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“Screenwriting is no more complicated than old French torture chambers, I think. It’s about as simple as that.” – James L. Brooks
…sigh. Writing’s hhhard. Ain’t no lie.
Holy fark, batman. What the hell is my problem with creating effective loglines? Every time I think I have a good one- er, a semi-decent one- nailed down, I go running to my friend like a kid with a macaroni art masterpiece waiting for mommy to stick it on the fridge. Only, she’s the friend who’s, thankfully, brutally honest, and tells me my choice in Bow Tie macaroni over Rigafarkingtoni is shite and that I haven’t quite captured the concept of macaroni media. <insert giant-dramatic-verging-on-temper-tantrum sigh here>
She’s got about 4 years on me in the writing world, and she’s not your average idiot, so I trust in her wisdom, but this has me questioning my own story. I thought I had a true grasp on it. It is mine after all!
Here’s what she told me as far as what to shove into that bratty little sentence: Must achieve THIS, in order to THIS, or else THIS. She also said to start with several sentences, say 7, and pare it down from there using action and description words. As in, cut out the bullcrap and dig out the ol’ thesaurus (or, you know, just hit shift+F7). The hook should be evident while mentioning the stakes at hand and the possibilities of ultimate despair and destruction… or something to that effect.
What do you guys think? I had to go on another google hunt in order to find something I could relate to and reference repeatedly. I want to be completely confident in my logline, as well as my familiarity and focus with my own story.
Here are some blips from places I looked up:
1) According to Scriptologist.com:
“A logline is a one-sentence summary of your script. It’s the short blurb in TV guides that tells you what a movie is about and helps you decide if you’re interested in seeing it. It’s the grabber that excites your interest. <cough> Before you even begin to write, you must write down this one key sentence – the logline. Keep it in front of you while you write your script. It will keep you focused on the story when you stray. ”
(Is that my problem? That I didn’t write the logline first? I thought it was something you came up with after you wrote your story. I thought writing was seeing what happens next, organically, and then circling back and editing and re-writing. Am I doing this all wrong? Keep reading…)
“Your logline will usually start out as more than one sentence. It may even be far too long and complicated, and that’s okay. Leave it alone for a day or two and go back over with a pencil and cross out all the words that don’t contribute to the main action or heart of the story. Soon, you will have pared down your logline to one sentence that captures the essence of your story.
Here are 3 things to ask yourself as you write your logline: 1) Who is the main character and what does s/he want? 2) Who or what is standing in the way of the main character? 3) What makes this story unique?”
(Still frustrates me to have to write it all in one sentence, but I get the idea.)
2) And now a little nugget from CrackingYarns.com.au: Right off the bat I see this byline “Write your logline at the beginning, not the end”
(WHAT? I am so lost on this journey.)
-Write your logline at the beginning – not the end
Typically, screenwriters sweat for months or years over a screenplay, going through endless drafts, major revisions and minor refinements. Only when the script is “finished”, and even then only at the request of the producer, will they write the logline. This is arse about. Here’s why.
-Writing the logline up front could save you years
I was recently asked to produce script notes for a project that has been in development for several years. Yet after reading just 10-15 pages of the screenplay I knew the project was in trouble because the fundamental concept wasn’t sound. Thousands of dollars could have been spared and years could have been saved – if only the writer had first written a logline.
-Why the logline is a good test of story – simplicity
Film is a demanding medium. You have just an hour and a half – 2 hours if you’re lucky – to tell your story. That’s nothing. The average 300-page novel might take 6 hours to film – which is one reason why book adaptations are so hit-and-miss in the cinema. So good movies tend to have simple story ideas. The plots might be complex, but the concepts are almost always simple. That’s why the logline is such a great test of film stories. One sentence. 27 words. If your story’s too complex to be told in 27 words, then it’s almost certainly too complicated for a 90 min movie.
-Why the logline is a good test of story – marketability
Writing films is tough but marketing them is even more difficult. How do you arrest people’s attention in a one-sheet poster? How do you hook them with a tagline? How do you open a window in their diary with a 15 second trailer? Again, it’s going to need to be a simple, easily communicable idea. But it’s also going to need to be immediately compelling. If you can’t hook me in 27 words you’ll have no chance with the cinema-going public.
-What should you include in the logline?
Learning to write loglines is an art in itself. Here are some tips for what you should include in those precious 27 words:
*Who is the hero? – You should identify the protagonist (though not necessarily by name), the person whose story this is, the character with whom we are meant to identify. e.g. an ageing baseball player, an alcoholic lawyer, a struggling single mother.
*What is the Quest? – What does the hero want? What is the overarching external goal that is going to drive the events of the second act at least and possibly even the third act as well. e.g. has to kill a great white shark, rescue the princess from a dragon, find the groom.
*What is the hero’s flaw? – Stories are plots that force the hero to grow. What is your hero’s failing? Does he lack courage or compassion? What sort of opportunity is there here for emotional growth? e.g. selfish, cowardly, greedy, materialistic, immoral, womanising, ruthless, workaholic, obsessive.
*Where is the conflict? – Drama is all about conflict so we need to understand why this quest is going to be difficult for the hero.
*What’s at stake? – For audiences to care, the hero has to have a very strong motivation. If they don’t achieve this goal, the consequences are massive – in their eyes any way. You will generally try to convey in your logline what’s at stake .
*Who is the antagonist? – You won’t always include the antagonist – unless it’s a romantic comedy – but it can be a good way to establish the conflict and the impossibility of the hero’s quest.
*What is the tone? – If it’s a comedy, it’s a good idea to try to convey that through either the title or the logline.
*What’s the USP – In advertising, they used to talk about Unique Selling Point (USP). The thing that set the product apart from its competitors. What is it about your film that is most likely to appeal to the audience? Your logline should attempt to convey this quality or element to us.
How do you do all that in 27 words? Yeah, it’s not easy but here are some clues.
-How to write your logline
If you’ve read any Joseph Campbell or Chris Vogler, or you’ve been to one of my courses on classic film story structure, you’ll know that we meet the hero in their Ordinary World, that they get a Call to Adventure and that this quest presents a challenge to their character. Consequently, it’s often effective for your logline to have a structure something like this:
When < flawed hero at start of story> is forced to <call to adventure>, he has to <opportunity for emotional growth> or risk <what’s at stake>.
-What you don’t include in the logline
There’s one thing you shouldn’t include in the logline. The ending. It must tease, tempt and demand that the person reads your script. Give away the ending in the logline and you’ve removed that need.
You also shouldn’t include a goal that isn’t concrete. e.g. “must find true love”. What is that? How will we know when they’ve got it? The goal has to drive the drama so it needs to be specific.
(Oy. Back to the drawing board. Sigh.)
While I go nail down my story, here are some other links should any of you be interest, curious, or care to add your own… or even bash a little.
and finally this, The Script Lab’s video:
Here’s a link to their library of loglines of 200 produced films for comparison.