Tag Archives: loglines

The only guide to writing a logline you’ll ever need – Part Three!

Welcome to the third and final part of a series of posts about how to write a logline. Whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, a logline is an important marketing tool. But with a little practice, anyone can create the perfect logline

Let’s go over what we’ve learned so far (and if you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to read parts One and Two of this guide):

What is a logline?

A logline is a one or two sentence pitch for your story. 

What is a logline not?

A logline is not a tagline or a teaser. It summarizes the essential elements of the story so that someone can see at a glance what the story is about and whether it is marketable.

What does a logline contain?

A good logline contains as many of the following as possible:

A great TITLE. The GENRE. A HOOK with IRONY. The HERO. The CATALYST. The CHALLENGE the Hero must face. The Hero’s JOURNEY. The ARENA.

Last time we covered what constitutes as great title, how to signpost your genre, what is a Hook, and the importance of a central Hero.

Now for the difficult part!

CATALYST

The next ingredient in our perfect logline recipe is the CATALYST.

In Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT, the catalyst is referred to as the incident that sets the story in motion.

A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s not necessary to reveal all three, but the story must begin somewhere. This is the Catalyst. This moment usually occurs about 10 to 12 minutes into the film. For instance, the catalyst in “Star Wars”, the catalyst is Luke Skywalker discovering the secret tapes held by R2D2. It is this incident which sets the story in motion, as Luke then begins his journey to join the Rebellion. So the Catalyst is Luke joining the Rebellion.

Here is what I’ve noticed: most loglines fail because they are too VAGUE. Authors don’t want to give up the main plot points of their story. Tey want to generate enthusiasm and excitement by not giving the game away.

That is a mistake.

The excitement is in the writing. Not the logline. The logline is a selling tool.  Remember when I said it’s not a Teaser or a Trailer? People need a logline to see if the script is their kind of thing. You don’t have to generate the same amount of page-turning excitement that is in your script. Just focus on getting the essentials down.

For example, here’s my own unproduced “Demophobia” script logline again:

A man with a phobia of people must search a crime-infested city for his missing girlfriend, only to come into conflict with a mysterious entity controlling the homeless population.

Okay. We have a hero. We also have Irony. But what’s the catalyst? His girlfriend is missing. This may be the thing that kicks off the story. But it’s weak. She’s already missing when the story starts? A weak catalyst indicates a weak structure.

I revised this and came up with the following:

When his girlfriend goes missing following a clinical drugs trial, a man with a phobia of people searches for her in a crime-infested city, only to come into conflict with a mysterious entity that controls the homeless population.

It’s not quite “Liar Liar”, but it’s at least a little better. We know that the catalyst is when his girlfriend goes missing. We also get more of a sense of the genre. The drugs and the mysterious entity indicate this may be science-fiction or horror.

CHALLENGE

Again, most weak loglines omit this. You can’t afford to dance around this issue, as it is the main conflict in your screenplay. It is the struggle the hero faces.

For instance, in “The Poseidon Adventure” the challenge is that the ship is sinking.

Here’s a logline for the movie “Predator”:

“A team of commandos on a mission in the Central American jungle find themselves stalked by an invisible alien hunter.”

How’s that for a challenge?

If your logline doesn’t have a central conflict, chances are your story is weak. This may be because the hero doesn’t have a strong enough GOAL. A lot of scripts and novels have a hero who wanders around without taking charge and pushing the action forward.

So how’s my “Demophobia” logline shaping up?

When his girlfriend goes missing following a clinical drugs trial, a man with a phobia of people searches a crime-infested city for her, only to find that a mysterious entity controlling the homeless population is out to stop him.

Hmm. It has a challenge and conflict. It’s not terrible.  It also has something else going for it:

THE HERO’S JOURNEY.

A movie sets up a promise to the audience. Sometimes this is inherent in the GENRE. Sometimes it’s obvious in the hero’s FLAW.

Audiences are smart these days. They watch a lot of movies. If you set up a hero with a huge flaw (for instance, that he’s a compulsive liar) the audience expects that by the end of the movie he’s going to learn that lying is sometimes bad. You can imply a lot, so you don’t necessarily need to spell this one out.

Improve your logline by hinting at the hero’s TRANSFORMATION – the inner journey he goes on. Here’s where you can even use your logline top improve your script – you can tailor the challenges to suit the FLAW.

