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Loglines v. Tag Lines

I read a tweet a little while ago about “high-concept stories” and how they can be distilled into a single sentence. This is, generally speaking, true. But then the example given was… Well, I’m not going to post it, but it was not a high-concept logline. It was more of a tag line. You know, the kind of thing you’d see on a movie poster, or maybe even on the back of a book. It doesn’t tell you the plot. Instead, it’s meant to intrigue the reader into wanting to know more.

For example, “Following the leader just got deadly” is not a logline. It is a tag line.

When trying to come up with a logline, it helps to be old school and think about the write-ups in TV Guide. (Yes, I’m that old.) Often one sentence long, these summed up the plot of a show or episode neatly so viewers knew what to expect and could decide whether to watch. “A small-town detective discovers a hidden temple and must destroy a grass-roots cult before it spreads” is a logline. It leaves no questions about the plot, only, hopefully, the desire to see it play out—which, ultimately, is the goal in getting people to watch the movie or read the book. The tag line for this might be more like: “He must betray life-long friends in order to save them.” (I’m assuming the detective has lived in this town his whole life, so the cult members are old friends… You know, never mind.)

Another way to differentiate a logline from a tag line is that a logline answers the question, “What is your book/movie about?” You wouldn’t answer that with a tag line. At least, you shouldn’t. If an agent or producer is asking, you would seek to give a succinct answer. “It’s about a spy whose lover is accused of treason and he’s forced to choose sides.” Not, “Can he be both loyal to his country and his heart?”

A tag line is open-ended and sometimes posed in the form of a question (see above). Even when it’s not, it’s meant to create a question in the mind of the consumer—ideally, a question the consumer then feels driven to answer by watching or reading. How did following a leader become deadly? Can this detective save his friends and friendships?

In short, the tag line poses a question, either explicitly or implicitly. The logline answers one—specifically, what the story is about. A tag line will often sound a little like a marketing slogan. A logline will sound more like a summary. They’re used in different ways, though each serves the purpose of drawing in an audience.

AMC’s IWTV Eps 2 & 3

All right, it seems only fair to update my thoughts after having watched two more episodes of Interview with the Vampire. I very much appreciate that Lestat’s true character is being slowly revealed. OR… it could be that he is trying and failing to change. That much is not entirely clear, but I suppose that’s kind of the point.

I also appreciate that the show attempts to explain the differences between Louis’ attitude in the book versus this current incarnation. They play it off as Daniel pointing out that, when he interviewed Louis in the 1970s, Louis did not have such a romanticized view of Lestat. (Even going so far as to pull quotes directly from the source material.) We are meant to understand that (a) vampires’ memories are not infallible, and (b) additional time and distance—and healing, perhaps—have given Louis a different perspective. In truth, it probably would depend on the day. After all, anyone can look back at a time or moment in their lives and think it was the best of times, and then on another day think it was terrible. And relationships really are that complicated. “I loved him,” “we were toxic,” and “I learned a lot about who I am and what I want out of life and love” can all be true.

Still, I sigh a little at the imminent introduction of Claudia. She will likely be aged up, in part to mitigate potential distaste from the viewers, and largely for production reasons. I cannot say why, exactly, I fear the show will fumble this story line, but I do harbor a bit of dread—and not the good kind. I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

In all, I will say these two episodes were better than the first, and I am enjoying the overall build of the characters. (I am also wondering if the show will stick with the literary fact that Lestat never learned to read.* Was he fibbing when “reading” that paper? It felt like he was.)

LOUIS: What do you mean, you can’t read?

LESTAT: I… [shrug]

LOUIS: You mean you can’t read English?

LESTAT: [sigh] I look at things and understand their meaning, their intent. I do not need to read. In any language.

LOUIS: But… for pleasure? Entertainment?

LESTAT: There are many ways to be pleased and entertained that do not involve words, Louis.

Can’t say I relate, Lestat, but you do you.

* IIRC—and it has been a looooong time—Lestat can look at books and absorb or glean the information without reading them. But I distinctly remember him saying he only learned to read a few prayers and to write his name for the year or so he was at school.

AMC’s Interview with the Vampire

I have only watched the first episode of AMC’s take on Anne Rice’s vampires, but I have some mixed feelings. And yes, I understand why some changes were made, and I don’t have a problem with those. I don’t think Louis needs to run a slave-owning plantation in order to tell this particular story. His being a person of color doesn’t faze me either. And I actually appreciate they kept his brother’s death as a key incident on his road toward damnation; it is, imho, a far more interesting origin story than simply losing one’s wife and child. That he was already attracted to Lestat is a nice touch as well.

In fact, it is with Lestat’s character that I thus far have the most grievance.

Again, I’ve only watched one episode, so things may yet change. But this Lestat is not nearly as much fun as he should be. His sense of mischief has been watered down in favor of playing up his intellectual side. He tells Louis he loves him? Uh, hello, will the real Lestat please show himself?

