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How To Write Great Loglines
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Writing good loglines is an essential skill for screenwriters - "that's great" I hear you say, "but what is a logline?" Writers often confuse loglines with taglines - taglines are the short catchy phrases you see on movie posters. The difference is that while a tagline is used to sell the film once it's made, a logline is what writers need to sell their script. A logline is thus a simple, one sentence summary of your film, typically around twenty-five to thirty-five words, that you will use to attract people's interest in your story.
However, just because loglines are short doesn't mean they don't say much. A good logline should intrigue and entertain the reader, making them want to read your script. Your logline should tell the reader the basics of your story:
Who your hero is
What their goal is
The obstacles that your hero will face
The uniqueness of your story
In addition, you should also attempt to add a little bit of color to your hero and villains - even a single adjective can help to paint a picture in the readers' mind. This is a lot to get in thirty-five words or less, and many loglines that I read are poorly written, meaning that they might not do justice to the script.
Here are a couple of examples I've written for well-known stories:
Raiders of the Lost Ark: On the eve of World War II, adventurous archaeologist Indiana Jones races to prevent the Nazis from turning the greatest archaeological relic of all time into a weapon of mass destruction. (31 words)
This logline gives us the setting (Pre-WWII), the hero and something of his character (adventurous archaeologist Indiana Jones), what his goal is (to stop the Nazis), and the antagonist or villain (the Nazis). As a reader, you would probably want to find out what this great relic is, and how an archaeologist can battle the Nazis to stop them getting hold of it.
Rushmore: A precocious private high school student whose life revolves around his school competes with its most famous and successful alumnus for the affection of a first grade teacher. (28 words).
Again, we find out who the hero is (a precocious private high school student), what his goal is (the affection of a first grade teacher), and his opposition (a famous and successful alumnus). It also hints at the unique nature of the story (a kid and an older man fighting for the affections of a young woman).
There are several ways writing good loglines, but most stories fit into one of the three patterns below - thanks to Hal Croasmun at Screewriting U for these formulas:
1. The Hero has a problem and must achieve a goal to solve that problem.
Example: THE FUGITIVE
Hero: A prominent surgeon...
Problem:... who is falsely convicted of killing his wife...
Goal:... goes on the run to find and expose the real killer.
2. The Hero has a goal but a major obstacle stands in his way.
Example: THE MUMMY
Hero: A wealthy archaeologist...
Goal:... seeking treasure hidden inside one of the great pyramids...
Obstacle:... must fight off hordes of evil mummies to get it.
3. A situation causes the hero to face a huge obstacle with the following outcome...
Example: LIAR, LIAR
Situation: After his son makes a birthday wish...
Hero:... a scheming attorney...
Huge Obstacle:... must start telling the truth...
Outcome:... to everyone.
So how do you use these? The trick is to run your story idea through all three of these structures. When you take the time to use each one, you should find that one of them really nails the essence of your story.
You might also find, as many writers do, what it is that really matters in your story - by forcing yourself to focus on the absolute basics of your story, you can get a better idea of what the story is really all about.
Completing this exercise can thus not only help you to write a great logline, you might also discover more about your story.
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