Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How to write a better logline

Almost every single time I read a logline someone posts for notes, I ask the same question: "What does your protagonist do?"

People always make the same mistake. They give the setup, not the plot.

For example: "When a group of kids take a vacation at a cabin in the middle of nowhere, they awaken an ancient evil that wants to kill them all."

Okay, that's act one, then what? Because right now, which movie am I describing? Cabin in the Woods? Evil Dead? Dead Snow? I bet you can think of others that fit this logline. It's too generic. Pass.

A logline tells me what I'm watching for two hours, not just the first act. It needs to tell me what this story is about in an interesting way, a way that makes me want to see how you pull it off. If all you give me is Act One, it sounds like a million other movies I've seen.

It also doesn't tell me what people DO. What do these kids do? Is it simply about escape, as in Dead Snow? Do they try to kill the evil, like in Evil Dead? Is it a mystery to solve, like in Cabin in the Woods? Am I going to watch a teenage slasher movie, or a movie where the kids turn it around on the bad guy? I need to know these things if I'm going to get interested.

So a better logline would be "When a group of teenage friends unlocks an ancient evil hidden in the basement of their isolated cabin, they must find a way to kill it before it forces them kill each other."

Now you know which movie I'm talking about, right?

It still sounds like a cheesy B horror flick, but at least this time it adds something different. I'm not just going to be watching kids track and kill an ancient evil, I'm going to be watching kids try to kill each other, people who used to be their friends. There's suggested interpersonal conflict there. I also now see a goal. I know what I'm rooting for - they have to destroy the evil. Now I've got a reason to read it.

My point is, if you want someone to read your script, you have to give them enough information to want to read your script. Make it sound irresistible. Don't worry about spoiling the ending. Nobody's going to get to that great ending if they don't see a reason to read your story.

11 comments:

  1. Can a logline change during rewrites?

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  2. How good would it be if there were a web site where you could have your loglines reviewed... where you could just go and Logline.It! ;)

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  3. Karel, I didn't even know you'd started that site. Useful resource.

    Jim, I'm not sure what you mean. The main point of a logline is to get read, so I'm not sure why rewrites would affect it.

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  4. There are some that think you should have your logline nailed down prior to Fade In. Hence my question.

    Do you not have your logline finalized before beginning?

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  5. No. I write a treatment. I think the logline you use for writing, if you do that, is a personal thing. A logline for marketing purposes has a different mission.

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  6. "I think the logline you use for writing, if you do that, is a personal thing. A logline for marketing purposes has a different mission."

    Couldn't agree more.

    Most people neglect to mention that the logline of your screenplay is seldom written by you. It's a fill in the blank question on most coverage. Really, what you think your logline is about doesn't really matter.

    What matters is the logline people will create when they read your screenplay.

    Sad, when your writing ultimately comes down to the reading comprehension, vision, and writing skill of whoever is reading your material (usually a college intern, or fresh faced kid straight out of high school).

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Beg to differ. Never pass up an opportunity to have input in the marketing of your script.

      Write a good logline on the entry form or web page and others will gladly cut and paste it rather than take the time and effort to write their own. (Writing a good logline takes time and thought.)

      And remember, you, the writer, have a stake in the outcome, an incentive to do a good job. A third party doesn't.

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  7. I'm still so bad at this, still trying to learn more. Although I have very little experience sending my babies "out in the world" as it were (nor reason to have such experience). Informative post, thank you :)

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  8. Personally I think it's over rated. If someone is looking for a horror film about teens in the woods they r gonna read synopsis no matter what the ll is. It's overkill here an over thinking it

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