Monday, February 08, 2010

Loglines for kids

Every year, the National Endowment for the Arts hosts The Big Read, a program where kids all over the country read the same book and participate in related events. Last year it was 11th grade and The Maltese Falcon, prompting me to spend a semester on film noir. This year it's a collection of 20 Mexican short stories published specifically for this year's Big Read.

The good thing about that is that the kids like it. We're the first class reading the book at our school, so they're excited to think almost nobody else has read this book, and they LOVE reading Mexican literature because almost all of them are Latino. The downside is there isn't a whole lot of information on these stories as a collection. Several of them I'm able to look up and research, but for the most part I have to do a lot of the prep work myself. Not that I mind, because I'm having fun learning, but it involves a lot of staying after school in my room and working.

I decided that since we just finished reading a novel as a class, I'd let the kids handle the stories on their own. We read Octavio Paz "My Life with the Wave" as a group, and now they're going to split into groups and each group will take either one long story or two shorter stories and research and present them to the class.

In order to help them choose, I had to go through each story one by one, count page numbers, and create a logline. That was the learning part, creating the loglines. I had to come up with one sentence that summed up the story but kept it sounding interesting enough that the kids would want to read it.

"After a man buys the statue of an Aztec god, his life changes for the worse as the god gets progressively stronger" sounds interesting. "Philosopher Pao Cheng thinks about existence" does not.

It's a challenge, because I want these kids to want to read the stories, but some of them leave me not much to work with. One of the stories is 2 pages long and describes the process of shooting a deer. My logline: "A hunting story." What else am I supposed to do with that?

Then there's tone. Some of the stories are serious and some comical, and I want to give the kids an idea of which is which. So "A man ponders his relationship with a large, quirky woman" is what I went with for the story about the guy who dates an obese lady he thinks is kind of nuts. I figure throwing in "large" and "quirky" do the trick to indicate tone.

Then there's the combination. One of the stories is an employee in a train station just talking and talking in this absurdist voice to a guy who just wants to board his train. I had to figure out how to make it sound both interesting and comical, when all I really had was straight dialogue, mostly one-sided. This is what I went with: "A train station employee explains to a perplexed traveler why he can’t go to T. despite having a perfectly good ticket."

My point here is, if you ever want to practice writing loglines, get a book of short stories and try to create a logline that would make a teenager interested. It's not as easy as it sounds.


  1. I was just telling someone today that I don't have an elevator pitch for my novel yet. I really need to figure out a way to explain the story in a couple of sentences - which I find so hard. Thanks for tip about short stories and good luck with your students. It sounds like a fun assignment for them.

  2. You've piqued my curiosity, what's the name of the story collection? I want to buy the book and read it.

  3. This is the book:

    It's a pretty good collection. Most of the stories are really good.

  4. Thanks, Emily.

  5. Checked out the book and ordered it. Thanks again.

    And, this one might interest you:

  6. Heh. Teen vampires are all around us.


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