I keep tiny notebooks of log-lines. These are brief kernels – nay, seeds – of a story. This something I picked up from film: the need to pitch a story in a single phrase. It has been an invaluable trick not just for getting to the heart of an otherwise complicated story, but for brainstorming writing prompts.
A bored office worker finds himself stuck in a carpool with his most annoying co-worker.
Ted wakes up in the morning to find a werewolf drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper at his kitchen table.
(Aside: “Ted” and “Lucy” are my go-to placeholder names. It’s rather helpful, as sometimes just trying to think of a name, even if it takes ten seconds, can mean losing your crazy train of thought.)
I write these log-lines down, one per page. Maybe I can flesh them out into something later; maybe not. Sometimes I will make myself sit down and come up with, say, ten log-lines. Then, I will sit there and think of them, just to write them down then forget them.
It’s a simple exercise, the point of which is really just to start thinking. It helps focus what I’ve got rattling around in my head. A lot of the ideas are terrible, but sometimes just writing them down so I can forget them is a good way to deflate that bloat that creeps into your creative process.
There are so many log-lines I have that I just know I will never write. Mostly because they are either a joke that only I found funny, or because they just seemed too gimmicky, in either structure or conceit, or because, as much as I would want to read them, they aren’t the sort of thing I could write.
But I’ve found having these log-lines to go back in a pinch a great way to help you get over that hump when you want to write something but just don’t know what, especially a short story. As my natural story-telling drive pulls me towards a longer piece, this helps me keep it focused.