Summarising an entire story or idea in an engaging and compelling one or two sentence logline is tricky as hell.
Loglines are a necessary evil. It’s the shorthand that you, managers, agents, development executives, and producers will initially use to get your script considered, pitched, purchased, developed, packaged, financed, produced, and distributed.
A logline is not meant to tell the whole story. It’s the story of the story. The core concept in its barest form.
A shitty logline will get you nowhere. A great logline can take you and your work to places you can only dream of.
The story engine and critical elements must be clear and present, intriguing and beguiling. It must include the main character(s), the world they live in, the inciting incident, the major conflict they must face, and the stakes at hand.
It’s a lot to cram into one or two sentences without sounding rote and formulaic. Or getting lost in B stories and supporting characters, twists and turns. Save all that for the script.
For the logline, focus on the concept of the story. Start with a basic fill-in-the-blanks outline.
When [inciting incident occurs]
a [main character type(s)]
Using that basic outline, here’s a logline for “Jaws” - When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community, a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer must hunt the beast down before it kills again.
The logline outline above is only to help you feel out your story. It’s like the sketch pad. It’s not meant to be the final summary.
It’s going to take quite a few drafts to get it right. To get it so it’s short, sweet, and inspiring. It has to suggest a multitude of story possibilities, a stack of drama. It has to leave the reader wanting more. And it has to be twenty-five words or less.
Keep whittling away verbage and distracting details. Avoid character names. Think character types so anyone can see the protagonist in an instant.
A retired detective.
A rookie cop.
An inner-city teacher.
A single mother.
A struggling writer.
Focusing on character types also creates instant conflict context for the reader.
A retired detective isn’t going to have the authority they once had to solve the case.
A rookie cop is going to struggle with inexperience and pushback from authority figures.
An inner-city teacher may be dealing with lack of funding and other struggles.
A single mother may have to overcome additional struggles to reach an objective.
A struggling writer is going to have to deal with poverty and insecurity.
If the character types seem cliche, mix ‘em up.
A struggling detective.
A single cop.
A retired teacher.
A rookie mother.
An inner-city writer.
Change the character types and you change the instant conflict context.
A struggling detective is going to have to deal with poverty and insecurity.
A single cop may have to overcome additional struggles to reach an objective.
A retired teacher isn’t going to have the authority they once had to solve the case.
A rookie mother is going to struggle with inexperience and pushback from authority figures.
An inner-city writer may be dealing with lack of money and other struggles.
The best writing is not about what’s on the page but what’s in a reader’s mind. A logline must spark and fire up the imagination.
Look for opposites and irony. Why? Because irony juxtaposes possibilities for more meaning and impact, more resonance.
A fast-track lawyer can’t lie for 24 hours due to his son’s birthday wish after the lawyer lets his son down for the last time.
A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
A toon-hating detective is a cartoon rabbit’s only hope to prove his innocence when he’s accused of murder.
Start with a structure and identify the elements within your concept that you need to drive your story. Then tweak what you have by shifting the placement of those elements within the sentence. Rinse. Repeat.
Write ten, twenty, or thirty versions of the same logline, then review them all and create hybrids of certain ones that stand out most.
You’ll find that two or three versions have elements you can combine to create the most effective logline.
Swirl them into something magical.