IN 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.
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.