For instance, to use my own example of “Demophobia”, the hero has a phobia of people. But he’s forced to go out of his comfort zone into a city and come into conflict with the entire homeless population.  Chances are that by the end of this ordeal he’ll either be a basket case or he’ll have shaken off his phobia off people.

By now you may have realized that the Hero’s Journey stems from the Challenge which forces him to overcome his Flaw.

FLAW + CHALLENGE = HERO’S JOURNEY

For instance, at the end of “Liar Liar”, the challenges that lying attorney Jim Carrey will face are going to show him how he can win the day by being truthful. That is his Hero’s Journey.

ARENA

Sometimes a story can grab a producer’s attention if it involves a setting, group, society, place, or occupation we’ve never seen before. “Top Gun”, for instance, is set in the exciting world of the  USAF’s flight school.

You can also tweak the arena to better suit your story.

To use my “Demophobia” example again, the city is a place full of people – exactly the opposite of where someone with a phobia of crowds would want to hang out. I may have overdone it with having a “crime-infested” city. Sure, cities have crime.  But this seems a little irrelevant to the rest of the logline. But I’ll stick with it for now as it conveys the kind of  intense experience he’s going to face when he sets foot in there.

BONUS POINTS – ANTAGONIST

Sometimes you can add a little spice to your logline if you have an exceptionally cool villain. For instance, the invisible alien hunter in “Predator”. Or how about the great white shark in “Jaws”? A character is only as good as he opponent she is facing, so if you have an unkillable cyborg from the future, you may also want to mention it here. Remember, the aim of the logline is to SELL. If you have something UNIQUE in your story, whatever it is, don’t omit it.

So to wrap things up, here’s our all-singing, all-dancing logline formula:

HERO + IRONY + CATAYST + (FLAW + CHALLENGE = HERO’S JOURNEY) + ARENA (+ ANTAGONIST) = SALE!

 

NOW SIMPLIFY…

If your logline contains all these elements, chances are it’s still not ready for the world.

Why? Because it’s probably too complicated.

It can be very hard to distill 110 pages into one or two sentences, especially if you’re emotionally invested in the story. This is why I recommend doing nothing.

Nothing?

Yes.

Nothing.

Let it sit. Give yourself time to drift away from the story and forget about it. Come back with a fresh vision. Once you are objective, you are in a better place to examine whether or not the logline conveys everything you want it to convey.

For instance, in my logline, do we really need so many adjectives? Do we need the homeless people? Sure, they are a major part of the script. But we’re trying to boil the story down to its  bare essence.

Another thing to remember is that you can go too far in paring things down. You have to give the reader the bare concept, but with enough specifics so that it doesn’t become just another Tagline or Teaser.

This takes time. But the more time you put into your marketing materials the better your chances of success. Remember, you only have ONE CHANCE to make a good impression. That industry pro will not take a second look at the same logline. So make that first time count.

And finally…

Here’s the latest version of my own logline for “Demophobia”:

After his girlfriend goes missing following a clinical drugs trial, an artist with a phobia of people searches the city for her, only to find that a mysterious entity that can leap from body to body is out to stop him at all costs. 

 

What do you think?

(Let me know if you think I’ve left something out!)

 

…ONE LAST WORD

By now you are probably sick to death of loglines.

Good. You are now less likely to send it out before it’s polished to diamond hardness. Put the script in a drawer for a week, then come back and take another look at that logline.

It’s amazing what a different time makes, isn’t it?

You should now know what makes up a successful logline. However, your logline is only as strong as your story. If your logline is weak, it may be that your story is weak. In that case, use your logline to improve your story.

One last thing to bear in mind, is that nobody is perfect. Some of the above loglines lack some elements. “Predator” lacks a hero with a journey. Arnie at the start of the film is Arnie at the end of the film. “The Poseidon Adventure” lacks a central hero, but makes up for it by having a terrific arena and unique challenges.

The point is, you can make up for deficiencies in one aspect by having something else that is truly great. So don’t get all paranoid about loglines to the point where you’re too paralyzed to write. Just ask yourself if your logline contains enough of the above elements to hook whoever it is you’re pitching to.

I hope this guide improves your loglines. And don’t forget, above all else, have fun!

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The only guide to writing a logline you’ll ever need – Part Two

This is the second in three posts on how to write a logline.

In the first post, we looked at what a logline is and, more importantly, what it is not.

