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.
Great discussion and I think Mr. LIteral makes some great points. In his example with Jurassic park, clearly the first one sounds better.
“A group of scientists must escape a giant adventure park when all the cloned dinosaurs are set loose.”
“When cloned dinosaurs are set loose in a giant adventure park, a group of scientists must find a way to escape.
I am writing a logline for a comedy script. It’s based on the first of 7 novels about the same characters (the two video producers).
I wrote a basic log line as follows.
THEY WIN. YOU LOSE. SEX, VIOLENCE & SONGS FROM THE SHOWS
Two incompetent, drunken corporate video producers owe money to an international crime boss, and take increasingly frantic measures to save their lives and reproductive organs.
However, as it’s a comedy, I felt that this was a bit bland and that more hopefully intriguing detail could be added. So I wrote:
THEY WIN. YOU LOSE. SEX, VIOLENCE & SONGS FROM THE SHOWS
Two incompetent, drunken corporate video producers toil aimlessly at the bottom of a barrel no-one wants to scrape and, as they owe money to a sadistic, Ealing comedy-loving, international crime boss, they have to take increasingly frantic measures to save their lives and reproductive organs.
Which one would you advise me to use?
I would suggest using the first logline you wrote, the one that is more succinct. I believe the first thing you want to get across in a logline is the story in a clear, understandable way and for me the second longer logline has too much details for me to immediately grasp the story. I understand the intent in the second version is to increase the comedy but I feel it comes at the cost of clearly understanding the story. Whereas in the first version, the story is clear and the comedic nature of the story is also evident to me just by the addition of “and their reproductive organs”.
Also, is “THEY WIN. YOU LOSE. SEX, VIOLENCE & SONGS FROM THE SHOWS” the name of the script or the tagline of the script you are writing? If it’s the tagline, I agree with Karel and suggest you remove it from the logline submission at it complicates things at this moment (but is of course welcome during marketing).
Hi Stan – Thanks for your comment. Have a look at the HOW TO page on this site. It will help you draft a first attempt at a logline, including some of the critical plot elements. Your version sounds more like a tagline, which is typically considered to be the territory of the marketeers, not the writer…
I vote for protagonist as first part of triadic statement:
A MAIN CHARACTER = 1. A Character stereotype of psychological conflicting traits
A MAJOR EVENT HAPPENS = 2. Including what’s at stake
must DO THE MAIN ACTION = 3. Against insurmountable confrontation
“… You heard the joke of the Irishman, an Englishman and a Chinaman at a bar …” 😉
A logline has the qualities of an Oral Utterance drawing upon oral structural relations, such as the tradition of an old joke, where establishment of character traits/stereotypes comes first.