thanks to the participants in our craft workshop, Creating Credible, Unforgettable Characters,

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Red Oak Folk Recognized in the WWA Jade Ring Contest!

Jade Ring Awards - Version 2

In the Winners’ Circle: Bruce Campbell, Pam Parker, Joel Habush, (Joanne Nelson, not pictured)

Red Oak is proud to announce recognition of four writers from among our Roundtable ranks:

Bruce Campbell

First Place, Jade Ring winner, Essay

Pam Parker

Third Place, Writing for Young People

Joel Habush

Second Place, Essay; Honorable Mention, Formal Poetry

Joanne Nelson

Honorable Mention, Essay

Our heartiest congratulations to those who won awards!

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