Writing a logline can be a real challenge. So much story to tell, and so few words!
This sheet will simplify the process, and hand you an effective formula.
Writers should be most concerned about development loglines. These serve to convince an industry pro that you have a promising story. To this purpose, you are going to give away as much relevant detail as possible within that one sentence.
To help you focus on those elements that satisfy a pro that you have the goods for a solid story concept, we include a standard set of elements:
- the CHARACTER/POV: describe sociology/function and psychology/behaviour.
- the MAJOR EVENT: this is the inciting incident, the call to adventure, catalyst etc.
- the ACTION/GOAL: describe what the MC tries to achieve for most of the story.
(these are often implied by the elements above)
- the STAKES: for high concept stories, the stakes are implied in the basic logline
- the OBSTACLE/ANTAGONIST: often part of the Action, or suggested by the Event
- the HERO’S FLAW: this will express the theme and character journey/transformation.
- the MPR (Mid Point Reversal)
WHEN [a Major Event happens], a [Main Character] MUST [do the Main Action].
When a [CHARACTER], is [confronted by a MAJOR EVENT], s/he must [do the ACTION/GOAL].
A [CHARACTER], must [do the ACTION/GOAL] when [a MAJOR EVENT occurs].
- the MAJOR EVENT: a swimmer is brutally killed by a shark
- the MAIN CHARACTER: a small-town sheriff
- the ACTION/GOAL: to stop the killing monster
A languid sheriff must take responsibility when a great white terrorises the beaches.
Check out these videos in which I go deeper into the structure of loglines, and then try your hand at some loglines of your own.
If your story has a transformational character, do include the flaw in your logline as it is a key to the movie’s theme or thematic premise. You can do this by including an adjective (e.g. a self-centred weather man) the arc (must take responsibility), or both.
If you are not bound by the rigid 25-word rule, you may want to include your story’s Mid Point Reversal (MPR).
In the following longer version of the Jaws logline, we are including the theme or character arc, as well as the MPR (expressed by “BUT WHEN”):
When the mangled body of a swimmer is found on the beach, the town sheriff must battle the mayor who wants to keep business as usual over the 4th of July weekend; but when the sheriff’s own son is almost killed by a great white, he must show responsibility and venture into the ocean to kill the monster.
The MPR is covered by including “but when the sheriff’s own son is almost killed”, which happens exactly halfway the story. At this point we see the sheriff take responsibility and overcome his fear of water.
Let’s try Inception:
When an exiled dream thief is offered the chance to see his children again, he must overcome his guilt over the death of his wife, and plant an idea in the dream of a dying business mogul’s son.
Dom Cobb is tortured with guilt. As he takes on the mission to perform inception, he completes his arc and overcomes this guilt.
Okay, one more: Groundhog Day.
When a self-centered weather man is trapped within a time loop, he must repeat the same day to better understand the woman he desires; but when she sees through his game, he must learn to genuinely care for others and enjoy life before he can win her heart, and escape the time loop.
The MPR in Groundhog Day is one of the best in cinema history: exactly halfway the film, Phil Connors earns his first kiss, but immediately his love interest sees through him, and treats him to a slap. This high/low kiss/slap is the metaphor for great MPRs!
The term originated at the Hollywood studios, where stories and scripts are ‘logged’ in the Story Department. The logline identifies projects throughout their lives at the studios. You’ll find that loglines fulfill different goals and are written in various ways.
We will follow a specific process to build a logline that contains the most essential story components. Although the result may differ from any others you know, it will serve as a good basis to develop your own logline.
The main reason why we need to be able to write a good logline is to demonstrate that our story contains the essential components.
Development vs. Marketing.
A logline can be used when entering your script in a contest, when posting it on script sites or to court agents, when you include it in your query letter. Of course, you’ll have it ready when you step in the elevator with Mr. Spielberg. But why not use it right from the start of your creative endeavors?
While you’re still unsure of your concept, wouldn’t it make sense to test your idea in one sentence with others and with yourself?
Here are some of the situations in which a logline may be used:
- when the writer tests (the) concept(s)
- when the writer markets the script to producers
- when the producer markets the project to financiers
- when the sales agent sells the movie to distributors
- when the exhibitor advertises the movie to the audience
- when the distributor packages the DVD
- when a broadcaster advertises the movie in print, online etc.
In each of these cases, people will write a slightly modified version.
If you’re not happy with the outcome of this formula, check out this article on our blog. It may help.
In addition, read the reviews by our top reviewer ‘dpg’, as he gives advice on how to modify the formula to better capture the essence of a story.
Once you are confident about how the structure of a logline works, you won’t be bound by any formula, and you can write your logline ‘from the hip’./