We learned that a logline is a basic selling tool for your screenplay or novel. It is  a one or two sentence pitch that aims to tell the reader about your story in a succinct manner in order to save the reader TIME.

We also talked about the difference between a logline and a tagline, a teaser, and a movie cross.

Now comes the meaty part. This where we break down what goes into a good logline.

The NUMBER ONE MISTAKE writers make when pitching their story is that they do not invest time in their marketing materials. Incredible as it seems, they spend months or even years honing their script, then hammer out a logline in minutes and wonder why nobody wants to read it. However, a good logline can open doors, create working relationships, and get your project sold or made.

Sound good, right?

Then read on!

 

ELEMENTS OF A GOOD LOGLINE

A good logline gets a producer, agent, manager, executive, publisher etc. to continue their relationship with you. Ideally, it gets them to read the script. To this end, you have to ask yourself “What is a producer etc. looking for?”

ANSWER: something they can sell.

Okay. Not very helpful. But you should already have done your research on them to check if this is their kind of project. More on that another time. For now, let’s look at things from their point of view. How do they know if this project is the right thing for them? Bear in mind that they have many, many submissions to go through every single day?

ANSWER: by ensuring it contains the following:

A great TITLE.

The GENRE.

A HOOK.

Who is the HERO?

What is the CATALYST?

What is the nature of the CHALLENGE they must face?

And for added points:

The Hero’s JOURNEY.

The ARENA.

Who thought loglines could be so complex? Actually, it’s simpler than you might think. Most of these are intuitive anyway.

But let’s go through them one at a time, just to make sure you have them:

 

TITLE

It sounds obvious, but a movie should have a great title, something that sets it apart from everything else. Ideally, it should also inform the audience aboout the subject matter. I’ve noticed that many well-made but obscure movies don’t do as well as they could have because they have a generic title that says nothing about the subject or the plot.

For a recent example, how about “Edge of Tomorrow”? A title so generic they had to rename it for the DVD release. It doesn’t say anything about the plot or the characters.

Or how about: “John Carter”. This assumes that you already know who John Carter is. For my money they should have gone with: “John Carter: Warlord of Mars”. Now that would have piqued my interest.

One of the best movie titles is “Ghostbusters”. It’s funny and tells you the entire premise. It gives away not just the concept, but also the fact that this is an action-comedy movie.

 

GENRE

You can sometimes even give this away in the title, as with “Ghostbusters”. Otherwise, you want to indicate it in the logline.

To use my the example of my own script “Demophobia”, can you tell what genre this is:

A man with a phobia of people must search a crime-infested city for his missing girlfriend, only to come into conflict with a mysterious entity controlling the homeless population.

Clearly something speculative is going on. But is it a sci-fi? A fantasy? A horror? I would say the logline implies that this is a straight story, not a comedy. But to make it clearer what kind of genre we’re talking about, I added:

When his girlfriend goes missing following a clinical drugs trial, a man with a phobia of people must search a crime-infested city for his missing girlfriend, only to come into conflict with a mysterious entity controlling the homeless population.

There. That hints that this is a sci-fi thriller, which indeed it is. Maybe there’s a little horror thrown in there too. It’s okay to have more than one genre in your logline, BTW.

Okay, so  my own logline isn’t perfect yet. But there’s a way to go before we’re done. In any case, giving the GENRE away in the logline will allow your producer to see at once whether your script is right for him or her.

 

THE HOOK

This is one of the main stumbling blocks, and something that’s talked about  a lot when discussing a “high concept”.

QUESTION: What is a “hook”?

ANSWER: A hook is the kind of thing you use to catch a fish. It’s a shimmering, bright, dancing object that teases your target into wanting to know more, until they request the script and… ulp! They”re hooked!

So much for metaphors. Now let’s get more serious:

Sometimes the hook is a fantastic concept that’s never been done before. For instance, “An ocean liner capsizes in a storm. The survivors must fight their way out through the sinking, upside-down ship to survive.” (The Poseidon Adventure)

Sometimes it’s just a catchy idea. Something that’s both new and familiar at the same time: “A father loses the right to see his children, so he dresses up as a woman to become the ideal nanny.” (Mrs. Doubtfire)

One of the easiest ways to ensure you have a hook is to use IRONY.

Irony is defined in the dictionary as: “A situation that seems funny or strange because things happen in a way that seems the opposite if what was expected”.

In a logline, it could appear because the hero has a specific occupation, and get to see the opposite of what we expected to see happen to her unfold in the story.

