How to Write Great Loglines

Writing LoglinesIN ONE of my recent classes on storytelling I invited my screenwriting students to come up with three loglines, before choosing the best amongst them.

Some were more enticing than others. Fresher concepts, new angles on old ones, dangling questions that demanded answers.

Others, not so much.

The Essence of Loglines

When the dust had settled and the best loglines stood shoulder to shoulder one thing seemed obvious. They all foregrounded concrete, outer journey elements of the story while simultaneously revealing essential aspects of the inner journey – the reasons and explanation of why the hero acts in the way that he does.

Being loglines, they did not go overboard in fleshing this out. They provided just enough information to intrigue the reader.

Loglines and high concept have this in common: They allow the reader, in the words of Steven Spielberg, to hold the story in the palm of her hand – to glimpse, in one fell swoop, what the story is about – although high concept focuses on elements of uniqueness and originality far more than any ordinary logline.

So it is with any commercially viable story. Without a concrete, palpable plot in which the hero has to struggle in physically challenging spaces against a powerful villain to achieve his goal, there is no story to tell.

The point is important. If the reader can not see the physical arc of the story in a logline she will probably not be interested in reading the rest of the tale in order to reach its themes and concepts.

This is not to say that the inner journey is not of vital importance. Many of the greatest stories ever written had powerful inner journeys – Lord of the Rings, The Spire. But it is to say that the inner journey will only be of interest if the vehicle that carries it, the outer journey, is concrete and palpable.

The logline, “The Land Below is a post-apocalyptic story concerning a young orphan boy who embodies the themes of survival versus freedom,” is not as good as:

The Land Below is the story of a lowly orphan boy who secretly plots to escape his suffocating post-apocalyptic existence in a converted goldmine, knowing that if betrayed, he will be executed for fermenting resurrection against the social order.”

In the second logline the themes of survival and freedom are still present, but they emerge through the visceral and emotive use of concrete, palpable words such as “plots”, “suffocating”, “goldmine”, “betrayed,” “executed,” and “resurrection”. The logline allows us to hold the story in the palm of our hand.

Summary

Write effective loglines using concrete, emotive, and visceral language that creates a snapshot of your hero’s outer journey, while simultaneously hinting at his reasons for undertaking it.

11 thoughts on “How to Write Great Loglines

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Great Post . So true , a high concept makes for an interesting log lone. Let’s face it – screen writing is a medium reserved to the small minority who have the means to produce and distribute. Perhaps the most liberating and economic medium of storytelling is in the form of novels. This is testified to the legacy to Hans Christian Anderson, The brother Grimm and J.K Rowling.

    A orphaned boy discovers that his parents were wizards and embarks on a journey to learn the disciplines of magic.

    In a world where sea creatures are forbidden to make contact with people above the waves , a mermaid princess falls in love with a human prince. ( Best fairy tale ever !) ( classic Shakespeare love story with a physical obstacle – she’s a mermaid , he’s a human)

    These log lines sell themselves.

    In short : If the premise prints books , it will print money in any medium.

    Reply
  2. Michael Wong

    Dear Stavros,

    I came across your article via one of the LinkedIn group posting. Any pointer/ opinion on this logline for my short film (https://vimeo.com/143267832)? Appreciate your time.

    Logline:
    How much is a promise worth these days? An aspiring fashion designer finds out when she has to choose between fulfilling her promise and realizing her dream.

    Reply
    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      The logline is not bad, Michael. However, a more concrete hint as to what is driving that choice wouldn’t go amiss.

      Reply
    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      In the same way you would apply it to a single film, Rob. Only here you would hint at the entire character and plot line. For example: A lowly paid high school chemistry teacher who has just been diagnosed with cancer decides to change his fortunes by cooking meth – just enough to get himself and his family out of financial trouble. But as problems and successes mount he becomes trapped as much by his own ambition as by his need to stay ahead of the law and the drug cartels. (Breaking Bad)

      Reply
      1. Rob Lindsay

        Thank you Stavros. Is there a difference re a comedy series, where the arc may be much less than a drama?
        Or is there more emphasis on an arc in comedy these days?

        Thanks,

        Rob

        Reply

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