If you read up on loglines elsewhere, you’ll find that the most common elements listed in a logline are:
– main character
The vast majority of articles and teachers are overlooking an absolutely critical story component: the Inciting Incident (Call to Adventure).
I have no idea why this is, but I have a pretty darn good idea why it is plain wrong.
All About Change
Have you heard the saying “You can tell someone’s character by how they respond to change”? Well, this is what life and relationships are all about.
And you guessed it… This is what stories are all about.
Story concepts are all about a major change, and about characters’ action(s) in response to this change. Then, the detail of the story is all about how this outer change (in the world) provokes an inner change (in the character).
This outer change – our inciting incident – is what Aristotle would call the story’s Beginning. This is how important it is: Aristotle considered everything before this catalyst as a Prologue. It wasn’t even really part of the story. But the change, the Inciting Incident is the first truly important story point.
Yet all these teachers are leaving it out. Insane!
Without Clear Call, Stories Suck
Writers who don’t understand the importance of this story point, may overlook it in development. The story may end up not even having a clear Inciting Incident.
In the Hero’s Journey, the Call To Adventure is the first significant event that happens to the Hero, once the world is set up.
Leave it out, and the audience will not understand when the story really started. It is WHY the Hero goes on the quest. It is the character’s motivation for action. Leave it out, and there is no story whatsoever.
Let’s go back to the logline.
The Inciting Incident Defines Your Story
Loglines capture the essence of a story concept or premise. We are – much like Aristotle – focusing on plot here. Admitted, the theme (or inner journey) is critically important, but it is not what makes your story sell. It is surely not what makes your story unique. The plot, as expressed in the logline, must be unique.
Great loglines triangulate your story. The character may be similar to other stories, the inciting incident may, too. Even the goal/action might not be unique. But the combination of the three must have never been told before.
In your story, the first defining ‘plot point’ is the inciting incident.
If you are building your logline, include it. All smart storytellers do.
Obstacles and stakes are often implied, if your inciting incident and goal are significant and dramatic, so you may leave them out. The Inciting incident rarely is.
To make life easier for yourself, you may even start the logline with it:
“When [the inciting incident happens], the Main Character must [complete the goal].”
That’s the basic formula.
Ignore it at your peril.