Lestat, as Rice wrote him, has a grand character arc over a long series of books (those last two notwithstanding; I could not finish Prince Lestat and didn’t even try the Atlantis thing). He goes from impulsive brat to thoughtful over, well, centuries and a number of trials. At the time he meets Louis, at least in the book, he is desperate. He has arrived in the New World with his father and needs money and shelter. Louis is wealthy, pretty, and an easy target. The codependency isn’t healthy, and Lestat’s understanding of “love” is largely self-centered and underpinned by insecurity. He thinks he loves Louis, or at the very least he believes he’s doing Louis some kind of favor by turning him. But Lestat really does it for himself, and the relationship falls apart pretty quickly.

Maybe this will happen in this show? What I would kind of like to see, when thinking about how The Vampire Lestat starts, is the story later told from Lestat’s POV. After all, he does not hesitate to call Louis a liar. But what’s strange is that this story, as taken from Louis’ POV, is thus far romanticizing Lestat. Does Louis, as he tells it to Daniel two centuries later, mean to show that he did romanticize Lestat at first? Will things go sideways now and Lestat’s manipulation become clear to him? (It seems like Lestat has already begun systematically removing Louis’ support system, or am I reading too much into it out of a desire for book-version Lestat to appear?) Or have the writers of this show fundamentally changed Lestat’s character? It’s obviously too soon for me to tell; I have one more episode to watch, and another comes out this weekend, I believe. I’ll keep watching—for now. At the very least, I’m curious, which is as good a start as any, I suppose.

Unpopular Opinion

One of many, to be sure. But I have to admit, I’m struggling. I love me some Stranger Things, so much so that I wrote a story loosely based on Steve and Eddie (#steddie) that has since become my most popular work. (The sequel is due out in November, so go pre-order “One Night in Wyland High.”) All this to say that I adore Eddie as a character, and I mourn him as much as most fans. (And I have a fic that may or may not bring him back, but that won’t be on AO3 until I finish it.)

But that’s just it. Fan fiction is where fans go to change the narrative. Either to write it or read it, to join in all that wishful thinking. At least, that’s where it should happen. But more and more, with social media making showrunners, writers, the industry at large, more accessible, fans feel… compelled? entitled? to push their desires. They want to make their head canons actual canon. And I think that’s a bad thing.

Let’s just say, I’ve never know good work to come from groupthink. Stories written by committee often lack substance and cohesion. Trying to please everyone, or even a majority, generally results in something watered down to the most common denominator level.

All of this came to mind when I saw something about a petition to bring Eddie back having reached 50k signatures. Sigh. He had his arc, and it was a solid, if tragic, one. Calls for him to come back as a vampire just make me more sad.

I’m not saying it can’t be done, or even possibly done well. But as a writer myself, I know that the pressure to gratify the audience frequently comes at the price of compromise. It often means not being able to tell the best story, the one I want to tell. To fit in the things that readers or viewers clamor for, the writer has to retrofit, do a number of storytelling gymnastics, even subvert established characters and plot. It’s not easy, and the result usually negates much of what made the story or show so great to begin with. Instead of sticking the landing, you end up undermining your foundation, and everything collapses.

Would I like to see Eddie again? Absolutely. But only if that was in the plan to begin with. Honestly, I sort of see Eddie Munson as a local legend. The boogeyman that parents warn their kids about. “Don’t go in the woods, or Eddie Munson will get you.” That kind of thing.

Then again, Stranger Things makes no secret of its love for Stephen King. And as Uncle Stevie says: Sometimes They Come Back

Barnes & Noble vs. the Browse/Discovery Model

I have never, to my knowledge, had any of my books stocked in a Barnes & Noble. Not for lack of trying; I have contacted my local bookstores multiple times in hopes they would at least consider putting one of my books in a “local authors” section. (This is true of local indie stores, too.) I usually get very kind but meaningless feedback of the “we’ll see” sort, but follow-up attempts have always come to nothing.

Now, B&N is under fire because it has announced a new policy in which it will no longer stock… as many books as before? Basically, the store is saying it will reduce the hardcover orders* for new releases until those books have somehow proven themselves worthy of shelf space. Like, B&N wants to make sure there is demand for books before bothering to go through the whole order-sell-remainder-return process.

It makes sense to some extent. More and more there is a focus in movies and other content-creation industries on the “sure thing” and the “safe bet.” Why stock something that may not sell when you can give that premium shelf space to books you know people will be looking to buy? Known authors and titles, the stuff that’s hot on TikTok or whatever social media is dictating our tastes this week? From a business perspective, it’s a solid strategy. Sell people what you know they want, what they say they want—the stuff that, historically, has made money for all involved. The stuff with built-in audiences ready and waiting to spend.

But (and I’ve said it before), the result of this is a bunch of the same kind of content being produced and marketed over and over until everything is more or less more of the same. Movies—and, if bookstores follow this new plan, books too—are starting to look and sound the same, blurs of color and sound and quick edits, and not very interesting. It’s like a pizza buffet. I like pizza, and there are a lot of options for toppings, but sometimes you want something else entirely. Not even fast food, but a nice steak, or maybe Japanese, or… Well, you get my drift.

