Loglines are one of my favorite things to write. Once I get an inkling of a new story, I immediately start constructing a logline for it. It’s a very concise way to figure out the nuts and bolts of your story, and also figure out right away if something needs more development. In short: loglines are AWESOME!
The formula I use is one I was introduced to on Scribophile, in the “Loglines” group. The guideline I use is: a single sentence of 27 words or less, containing the following information:
When incident occurs, character with role and motivation pursues goal, only to discover that opposition threatens disaster.
Here are some examples from famous movies, snarfed from this website:
When a materialistic, womanizing Aryan industrialist discovers his Jewish workers are being sent to Nazi death camps, he risks his life and fortune to save them.
Raiders of the Lost Ark:
A dashing archaeologist must reunite with the ex he dumped if he is to beat the Nazis to find the all-powerful lost Ark of the Covenant.
When Harry Met Sally:
When a cynical anti-romantic befriends a cheery optimist he’s forced to challenge his belief that men and women can’t have a Platonic relationship.
After a wild Vegas Buck’s Party, a dysfunctional bunch of guys wakes with no memory of last night, a tiger in the bathroom, and no groom.
Seems easy, right?
It’s super easy… if you’ve got a well-constructed story. The logline is one of the first things you can use to figure out whether you’ve got a solid concept or not. If you can’t boil your story down to a single sentence, you need to work on it.
Let’s break down each of those criteria up there.
- An interesting character with passion and a role;
- This tells the reader about your main character. It needs to make the reader care, or at least be interested. When I see this part of the logline boiled down to just the character’s name, or something like “a girl/boy,” I want to see something more. What kind of girl? What does the boy like? Expressing the character’s passion is important here, because your stakes at the end hinge upon what we understand about it.
- An incident that makes the character need something in order to be happy;
- If you’ve got your inciting/key event, you’ve got this incident down. Something crazy happens, or you wouldn’t have an interesting story, right? Tell us about what this crazy thing is! Make us care!
- A risky or difficult goal for the character to pursue
- In the above bullet, it ends with the character needing something to be happy. This goal is what the character believes they need to do/acquire in order to achieve that happiness.
- Something or someone in the way, which makes the goal risky or difficult
- This is the antagonist, or something the antagonist did to stymie the protagonist. Make it good, and make it huge!
- A risk of disaster expressed in terms of the character’s underlying passion.
- Back in the first bullet, I mentioned that the passion of your character is important. Why? Because this is what’s going to drive your character to keep going, regardless of the hardships. I see a lot of time the disaster is “death.” Okay, so I’m going to kind of rant on this one. Sure, death could be a disaster, but it’s everyone’s disaster.
- Every living organism everywhere does things with the underlying goal of “don’t die.” It’s a great motivation for living, but it’s a boring motivation for storytelling. Everyone I meet, I assume one goal we all have in common is “don’t die today.”
- Same goes for all the characters I read about in books. They all probably don’t want to die. Okay, great! But what else is going on? What other motivation does your character live their life by?
- Take Dr. Strange for example (Spoilers? Not really). Dr. Strange is a neurosurgeon (the best neurosurgeon), and he gets into an accident that almost kills him, but more importantly for him, damages his hands and makes him unable to be a surgeon anymore. This is his disaster, because it has stripped him of his passion, which is performing surgery.
The logline is an invaluable tool for writers, even if you never show it to anyone. It’s a quick little reminder about what’s important, and it’s a way for you to make sure you’ve got that solid, high concept story that everyone wants to see.
I recommend checking out the links below for more logline advice. And if you have your own favorite way of writing them, post it here! Like I said, I love the little buggers, and having more ways to do them would be awesome.