Or, if the hero has a particular character FLAW, you can play on this by making the worst thing possible happen to them.

Some “high-concept” movies do both.

For instance: in “Liar Liar” an attorney is forced to tell the truth after his kid makes a wish that comes true.

This logline tells us a lot about the movie. It’s funny. So it’s probably a comedy with a hit of satire. It’s not necessarily going to cost a fortune to shoot, unless we get someone like Jim Carrey in the lead. And it’s IRONIC. An attorney (who, it is implied, lies for a living – it is a comedy, after all) is forced to tell the truth! It’s irony based on occupation and character flaw (he lies a lot). Classic high concept!

 

HERO

Movies are often mythic stories. Especially high -grossing ones. As a result, producers like to see a central hero.

Most of the above examples make it pretty clear who is the hero of this movie. However, what do you do if you have an ensemble cast? For instance, The Poseidon Adventure doesn’t have a central hero.

ANSWER: The easiest fix for this is to pick out one character and make them the hero.

“Ocean’s Eleven” is about a group of con artists who rob casinos. All of the eleven are part of the group. But who changes the most? Either that, or who is the central focus of attention? It’s got to be Danny Ocean himself. So a logline for this might read:

“An ambitious ex-con gathers together a team of experts to rob three Las Vegas casinos at the same time.”

 

So there you are. We’ve covered TITLES, GENRES, the HOOK, and the importance of a central HERO. But we’re not done yet…

There’s a lot to digest in this post. So next time we’ll take a look at the rest of our logline ingredients: the CATALYST, the CHALLENGE , the Hero’s JOURNEY, and the ARENA.

See you there!

How to Write Loglines – an actually useful guide

Want to know how to write effective loglines for movies and books? Read on!

INTRODUCTION

There has been so much written on the subject of writing loglines that I thought it was about time I added my tupppence (or two cents, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on) to the debate.

Let’s start with the basics:

1. WHAT IS A “LOGLINE”?

A logline can apply to both novels and screenplays for movies. They are generally short, punchy descriptions of the plot (i.e. the thing your story is about). Editors, agents, producers and assorted other people often ask for a logline when they are deciding whether to buy or represent your work.

Interestingly, neither Robert McKee in his lauded book “Story” nor William Goldman in his seminal essay “Adventures in the Screen Trade” mention what a logline is. Yet I would argue that is one of the most essential tools the screenwriter or novelist has at his or her disposal. In fact, it is an essential skill to master.

One thing a logline is not is that thing you see on movie posters. This is in fact a “tagline”. Tagllines are very short (usually one sentence, or sometimes less!) statements used to entice someone into watching a movie.

An example of a tagline:

“In space, no-one can hear you scream” (Alien)

While this is a great tagline, note that it tells us nothing about what is going on (other than it’s in space, and you’re likely to scream).

A logline is more sophisticated and tells us more about the story.

For example:

“A psychopath escapes from an asylum and slashes his way through a quiet suburban neighbourhood until he is defeated by a bookish young woman” (Halloween).

Okay, so it’s not poetry. But you get the picture.

 

 

2. WHY THE HELL DO I NEED A LOGLINE ANYWAY?

But Eric, you say, why should I distil my 100,000 word novel or my 120 pages screenplay, work of genius that it is, into a single sentence?

The answer: a logline is a selling tool.

Loglines allow you to “pitch” (i.e. tell) someone about your story in a very short space of time. And when you’re dealing with producers, agents and executives who can only spare you less than a minute, this becomes important.

Of course, if you’re happy just writing and never selling anything, loglines probably won’t apply to you. Good luck on your chosen career path. Some of us have to eat.

A good logline can make someone sit up in their seat and pay attention. It can entertain, move and arouse curiosity in the listener. And it can delay that moment when they start yawning or hang up.

 

3.  OKAY, SMARTYPANTS. WHAT IS A GOOD LOGLINE MADE UP OF?

Opinions abound on this.

In his excellent guide “Raindance Writers Lab: Write and Sell the Hot Script”, Elliott Grove suggests that you first come up with a “basic premise”. This, to me, is a logline: a 25 words or less summary of the plot.

A rule of thumb is, the shorter the logline, the higher the concept.

High concept is what sells in Hollywood (although other types of film also sell). What is a high concept? Basically, something that’s real easy to sell.

