Douglas King has been writing professionally for 25 years in film, television and print. For more instruction on how to write loglines along with hundreds of examples, check out Douglas King’s book, “Loglines: the Long and Short of Writing a Strong Logline” available on Amazon! You can also read daily loglines on King’s blog and @LoglinesRUs.
It is imperative for today’s screenwriter to understand the difference between a logline, tagline, and synopsis and to be able to write an effective logline that will ensure that their spec screenplay sees the light of day and not the darkness of the filing cabinet or the digital dustbin of a hard drive. So many writers neither understand the importance of a logline, nor take the time to learn how to effectively write one.
Most, if not all, screenwriting contests now require writers to submit a logline with their script and contests specifically for loglines have popped up.
If you do not know what a logline is — or how to write one — you could find yourself alone with a lot of scripts that are never read. None of us want that. If you do, please feel free to stop reading now.
The focus of this post is to establish the difference between a logline, tagline and synopsis so that you can find greater success with your writing.
A logline is a one-sentence outline of your film using only 35-45 words. It must be only one complete sentence. Any longer and it becomes a synopsis. Any shorter and it becomes a tagline. The logline should not be editorial as in, “My heartwarming tale of two kittens searching for their mommy will be an entertaining and funny film for audiences of all ages.” Rather, it needs to illustrate the story and entice the reader.
Here are effective examples of loglines from films you may recognize. Notice how you understand immediately what the story is. Can you name these films? (Answers can be found the end of the post)
A police chief with a phobia of open water battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open. (35 words)
A Parisian rat teams up with a wannabe chef with no talent to battle convention and the critics to prove that anyone can cook and open their own restaurant. (29 words)
A lawyer who loses his ability to lie for 24 hours clashes with his ex-wife for the affection of their son and the healing of their family. (26 words)
An effective logline establishes the protagonist (the police chief), antagonist (the shark and the greedy town council), the location (open water and beach) and the genre (horror/thriller). A strong logline should tell the reader what the inciting event is that sets up the story and what the protagonist has to do to succeed (shark is eating swimmers and the police chief has to stop it).
Hopefully, after reading your logline, the reader is intrigued and excited to read more; that’s the whole point!
Loglines can be used to pitch your screenplay to producers and agents within a query letter. You have one chance to impress. Thirty-five words to capture their attention. Your logline can be the difference between an Oscar or living on Oscar Mayer for the rest of your life.
When you have an opportunity to communicate with a producer through a query letter, brevity is key. After you introduce yourself — your experience and awards, if any — the next paragraph should be your logline. The art of writing an effective query letter can be found in ScreenCraft's Writing the Perfect Query Letter for Your Scripts, but you must know that your logline will be the spine of this letter so you had better learn to write a strong one.
Never, ever, write a rhetorical question as part of your logline. Never, ever, never. Did I mention never? This is not a logline:
What would happen if you were a young boy tired of being small who wanted to be big and your wish came true?
After making a wish at a fortune teller machine, a young boy becomes a grown man overnight and must cope with finding a place to live, finding a job, and adult relationships, with only the help of his ten-year-old friend. ~ Big (42 words)
While a logline is a selling tool for your screenplay, it is not a selling tool for the film. That is a tagline. A tagline is short (three to ten words) and can be multiple sentences. It is used as a tool on posters and advertisements and is always written by the marketing staff of the producing studio, or a professional copywriter from an ad agency.
Another way to think of taglines is as the slogan for a film. A logline is not a slogan, it is the story. You may come up with the world’s best tagline for your story, but unless you are trying to secure a job as a copywriter, stick with screenwriting and perfect the craft of writing a logline instead.
While the following examples are great as taglines, you should never send something like this to a producer or agent who has asked to hear your pitch.
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” ~ Aliens
"One ring to rule them all." ~ The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
"There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one." ~ Finding Nemo
It is imperative that writers know the difference and not send a tagline when asked for a logline. This is a huge faux pas and shows a lack of professionalism and understanding of the industry.
On the other hand, if you send a paragraph that describes every beat of your story with detailed character descriptions, you have also missed the point, because you wrote a synopsis.
A synopsis can be anywhere from a few sentences to multiple short paragraphs and describes in greater detail than a logline the story and character arcs for a screenplay. It is within a synopsis that a writer can begin describing specific character traits, backstory, and story beats. Of course, if a synopsis is longer than a page, detailing every act, it has become a treatment.
One sentence is all you need to capture your reader’s attention. Thirty-five words which can either launch your script into development or send it back for rewrites. Loglines are the heart of your story. If you cannot effectively distill your story into one sentence, so that people have to hear more, then you may need to spend more time defining your story before writing your script.
Learning the art and craft of writing a logline is essential for a screenwriter. It is another tool in your tool belt. It should be exercised like a muscle. It needs to be honed like a knife.
A logline is one — and only one — sentence that portrays your story in a manner that is entertaining and informative, while a tagline is a catchy phrase that sells the film. Never should the two meet in a pitch. A logline can set up the synopsis, where you are allowed to channel your inner novelist to explore in much greater detail your story.
Learning the difference between a logline, tagline, and synopsis while learning to write them is key to having a career as a screenwriter.
After reading this article, one screenwriter learned how to write powerful, captivating loglines, launching his writing career, selling a script, winning an Oscar and forever being in the debt of this blog. (32 words)
Logline example answers: Jaws, Ratatouille, Liar, Liar