The chief problem with B&N narrowing their selection is that authors’ chances for discovery go to basically nil. I’ve written about this before, too, but for those of you who are new here (welcome!), I’ll reiterate. Amazon is where people who know the book and/or author they are looking for go to buy. Though Amazon attempts to suggest similar titles or whatever, people don’t really go there to browse. That happens in bookstores and libraries. Those are the places new, or mid-list, or just lesser known in general authors need to be in order for readers to find them.

It’s never been easy for indie authors like me to get into libraries and bookstores. But authors with solid publishers behind them have a reasonable expectation of having their books stocked there. In fact, that is one of the big reasons so many authors want an agent and “big” publisher—they want that marketing and publicity support that will make their book more discoverable.

Now, though, the marketing department will have to narrow down who to spend money on and support in that way. No sense in doing it for an author or book that the stores don’t want to carry, right? The big names will get more opportunities, and the rest will have to hope for a miracle. Or they will have to do what we indie authors do and go knocking on doors themselves, hoping for even a spot on a shelf in the back somewhere so that maybe just one reader—the right one—will find us and our work.

It’s a weird time to be a content creator. In some ways, it’s easier than ever as access to publishing platforms, filmmaking equipment and software, etc. is increasingly widespread. However, the opportunities to make a film or publish a book in more traditional ways—with the backing of agents, studios, publishers, and other professionals—are actually more limited. The industries are ever more narrow minded and limited in scope. They are risk averse, focusing more on profits than on putting out anything interesting or new. And it seems bookstores feel the same. B&N thinks that in order to compete with Amazon it needs to be more like Amazon, which means making the big titles easy to find and buy and not worrying about the little guys. (Indie bookstores, too, tend to give a fair amount of space to known titles that they hope will lure in customers—at least where I live, anyway.) In reality, the best thing B&N could do would be to differentiate itself by saying, “Sure, go buy the latest big title from Amazon, but look at all the wonderful, interesting treasures we’ve stockpiled here for you to find!” Wouldn’t you love to visit a store like that? Too bad there aren’t any.

* Why is the “hardcover order” thing so important? Because most publishers put out hardcover books for the first year before moving a title to paperback. That means success for an author is often dependent on hardcover sales. But if the bookstore isn’t stocking your hardcover book…

Author Event

Well, it’s not until next July, but that gives you plenty of time to plan, right? I’ll be at LLS23 in Savannah next July 19-23. It’s going to be a long, fun weekend that includes a masquerade ball and many opportunities to chat and interact! Hope to see you there. (And keep an eye on my Events page for other appearances.)

One Night in Wildcat Woods

My #steddie-inspired story about two teen boys lost in the woods behind their high school is now up on Amazon, so I’ve had to remove the PDF.

To be clear, this isn’t directly fan fiction; it’s fanfic adjacent. And not explicit in its steamy scenes.

1989. Though Drew and Rayze were friends in childhood, they’ve long since grown apart–until the woods behind their school force them not only to rely on one another but to face their feelings.

Agents Are Browsers

Lately on Twitter, I’ve seen many hopeful authors announcing they’ve finally gotten some kind of request from a query. Though the most excitement stems from “full requests” (meaning an agent has requested to read the full manuscript), even partial requests are a cause for celebration. And… Yeah. I think authors need to embrace even small victories. But I fear, based on the elation I’m witnessing, that many of these optimists believe that the full request will surely lead to an offer. And realistically, that’s just not the case.

Here is the thing: agents are like library patrons. They go through the queries the way we might browse the stacks. Some books they pass by immediately; maybe these books aren’t genres that interest them, or there is just something about them that is an automatic “no.” They don’t merit a closer look. Some books, though, might have an eye-catching title or cover* or premise. The agent will pick it up, read the flap or blurb, maybe skim the first page or so. If the book shows promise, they add it to their pile. This is the request, either partial or full. But it isn’t a commitment to the book or author. That’s the glory of libraries: if you don’t like a book, you just return it. You’re not out anything but time and an overburdened arm from carrying more than you probably should.

So think of a request from an agent as them “borrowing” your book. If they really like it, they’ll go buy a copy for themselves. That is, they’ll sign you and your book. But you can’t be surprised if they don’t. Because, when you think about it, you may love a lot of the books you borrow from the library. But you’re probably limited in shelf space or budget on how many you could own. Agents likewise have limited time and bandwidth. The majority of the books they “borrow” will be returned without the agents feeling the need to own them.

I’m not saying this to bring anyone down. It’s will always be exciting when an agent borrows your book, so to speak. And, you know, when you’re shopping a manuscript, you only need one agent to want to buy a copy. After all, you only have one copy to sell.

I realize I’ve overstretched this metaphor, but you get my drift, I hope. By all means, do that dance of joy when you get a request for pages, but don’t pin all your happiness on the outcome of that request. More often than not, your book will be returned to the querying library and go back into circulation.

*Yes, I know that manuscripts don’t have covers yet, but I’m talking about a metaphorical library, in which books would have covers… What reasons do you pick up a book for a closer look?