Jonathan Treisman at the Writers Store defines a logline as
“a one- or two-sentence description of the overall idea of the story.”
That’s kinda right. Only, I would like to be more specific than ‘the overall idea’.
A great logline gives us the essential trait(s) of the main character, the inciting incident, and the main character goal/action. If not implied, stakes and obstacles must be clarified, too. Go here to learn my very specific approach to loglines.
Treisman lists 5 loglines for famous movies.
Let’s have a look, and see if we can do better…
The extraordinary story of a thoroughbred racehorse – from his humble beginnings as an under-fed workhorse to his unlikely rise and triumphant victory over the Triple Crown winner, War Admiral.
Review: NEVER start your logline with “the story of”. I wouldn’t call this a logline in the first place, as we don’t see who the hero will be. The horse? Then what is its main conflict? Right now, it reads like a documentary. Fail.
2. Pirates Of The Caribbean
A 17th Century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England’s daughter and reclaim his ship.
Review: NEVER use the character’s name in a logline. Also: start with the Inciting Incident. How about “When a charming pirate is imprisoned, he must go on a mission to help save the Governor’s daughter in order to reclaim his freedom and his ship.”
3. Spy Kids
After segueing from a life of espionage to raising a family, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez are called back into action. But when they are kidnapped by their evil nemesis, there are only two people in the world who can rescue them… their kids!
Review: Again, no names please. Three quarters of this logline is dedicated to setup and Inciting Incident. This could be easily simplified to: “When two top spies are kidnapped…”
4. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Toula’s family has exactly three traditional values – “Marry a Greek boy, have Greek babies, and feed everyone.” When she falls in love with a sweet, but WASPy guy, Toula struggles to get her family to accept her fiancée, while she comes to terms with her own heritage.
Review: Drop the MC’s name, and the longish intro. “When a young Greek woman falls in love with a WASPy guy, she struggles to get her overly conservative family to accept her lover, while she comes to terms with her own heritage.”
A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea.
Review: Although it may sound dull and overly simplistic, this is actually a solid logline. We don’t need more, as it is easily implied. Here however, the Titanic may be mentioned by name, because it is a historical setting everyone gets.
Can you improve these loglines? Write your version in the comments section!