The Logline: Your New Best Friend

Photo credit: westsidecreations

One of the best ways to capture a burning idea, shape a new story, check your premise as you work, and formulate a pitch is through the use of a logline.

What is it? Glad you asked.

A logline is a term used in the film industry to describe an entire story in one digestable bite. Leave it to the movie people to perfect reductionism. Loglines can be extremely useful to writers of most forms and genres. A logline has three essential parts:

  1. The protagonist
    The logline is all about the hero. Secondary characters (with the exception of the primary antagonist) should be left waiting in the wings. Your logline will open with a description of your protagonist that allows us into their primary traits at the beginning of their journey. It will read something like: “An over-achieving hedge fund manager…” or “When the jaded teen daughter of the world’s most recognizable celebrity…” Notice that there’s a degree of specificity that allows your reader to visualize your hero and internalize their key traits without being so detailed as to let us in on their favorite foods. Keep your details relevant to your story’s throughline.

  2. The conflict
    Being specific about the conflict facing your protagonist is likely the best thing you can do for your logline. Stories are all about change so letting your audience in on the nature of the seemingly insurmountable change facing them will not only set up a captivating tale but also ensure that you’re clear yourself. Often conflict is embodied in a formidable antagonist who has cause to want to keep your protagonist down.
  3. The arc
    Because the best stories are about change, your logline should give a hint–if not a full disclosure–of the resolution of your character’s plight. This is the one area of your logline that’s up for interpretation. For a press kit’s one-sheet, you may choose to leave the specifics of the resolution vague and enticing. For submission to a publisher, you may want to be explicit so they know the full story and can be confident in you as the writer.

Including a word or two about the setting of your story is highly relevant, especially if it’s something noteable such as a period piece or other-world fantasy. Keep in mind that unless you specify, your audience will usually assume characters and a story most like themselves and their lives–it’s human nature, after all.

Lastly, double-check that all acts of your story (i.e. all major sections of your character’s struggle to change) are represented. A common misstep is to describe a character or detail the setup of the story and leave it at that. Consider who’s reading your loglines and for what purpose then ensure you’re giving them all they need to know.

And yes, this all can be done in a few lines. One short paragraph is the standard and if writers, development officers, and producers can create loglines every day, so can you.

RELATED POSTS: Five Ways to Tame Your Logline

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  1. I have a question!

    Should I expect my logline to change over the course of writing?

    It seems like a logline is something that could help start the writing process right – I'm probably remembering this from Syd Field, something about being sure you know what story you're telling by distilling it into a single sentence or two. Is that essentially the logline, and if so, should I expect to be refining/changing my logline as I get deep into the writing?

    Should I, more to the point, have that freedom in mind as I write, that if I find the story would work better in a different direction, the logline will have to be refined?

    Or should the logline be like a rigid contract between me and that blank screen?

    bekbek says:
  2. Absolutely!..and not so much. The logline is a tool, not a rule. Some writers set theirs in stone right off the top, refusing to expend time and energy if the concept won't play out in one paragraph. Others use it as a springboard to gel a diaphanous concept then chuck it as they dive in. It's up to you and what works for your writing style.

    Personally, when I get the inkling of an idea, I immediately start trying to form a complete logline for it. That helps me gauge the strength of the idea. Then, as I write the piece, I check back often to see if I'm on track OR to refine that paragraph if I've strayed (if I have, it's definitely time for a new logline). When I've finished writing, the logline becomes verification that the larger work holds up at a conceptual level as well as becomes the words I'll use to answer the question: "So, what's your story about?"

    dianejwright says:

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