Sofiya’s Super Awesome Advice for Writing a Logline

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:

Schindler’s List:

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.

The Hangover:

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.

RainDance.org

Writers Store

IndieWire

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7 comments

  1. You’re right, that is super awesome advice. 🙂 I’m going to start (planning) a new novel in the next few months, and I think I will start with a logline. Maybe it will change as I go along, but I agree it’s a great way to get clear on the core conflict.

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      • Okay, so I’m working on a short story at the moment and I thought I’d write a logline for practice. What do you think? Can you help me make it more enticing?

        When a human boy with a withered hand fails to breathe fire to defend his master the greatdragon’s lair, the boy must decide whether his true home lies with the dragons or in the village that rejected him.

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      • When a human boy with a withered hand fails to breathe fire to defend his master the greatdragon’s lair, the boy must decide whether his true home lies with the dragons or in the village that rejected him.

        Hmmmm okay. My first suggestion would be to make it more clear here what the boy’s passion is, and then relate that to the disaster. Also, what is the disaster? I saw a good piece of advice about disasters (and now I can’t remember who said it, gah!): give your character two things that they NEED, and then make them mutually exclusive. The disaster is giving up the one so they can have the other.

        In my story, Anya’s passion is her family (and later her friends). She finds out her family is in debt and going to lose their farm, so she signs up to hunt a dragon to get reward money (NEED 1: money to save family farm). But then the dragon turns out to be really nice. He rescues her from drowning and becomes her friend (NEED 2: help new friend avoid hunter who will kill him). She has two needs that both align with her core passion, and the two are mutually exclusive at this point: if she doesn’t turn the dragon in, she won’t get the money to save her farm. But if she turns him in, he’ll be killed. The tension in the story comes from her making the decision she ultimately makes, and facing the resulting consequences.

        For your logline, I’d like to know why he can’t have both homes. Why does living with dragons prevent him from mingling with other humans? Why did the village reject him in the first place? If the village rejected him, why would he want to go back?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your response. Argh! It’s so had to fit all the important bits into one paragraph.

        I’ve been working within the framework of one conscious desire – the thing the MC wants – and one unconscious desire – the things he actually needs. He wants to be be considered useful and so to fit in. He was spurned by his village because of his disability, and he internalised the idea that he wasn’t a worthwhile human being. He tries to fit in with the dragons by letting them walk all over him, but the disaster makes him realise that because he can’t breathe fire he may never fit in with the dragons. What he needs to learn is to have confidence in himself, which will allow him to breathe fire.

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      • I incorporate the Want and Need into my stories as well, and they’re tied in with the Lie: the false thing the character believes about him/herself, the world, their situation, etc. The Want is something born of the Lie which reinforces it, and the Need is what the character uses to overcome the Lie.

        If he Wants to be considered useful, then his Lie is that he’s useless due to his disability. His Need would be the realization that he can be useful with a disability, or he’s useful in ways he never realized (being able to breathe fire?).

        If the dragons are walking all over him, though, what’s the reward for being one of them? Getting walked on some more? They sound like jerks.

        Liked by 1 person

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