Loglines vs. Plotlines


From the Nitty Gritty to the 30,000-ft View

Let’s take a break from dissecting the inner working of a scene.  Let’s step back and examine the process from back to front.

When you’re script is done and even before, when you’re in the middle of writing, if you tell someone that you’re working on a script, the first question they ask is: “What’s it about?”  Your answer is the logline of your movie.

For those who aren’t sure what a logline line, a good logline is a quick and compelling summary of the main character, underlying drama and the unique setting of your script.

For more information, you can find hundreds of discussions and examples online.  For me, one of the best explanations of what makes a good logline is in “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder.

A loglines is an essential part of turning an idea into a script.  It helps a writer focus his or her story.  It fosters confidence and enthusiasm in that idea.  And it allows a writer to communicate the concept of their ideas to others.

While loglines serve a valuable purpose, they also have their limitations.

A Logline is a Selling Tool.

The perfect logline is the secret sauce everyone in Hollywood is chasing: that one sentence that will sell the movie.  Writers, Directors, Producers, Studio Execs who develop scripts and ideas will always want to boil down their ideas to that defining essence: “What is the logline?”

That’s because a logline is a selling tool.  It sells the idea or concept of your story.  It’s not designed to articulate the plot, its goal is to excite others in the idea of your script.

It’s essential when pitching.  It’s necessary for submitting your script to contests and agents.  It’s great if you want to convince someone to read your script.

But long before you have your logline — before you’ve written your script and want to “sell” it —  you need to know what your story is about.

In order to craft your idea and develop it into a compelling screenplay, you need to be able to define your character and core plot elements in clear and concise terms.

This is done through a “Plotline.”

A Plotline is Not a Logline. 

If a logline is Cinderella at the ball, your plotline is Cinderella at home scrubbing floors.  It’s not pretty, no one really appreciates it; but it is essential because it’s where the work gets done.

Where a logline expresses the core concept of your script, a good plotline will go far beyond that.  It will explain the beginning, middle and end of your story.  In succinct and pithy terms it will define the main character, major plot points, the antagonist and the change that happens over the course of your story.

A Writing Tool, not a Selling Tool.

Where a logline is designed to illicit interest in the commerciality of your script, the plotline is constructed to convey the entire concept of your story.

In other words, a logline is designed for your audience; the plotline is designed for you, the writer.

Plot, not Story.

The goal of the plotline is to articulate your plot in a clear and concise manner so that you, the writer, can determine whether or not the structure of your script is consistent and compelling.

Is the protagonist intriguing?  Does he or she have a strong enough motivation?  Do the protagonist and antagonist have a powerful unity of opposites?  Do the major plot points build to an exciting climax?  Does the change at the end of the story feel earned?

Distill Your Script to its Core.

Like a logline, the goal of the plotline is to communicate the beginning, middle and end of your plot in terms that are clear and simple.  It will take time to hone your ideas to only what is essential and to find the most specific and accurate phrases and words.  But it will be worth it.

Crafting a plotline is how you check your work in the early stages of developing your idea.  It helps you create a clear path from beginning to end of your script.  It will ensure that every page of your script advances the plot, story and character.

Plotlines before Loglines.

Sure, loglines are sexier than plotlines.  Once your script is written, loglines celebrate your accomplishment and sell your concept to potentially interested parties.

But long before you write your script, you have to craft your idea.  You have to take your creative notions, build your characters and construct a plot that makes your logline worth pitching.

Before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you need to know – clearly and specifically – the beginning, middle and end of your story.  The best way to check that your plot and story are working is to craft a plotline that defines where you want your story to go.

Putting Plotlines to Work.

Like loglines, there are essential elements in every good plotline.  I call them “The 8 Cs.”  Next week, we’ll talk about these essential elements and how to construct a plotline that works for your script.

In the meantime, think about your script?  What do you think the essential plot elements are in your story?  How well can you explain the beginning, middle and end of your script?  How would you make it better?


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