I've been working on the boilerplate query letter. The bulk of it is easy enough, what with the introduction, the formality, the curriculum vitae. But I'm having a hard time perfecting the logline. For those of you who don't know, the logline is a one- or two-sentence pitch. It's the "I have 15 seconds to convince you this might be worth your while."
Making a semi-autobiographical love story compelling in two sentences—at least compelling enough to get an agent or producer to request a complete copy of the script—ain't easy. Good love stories are made up of moments, none of which are huge but, when combined, can be quite powerful. My story has neither explosions nor guns nor ass-kicking scenes. It's fun and emotional, but more indie than Michael Bay.
Distilling it all into a logline, finding the essence of the journey, the country, the girl(s), the humor, the friends, the adventure (such as it were) ... it's something with which I'm struggling. I wish there were a bottle labeled "Extract of Galway '96," which I could pour onto the page. But that's wishful stuff right there.
Why is this so important? I'll tell you why.
Literary publishing goes like this: You write a story, you send your story to one agent (if it's a book) or one publisher (if it's a short story). You wait for a response. When rejection (inevitably) comes, you sent the story back out into the world. To a single address. Rise. Repeat. Simultaneous submissions are considered bad form. Do so and you'll be told to sit in the corner. No cookies for you.
Selling a screenplay goes something like this (or so I'm told): Write your script. Send out a query letter to every possible agent or producer you can get an address for, asking if they want to see a completed script (based solely on the very brief description in your logline and/or full-page synopsis—which they may or may not bother reading). If you haven't sent out 100, you're not trying hard enough. A 5% return, either asking to see the script or flatly saying, "No thank you.", is a good number. Five out of 100. To say the logline is important is an understatement. There's nothing worse than writing 120 pages, only be be undermined by two sentences which Just Weren't Good Enough.
So I'm looking at my logline. The one I have now goes something like this:
"Galway '96 is the story of a greek-writer who travels to Galway, and falls in love with an unavailable fellow student. It's a travel story; a love letter to Ireland. It's a story about growing up and how life doesn't always go according to plan—and how that's not always a bad thing."
Yeah, I know. Not terribly inspired, is it? I mean, "unavailable fellow student?" Sounds like it could be a gay roommate who's merely nipped out to the store for a loaf of bread. I wrote those words and I'm fairly appalled by their awfulness. But, it's clay to work with. Or to delete. It's something more than white space; something (much) less than poetry.
In the back of my mind I'm worried that, if I can't distill it down to two sentences, perhaps the story itself needs more focus. Or, perhaps, it's wasn't a story worth telling.
But I won't know until I do the work and perfect the words. If I don't believe it's a story worth telling, how the hell am I going to convince an agent or producer that it's worth making, let alone watching?
And that's the thing: I do believe it's good. I do believe it was worth telling, that it's worth making, that it's worth watching. But like anything young, it requires a little care and encouragement.