In screenwriting “loglines” is a term commonly used as a selling device to interest a reader, producer, actor and agent in your script. There is tons of great information available in books and online about how to write winning loglines. Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” has an excellent chapter on what makes for a good logline — if you want to sell your movie.
Before You Try to Sell Your Movie…
Long before you try to sell your movie — or even get someone to read it, you need to write your movie. When you’re developing your idea and thinking about your story, you are searching for a way to encapsulate your movie in your head in a way that you can understand and share with other people. That is also a logline. Only you don’t need to sell it to anyone, you’ve only got to understand it for yourself.
The Writer’s Logline
A “writer’s logline” is different than the one you would use to pitch to another person. The writer’s logline is the one that you keep in your head to remind you what your story is all about. It doesn’t need to be ironic and compelling yet. It needs to contain the kernel of a good idea and the components of a good story.
Components of a Good Story
All great stories are unique in the specifics of their worlds, all great stories are alike in the similarities of their plots. What are the components that all good dramatic stories have?
- An heroic main character
- An inciting incident that engages that character
- A clear want that taps a primal urge in that character and drives him or her
- An antagonist with a unifying conflict
- A climax in which the hero and antagonist confront each other
- A change in the main character or the world around him/her
A Logline Checklist
So you think you’ve got all the pieces to make your story work. Here’s a few question to ask yourself to make sure you’re on the right track:
Who is your MAIN CHARACTER?
S/he is a specific and original person with a unique, defining quality: “A(n) _(adjective)_ _(male/female with a distinct skill, trait, job etc.) who wants…”
What is the INCITING INCIDENT that sets your story in motion?
What is the event that forces your character to begin to engage in your story?
What does is the CLEAR WANT that your main character has…?
Literally and specifically, what does your main character want? Whatever it is, whether or not they get it, that goal/desire/need/want should be in the logline. Whether or not s/he obtains it will come later. This want will be the dramatic goal for the rest of the script.
What ACTION CHOICE does your main character make to obtain his/her want?
This choice is what sets the plot in motion. It is the transition from Act One to Act Two. This action choice is actually a series of actions that build off each other step by step that drive the plot to its dramatic and climactic end.
Who is the ANTAGONIST who prevents the main character from achieving his/her goal?
Who is your antagonist? What is the obstacle the main character faces? Who is the person who personifies this obstacle? And most importantly, how does his/her want relate to the main character’s want? How are these two wants mutually exclusive, forcing each to fight for their goal with everything they have and causing the other to be unable to achieve his/her goal?
When faced with that obstacle, what does s/he do about it and what is the CLIMAX of that struggle?
How does your main character pursue his/her goal…? What action choice does s/he make that embarks on that journey? What does s/he do to overcome the antagonist? What is the final, great act that the main character does to attain his/her goal? Is the main character’s want attained or denied?
How is the RESOLUTION of your story articulated? What is the CHANGE demonstrated in the world at the end?
What happens in the end of your story? What does your main character learn? How does s/he change? If s/he doesn’t change, then who does? What is different from the beginning?
The Logline Before the Logline
The ability to answer the seven questions above are essential to any good screenplay. Before you start writing, when you’re trying to construct your plot, these are the things you absolutely have to know. What else do you like to know about your story before you start writing?