Writing a logline can be a real challenge. So much story material, and so few words available!
On this website, we’re building development loglines. These serve to convince an industry pro that you have a promising story. To this purpose, you are going to give a away as much relevant detail as possible using as few words as possible.
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. They are described below.
- the MAJOR EVENT (aka inciting incident, catalyst, call to adventure)
- the MAIN CHARACTER (we describe the MC using their psychology and function/role; e.g. an overcaring mother, a bureaucratic cop, a reckless scientist)
- the ACTION/GOAL (this is what the MC tries to achieve for most of the story)
(unnecessary if these are implied in the Inciting Incident)
- the hero’s weakness/flaw (e.g. headstrong, timid, solitary, cocky, depressed)
- the obstacle(s) and/or the Antagonist
- the stakes
- The Mid Point Reversal (MPR)
Depending on the purpose of the logline, you will include less or more. The logline in its simplest formula is this:
When [a MAJOR EVENT happens], a [MAIN CHARACTER], must [do the MAIN ACTION/GOAL].
Let’s have a look at how this works for JAWS:
- • Major event: a swimmer is brutally killed by a shark
- • Hero (function): a small-town sheriff
- • Main action: to stop the killing monster
When a swimmer is brutally killed by a shark, a small-town sheriff must stop the killing monster.
If you find the ‘automatic’ outcome slightly wooden, remember the formula is only there to make sure your concept contains the three essential components: The Character (providing us with the story POV), the Inciting Incident (or major EVENT) and the Hero’s Main Goal (the main ACTION).
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).
Here are a few longer examples (Jaws and Inception):
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.
When a dream thief is offered the chance to escape exile and 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.
In Inception, Dom Cobb is tortured with guilt. As he takes on the mission to perform inception, he completes his arc and overcomes this guilt.
Okay, let’s do 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 she sees through him, and treats him to a slap. This high-low is the metaphor for great MPRs!
The setting is rarely an essential aspect of the story, so you won’t need to include it.
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.