My writing group, the Saskatchewan Romance Writers, is putting together an anthology of romantic short stories set in our province. Most of us in the group have contributed a story or two, and now as we prepare for publication, each of us is attempting to write a tagline for our story. I’ve never written a tagline before and oh my goodness, am I ever finding it difficult! How do you boil down the essence of a 1,500 short story (or a 50,000 word novel) to one succinct line? This line must tell a bit of the story, hint at the conflicts, and entice the reader. That’s a lot to ask of one little line!
Fortunately, Kat Aubrey, our intrepid editor for this project, has posted some helpful articles on our private blog to give us guidance. So liberally borrowing knowledge from these articles, written by people much better at creating taglines then I am, here’s what I learned:
1. From Michelle McLean, at the Query Tracker blog, I learned that a tagline doesn’t have to boil the whole book down to one line, but it does have to convey some important information, such as characters, conflict, distinction, setting and action. A tagline has to let us know a little something about who is in the story (the characters), and what problems (conflicts) they’re facing. Distinction refers to what distinguishes this book from all the rest; what makes it unique? Nathan Bransford calls this the flavor. According to Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary it should let us know where the story is taking place, what genre it belongs to, and what kind of tone the book has; is it comedic, farcical, suspenseful, horrific? Lastly, the tagline should give a hint of the action we’ll see in the book/short story.
So with these things in mind, here’s my first attempt at writing a tagline for my story “Wings of Fire”:
Sometimes love finds you in the most unlikely places, like in the middle of the Canadian prairies in the middle of a war.
So going over the previous list, I think I’ve let the reader know the genre is romance (“love finds you”) and that the setting is on the Canadian prairies during a war, but which war? I haven’t made it clear whether we’re talking about the First World War or the war in Afghanistan. And I haven’t said a word about my characters or the action. And yes, I know I repeated the word middle. Back to the drawing board.
2. Next I checked out Nathan Bransford blog “How to Write the One Sentence Pitch” He breaks down the pitch, or in this case the tagline, like this:
- The opening conflict – the first step in character’s quest
- The obstacle – whatever is standing in character’s way
- The quest – may be an physical of interior journey but it’s basically what happens to character during the story.
Bransford says that the basic pitch should go together something like this: When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER(s), they have to OVERCOME CONFLICT (obstacle) to COMPLETE QUEST.
Bransford also says that a good tagline is a description of what actually happens (the plot) rather than the theme of the novel (what the novel is about). The problem with theme as tagline (A young man comes of age and finds the meaning of life) is that it is very generic and doesn’t really tell us anything unique about this particular story.
Okay, so I’m going to try my tagline again.
A British pilot training in Saskatchewan crashes his plane in a farmer's field and unexpectedly finds a reason to believe in a future after World War Two.
This time I’ve got the character (the British pilot), the inciting incident, (crashing his plane), the setting and time frame (Saskatchewan in World War Two), the quest (surviving the war) but I think I may have lost the genre. Is it still a romance? Let’s try this one more time.
When a British pilot training in Saskatchewan crashes his plane in a farmer's field, he unexpectedly falls in love and finds a reason to fight for a future after World War Two.
Does this tell you something about my story? Does it make you want to read it? Let me know what you think in the comments.
3. Hilari Bell had some great tips. The one I liked best of all is “Don’t go it alone”. Sometimes we writers are so close to our stories that we can’t see the best tagline. For this same reason, the Saskatchewan Romance Writers are posting taglines on our private blog and asking for critiques. It’s great to have friends.
Like Nathan Bransford says, mastering the tagline won’t make or break or your writing career, but it’s a handy tool for quickly describing your novel or short story to editors, readers, or your pesky relative who keeps asking what you’re writing. And it’s a great exercise for learning to distill your story down to its basic elements.Check out movies trailers at The Internet Movie Database for examples of how the movies create taglines.
Do you like creating taglines? Do they come easily to you or do they fight you all the way like they do for me? I’d love to read some of your examples.
In other business, the winner of a download copy of “Flawless” for commenting on my post at Judy Nickles blog, The Word Place on April 26, is (drum roll please!!) Karyn! Congratulations! I hope you enjoy it.