When it comes to loglines, the various rules of thought can be overwhelming.
What makes a logline good? Well, the basic purpose of a good logline is to offer a clean, clear description of your script… all within a single sentence. However, if you are looking for representation, a good logline serves a few other functions, as well.
Reps want to see a logline that sells you as a writer, your voice, and your ideas, even if it needs a little bit of work, because ultimately their goal is figuring out how they’re going to present you to the rest of the industry.
With that in mind, here are a few things you should think about as you write your loglines.
What Does the Logline Include?
Much like reps help writers develop projects with specific elements built into the pitch deck, story bible, or script, they also want to see many of those same elements in a logline. This tells that you not only know the most crucial aspects of a good story but also how to sell yourself and your brand.
A logline reps love focuses on the four main pieces of information you need to explain your story in a sentence or two. Those four main elements are the protagonist, the goal, the dilemma, and the genre/tone/world. You may also hear they want to know the “story engine,” this refers to the actions the protagonist takes to reach their goal and therefore is another way to define the goal and dilemma that drive the central story. It does not include subplots or the end of the story.
Some reps prefer a very quick and clear sentence, while others prefer your dive in a touch more, which usually emphasizes the dilemma. Generally speaking, you should try to stay around 25-50 words.
Elements of a Great Logline
An excellent logline crams a lot of information into a compact amount of space in a way that makes the person who hears or reads it want to know more. They should be able to see the trailer in their mind, and also be able to see that you know what elements make a good story. Therefore, all of those elements need to be present.
Who is the story about? What is their “flaw” or “core wound” that they have to overcome to complete their arc? Is there something about them with which the audience should identify?
Example: Life is Beautiful
When an open-minded Jewish librarian and his son become victims of the Holocaust, he uses a perfect mixture of will, humor, and imagination to protect his son from the dangers around their camp.
In the case of the award-winning film, Life is Beautiful, the film uses dual protagonists of father and son, who are both empathetic due to their love and kindness for each other and those around them. The arc truly comes into play for the son, who is young (and therefore naive) and comes of age through the events, though both characters are clearly introduced in the logline.
Not all loglines specifically define the “world,” particularly if it’s a contemporary time period. However, if you’re writing a genre story that’s not contemporary, such as a Western or post-apocalyptic story, it needs to be set up in the logline. You can also use the world to give an impression of the tone of the script.
Example: Monsters Inc.
In order to power the city, monsters have to scare children so that they scream. However, the children are toxic to the monsters, and after a child gets through, two monsters realize things may not be what they think.
In Monsters Inc., the world is completely unique though it may look like any other urban setting if you miss the monster-infused details. This logline lets the “audience” (your rep) know that it’s a fantastical setting and the important rules that the world has. The world itself is lighter and implies this is a children’s or family movie.
Now that your reps know who they’re following, the world its set in, and the tone, they need to know what the journey is. This is shown with the goal. But a goal by itself is not enough. The person hearing your logline needs to know what’s at stake if they don’t achieve their mission. This can be as simple as “their lives” (as with most horror movies) or their marriage or family unit (thinking of family dramas).
Example: The Prestige
After a tragic accident, two stage magicians engage in a battle to create the ultimate illusion while sacrificing everything they have to outwit each other.
In the logline for the mystical period drama, The Prestige, we understand that the goal is to be the best and they’re sacrificing everything to do it. Going back to protagonist, this specific goal and the stakes also amplify the fact that these are ambitious people and it’s tied to a “wound” of a previous accident.
Any goal needs setbacks and they can come from the world or stakes, but if there’s a clear antagonist, that should be stated along with the central conflict.
A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.
In Whiplash, the entire film is built around the drummer and his mentor. The relationship between a mentor and mentee is very specific, creating a clear dynamic in the mind of the rep you’re pitching the story to, and the stakes highlight why this isn’t a dynamic from which the mentee can easily walk away.
Ways to Improve Your Logline Skills
The best way to improve any writing style is to read examples, so be sure to look online for sample loglines of your favorite films and television shows. Try rewriting the logline of your favorite movies and see if you hit all the marks. And don’t forget… practice makes perfect.
Also, consider taking part in logline competitions, or ask for feedback from your screenwriting peers, which could benefit you if you’re workshopping a logline for your project.