Logliner MrLiteral has been criticising loglines that follow our recommended formula, which starts with: “When” + MAJOR EVENT (Inciting Incident).
I was keen to understand his reasoning, and contacted him.
In his response, he builds a strong case for revising our formula. I wanted to share it with you all:
Hi Karel, I think you've missed the point of my repeated advice...I never tell anyone not to STATE the inciting incident; I recommend they don't START the logline with it. The formula you encourage everyone to use -- When the inciting incident occurs, the main character must complete the goal -- flips everything around backwards and makes the logline weaker. As I've said on the site, people don't care as much about the thing that happens as they care about the person to whom it happens. Yes, it's important to include the inciting incident in a logline, but the premise of the story does not occur without a main character with whom a reader or audience can empathize. In the script and the movie, the character is established and is then faced with a conflict -- a logline should follow the same pattern of storytelling. Also, if the logline ends with the most intense beat of the first half of the story -- which is often the inciting incident -- the logline then finishes with the moment of greatest impact, and makes a much stronger impression. Look at the difference here, using Jurassic Park as an example: "A group of scientists must escape a giant adventure park when all the cloned dinosaurs are set loose." Or: "When cloned dinosaurs are set loose in a giant adventure park, a group of scientists must find a way to escape. See how with the first one, it establishes the main characters and then defines their major conflict...like the movie does. But the second one just provides a scenario, and then mentions the people involved almost as an afterthought...as if they themselves are less important than the thing they're forced to deal with. That presents a weak emotional connection for the audience, and mentions the most exciting aspect first rather than end the sentence with the biggest bit of intrigue. So I think you're misguided in advising people to start their loglines with When...an inciting incident should be included, for sure, but beginning that way weakens the overall impact and emotional resonance. Plus it interrupts the flow of the sentence, forcing a comma in there and breaking up the logline into two sections. It's much stronger when it can just barrel forward, telling people everything they need to know to make the story sound interesting.
My main takeaway from this is:
In the script and the movie, the character is established and is then faced with a conflict — a logline should follow the same pattern of storytelling.
For years, master logline reviewer dpg has been arguing a similar case.
I must admit, I completely agree with both, and am considering changing my advice to address this.