One thing that many writers try to avoid is consolidation: they don't always want to bring their ideas into bite-sized form. This can be even truer for those who have found themselves forced into writing a logline.
I know, your idea is special. It can't be broken down into such bare essentials, because there is so much more to it — right? Wrong. Every story has a heart, and that's what the logline gets at. Essential for pitching, for establishing story goals and structure, and even for outlining a story in the first place, the logline is the building block of storytelling. It's the core of your idea, the basic premise, put into one sentence. It's also an invaluable tool: tough though it may be to master, you need your logline, and you need it bulletproof.
Why Should A Logline Be Bulletproof?
More than anything, your goal with any producer, an executive, or even just some fellow writers is to use their time wisely. Yes, of course you want to get something out of it: a pitch meeting, a sale, a brainstorm session. But industry professionals value their time — and that means you should, too. That's why having a logline as one terse sentence that succinctly describes your story is the perfect way to communicate your idea with someone who has little time to spare.
If the smallest, most condensed morsel of your idea catches someone's interest, then they'll later ask for a one-sheet, a treatment, or even the script. But don't bombard them with that all at once. Get them interested first, using a logline that stands out and feels just as compelling as your story does.
The other reason you want a bulletproof logline is this: the overall story is informed by one central premise, which has one central character/group of characters and one central conflict within a specific world. If ever you find that your story, vast as it may be, has lost its direction, its focus, then the logline is a great place to remind yourself what the main focus should be. This is also why loglines can serve as the best starting point for outlining a story in the first place.
To benefit from these uses, though, your logline needs to be in its best possible form. To accomplish that, there are five questions you can ask yourself — and five easy fixes that can be applied in the case that something isn't optimal just yet!
5 Steps to Fix Your Logline
Does Your Logline Have A Character Taking Action?
Whatever story you're trying to tell, there's a chance you could start to get lost in the world you've created. However, without making sure that you have a protagonist in your logline, it's technically incomplete. But a story is never just about a person — it's about what that character does, and this is still true with the logline, as a condensed form of your story.
So, what's the big action that your hero takes? Do they embark on a quest to save the world, or do they enter a contest to win their dream home? Whatever it is, it's an action that is the centerpiece here, not just a passive character. To make sure you're using the best possible version of your logline, see to it that your protagonist is actively accomplishing something within.
Does Your Logline Define The Main Conflict?
Piggybacking off the previous question, there's another major component to any story premise: the main conflict. The thing that your protagonist acts against, the biggest obstacle they have to overcome, is a major part of the story: the impending alien invasion, the descent into madness, or the ongoing dispute with awful neighbors that drives the story forward.
Does Your Logline Tell The Whole Story?
Here’s a good one to really think about: because you’ve focused on condensing your story, you may be under the impression that only a partial teaser of a sentence will do. That’s not the case, though, because while it can be used to pitch ideas and tease someone into learning more, the logline is meant to completely reflect the idea of your story.
Many writers are tempted to make their sentence fit the setup of their story, rather than making it fit the story’s main premise. However, you can fix this by determining what’s most important: The main features of your logline should include a setup, of course, but there will be a mention of how things escalate, too. This completeness, the cause and the result, are exactly what the whole story is about.
So, if your story’s about a kid who gets bitten by a radioactive spider, that’s just how the story is set up to begin. The subsequent part, what happens next, ties into the main conflict of the full narrative. If you’re currently stuck only giving people the setup, make sure this second part is there as well, and make it compelling!
Does Your Logline Show Why Your Story's Unique?
Anyone can write about werewolves, dinosaurs, or a man being buried alive. It’s how this story is told that’s different: whether it’s because the concept is unique (a theme park full of live dinosaurs) or because the storytelling itself is unique (a contained movie within a live man’s coffin), your logline should capture it in some way.
If it’s how your concept is different, make sure those unique traits show in the logline plainly. If it’s how your storytelling is meant to be different, demonstrate your writing voice and make it clear why it’s unique enough to make the story feel fresh. Whether that’s through a sick sense of humor in your logline (perfect for a dark comedy) or an emotional connection established within seconds (perfect for a drama), you’ll find your best possible route for making people care about your story by affecting the logline just so.
Is Your Logline Easy To Read?
Here’s a simple one to answer: if your logline is too long, too dense, or too busy, it will not be easy to read, and your story’s not going to get across. That’s why it’s important to keep your logline to one sentence in almost every case. Sometimes two sentences might be warranted for a more complex film (most are not as complex as writers think they are), but these should not be long at all.
Many people even recommend a word cap, often around 30 words. Here’s the thing: you may not have to keep to this expectation, since it’s mostly arbitrary. As long as you’re not writing more than a sentence (possibly two in rare cases), you should be fine. This sentence, though, should not have anything unnecessary written into it. If someone can understand the goals, the conflict, the world of your story without a certain phrase or detail, that phrase or detail can be removed. Making sure your logline is succinct by doing so is imperative to keeping it entirely useful to a reader, as overlong or overly busy loglines will distract from the main point of a story.
Examples of Great Loglines
Learning the art and craft of writing a logline is essential for screenwriters — but it's no easy task. You need to condense your screenplay's concept, genre, story, characters, and plot to into just one to two sentences using just twenty-five to fifty words.
And what better way to see learn how it's done than to read loglines from the best movies out there! Check out our blog post where we list 101 of the best movie loglines screenwriters can learn from.
Your logline needs doctoring before you shop it around. It’s your first impression: it’s the foot in the door that gets someone to eventually read your script. If you’re trying to show people your script before sending them your logline, you’re doing it wrong. People in the industry value their time, and they won’t read a script that’s handed or emailed to them on a whim. They will, however, read what they’re interested in. And that’s why a logline is so useful. If you can get them to read a sentence that sums up your story, you have a better chance of getting them interested off the bat. And after all, you want people interested, right?
David Wayne Young is an independent film producer and screenwriter with years of experience in story analysis, even providing coverage for multiple international screenwriting competitions. David's obsessions include weird fiction and cosmic horror, and he's formally trained in the art of tasting and preparing gourmet coffee in various worldly traditions, from Turkish coffee to hand-tamped espresso — all enjoyed while writing, of course.