How to write an effective logline…

May 4, 2012 § 5 Comments

Okay, I’m going to be honest… I despise writing loglines.  Whew, I feel so much better coming clean and admitting it.  I’ve actually never known any writer who loves this difficult part of screenwriting.  In Hollywood today, it’s become a necessary part of a screenwriter’s arsenal, so master it because you will have to write loglines your entire writing career.

The need for a logline usually comes after you finish your script and a producer will ask you to write a logline and condense the story into a few sentences.  You’ll also need a logline to send out for most submissions to agents, producers, production companies, and contests.  I’ve had to work hard to become proficient at writing loglines and it’s been a difficult beast to master.  Knowing this about myself, I always carve out enough time to craft a good logline that best represents the story of my screenplay.

An effective logline contains information about your protagonist, his or hear goal, and what stands in the way—usually the antagonist.  Try to write the logline as a mini story of your protagonist’s journey and the complications, decisions, actions and transformations he or she encounters on the way to the climax.  Also write the logline in the present tense.

I always start with the bigger plot points from each act and craft them into a short paragraph and then cut it down from there.  An effective logline is about three sentences in length and no more than about forty words.  Don’t be afraid of being creative or writing too much on your first handful of passes.  As you continue to cut down to the core of the story, you’ll have a lot of good beats to work from and you won’t miss any elements that are important.

As you condense your various drafts, read the logline aloud to hear how it flows or doesn’t flow.  Does it effectively convey your story and still leave enough mystery to grab someone’s attention to read the script?  The goal is marketing and advertising.  Movie posters do it with their one-liners or tag lines.  The studios have entire marketing departments working on trying to get you into the theater to see their films.  You need to become an expert at doing the same with an effective logline that draws similar interest to your script.

Here are a few loglines from movies you may have seen:

“With his hand trapped under a boulder in a remote canyon, Aron Ralston faces the greatest dilemma of his life—cut it off or die.” — “127 Hours”  (2010)

“In a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs, a despondent cop struggles on the lam to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed.” —“Minority Report”  (2002)

These are effective and give you the core elements of the stories.   I crafted this next logline for a natural disaster screenplay a producer hired me to write…

“When a career-minded executive and her estranged husband become trapped in the world’s tallest building during the storm of the century, they’re  forced together to help save her co-workers, and in the process save their failed marriage.” — Terror Tower

The producers liked the logline enough to send it out with my synopsis to their investment group with hopes to entice them to consider investing in the project.  The logline gets to the core of the story and tells who, what, where, when and how of the story.

The benefits of writing a logline are that it forces a screenwriter to focus on the main core of the screenplay and this process can also help when you pitch your script.  As with all writing—less is more, and the logline should entice them into reading your full script.  This is why an effective logline is so important.  It represents your script and a poorly crafted or confusing logline will not garner a read of your material.  As Hollywood is awash with 50,000 projects a year to consider, nobody likes to read so the logline has become an important tool to save time—and to weed out the good ideas from the bad.  Work on mastering the craft of writing an effective logline, as it’s an important part of your screenplay’s journey to getting noticed, being read, and hopefully moving forward to being sold and produced.

After the logline, don’t forget the importance of a well-structured treatment.

Keep writing and keep the faith because if you stop you’ll never have a chance at any success.

Scriptcat out!

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“My task which I am trying to achieve is by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see. That–and no more, and it is everything.”— Joseph Conrad

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” —Thomas Jefferson

“Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.”—Hunter S. Thompson

“The problem is that screenwriters don’t focus enough on storytelling.”—Scott Frank



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