One Thing Every Story Needs

August 31, 2016 by Erin E.M. Hatton


Two months ago while attending the Write Canada conference, there was one thing that kept jumping out at me. Almost like a theme.

Every workshop teacher or keynote speaker I listened to all said the same thing. They each had a different name for it, but the essence was the same. Davis Bunn called it a log line—like the caption on a movie poster. Cynthia Ruchti called it John 3:16-ing your novel—being able to boil down your whole story into one encapsulating sentence. Marcy Kennedy challenged us to sum up the themes of our novels in 15 words or less.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the log lines for my stories. How do you take something that needed tens of thousands of words to write and reduce it to one sentence?

Simple. You look for the theme. Chances are if your character is well fleshed out then your theme will be visible with a little looking. And if your plot is tied to your character’s development, then that theme will crop up everywhere from start to finish. It will be the near-invisible underpinnings that hold the story together.

Your log line needs more than just a definition of the theme, however. You need to hook your reader with one sentence. You need to create a sense of intrigue. You need to capture the one thing that makes your book unique.

It turns out that when I looked at my published books, I already had the log lines I needed. I was already using them without thinking. Otherworld: “What if the princess wasn’t so charming?” And Across the Deep: “Three true stories, three generations, one family, one faith”.

My newer stories needed a closer look. My YA fantasy story might go something like “anything is possible”. My new historical fiction seems more along the lines of “all she had left was the will to survive”.

What about you? What’s your log line? Your John 3:16? The One Thing that really matters in your story?

About this Contributor

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Erin E.M. Hatton is the author of Otherworld and Across the Deep, winner of the 2014 Free Publishing Contest for Fiction. She has also authored several short stories and novellas. She graduated from Redeemer University College and lives in Barrie, Ontario with her husband Kevin and four children.
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