In “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (a book no screenwriter should be without)  the author says that a killer logline should include the following:

– Irony

– A compelling mental picture

– An idea of audience and cost

– A killer title

Let’s investigate:

Irony

What is Irony? In the film “Borat” , Sascha Baron Cohen in his alter ego of the Khazakstanian ambassador to the USA, interviews a real-life professor of comedy. When the Professor tries to explain a joke to him, Borat deliberately gets the wrong end of the stick repeatedly. This goes on for some time until it becomes very funny. Everyone but the Professor of comedy, who is paid to understand humour, gets the joke. That is irony.

An example of irony in a logline would be: “A lawyer is forced to tell the truth for 24 hours after his son makes a birthday wish ” (Liar Liar).

The other elements are all important. A title is essential to help your movie stand out from the crowd. A sense of scale and budget will help others to decide whether to invest (is it “The Blair Witch Project” or “Avatar”?) .

However, there are basic elements I think this definition leaves out.

The easiest way to analyse what makes a good logline is to look at one.

Here are two examples:

“A police chief with a phobia of the sea must kill a giant shark but faces opposition from the local mayor who demands that the beaches stay open” (Jaws).

“A naive farmboy on a distant planet learns that he is actually the son of a legendary warrior and sets out to rescue a princess from an evil galactic empire”. (Star Wars).

Here we can see irony at work. The police chief is afraid of the water but must fight a shark. The farmboy is naive but must somehow defeat a whole army.

But there is more than just irony in a logline. Looking at our examples, here are some common elements:

A PROTAGONIST in an IRONIC SITUATION must overcome an OBSTACLE to achieve a GOAL in an ARENA.

Tackling “Jaws” first:

“A police chief [PROTAGONIST] with a phobia of the sea [IRONY] must kill a giant shark [GOAL ] but faces opposition from the local mayor [OBSTACLE ] who demands that the beaches stay open [ARENA]”.

The ARENA is the environment the story takes place in. This could be a location (a distant planet), a particular organisation (for example, the mafia), or even within the family unit (see “Ordinary People” for an example).

Sometimes the ARENA will be implicit. Other times you will have to spell it out. But the logline should give a sense of this.

Note that the OBSTACLE may be the same as the ANTAGONIST, or it may not. In “Jaws”, you may think the antagonist is the shark. But in fact it is the local mayor who opposes Brody’s shark safety measures. Killing the shark is the GOAL.

In “Star Wars” the antagonist is Darth Vader (or Grand Moff Tarkin to be precise). But in fact the whole Empire is what poses the problem.

The point is, the OBSTACLE is a fluid concept, depending upon how you craft your logline. But I believe there is an optimum balance to be achieved for maximum effect.

Here is another example that shows the flexibility of the logline concept:

“A young man and woman from different ends of the social spectrum fall in love aboard an ill-fated ocean liner.” (Titanic)

Breaking it down:

“A young man and woman [PROTAGONIST] from different ends of the social spectrum [OBSTACLE] fall in love [GOAL] aboard an ill-fated ocean liner [ARENA and IRONY].”

Note that it is the young woman who is the protagonist. More on that in another post. But the story is always about ONE PERSON’s journey. Unless it’s an ensemble film. Which just goes to show that William Goldman was right when he said “Nobody knows anything”!

One more for the road:

“A loyal Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane Emperor and returns to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge” (Gladiator)

Here’s the breakdown:

“A loyal Roman general [PROTAGONIST] is betrayed [IRONY] and his family murdered by an insane Emperor and returns to Rome as a gladiator [OBSTACLE and ARENA (literally!)] to seek revenge [GOAL]”.

Note also that sometimes it is the Protagonist’s FLAW which provides the irony (such as the farmboy being naive in “Star Wars” or the police chief with a phobia off the sea in “Jaws”). Other times it is the entire situation which is ironic, such as the loyal Roman general who is enslaved and betrayed by his own Emperor. Again, it’s a flexible concept.

The important thing is not to get hung up on the details but to check all the boxes.

One last thing. It may be worth your while to develop the logline BEFORE you write the script, as this way you can build a story that has the strongest foundations possible.

IN SUMMARY

So there you have it:

PROTAGONIST + IRONIC SITUATION + OBSTACLE + GOAL + ARENA

Not necessarily that order!

Have fun with loglines. You will probably take quite a few goes to build the best logline for your story. But the rewards are worth it. A logline is the PRIMARY selling tool. Once you practice it, you will surprised at the results.