Ah, the logline: the chihuahua of screenwriting.
Much like these gorgeous, yappy dogs, a logline is a tiny creature that contains the energy of a much bigger beast. It’s your screenplay’s boiled-down essence – its life force. It should make its presence known to passersby. It should wag its tail, quiver, bark until the right person takes a chance and stops to give it their attention.
It might be easy to judge the logline as unnecessary in the context of a well-thought-out story; to view it as something you can slap together as quickly as your fingers can type. But a logline’s purpose is much more nuanced than that.
Before we get to specifics, let’s start with the general: what is a logline? Well, it isn’t really a dog, for a start. It’s a one to two sentence summary of your screenplay that acts as a hook into your story’s world. It may allude to a character arc or central conflict or, if your screenplay doesn’t follow the conventional Hero’s Journey, it might instead be a vague yet alluring outline that denotes tone or genre.
While there are no hard and fast rules on how many words are in a logline, the industry consensus is that less is more. If you can elicit an emotional response from your target audience with a single, concise sentence, you probably have a fantastic grasp of your story and character arc. This is why a logline is so often required during the pitching process. It proves that you know exactly how and why your story should exist.
So, how do we write a logline, then? Unfortunately, there’s no official logline template. If your screenplay follows a conventional structure, however, you may consider including who your protagonist is and what or who they need to overcome.
Let’s have a look at what this may look like; here’s an example of a logline:
While this may be a terrible concept, we can clearly see here who the main protagonist is and what her goals and central conflicts are. We also get a vibe of the tone and genre of the script.
Depending on your script’s genre, though, a logline might also include elements of world-building, as well as a more tangible antagonist:
These two loglines have very different vibes: the first feels like a character-driven comedy, while the second feels like an action-packed science fiction film. Let’s unpack why this is:
Firstly, the word “neurotic” in that first logline has comedic insinuations. It sets up the main character to be chaotic and blundering. The additional clause at the end, joined by the en-dash, creates a sense of urgency, while the actual content of that addition is pretty silly. This creates a slapstick tone.
Ignoring the name of the planet and the power source of that second logline – those are little jokes, just for me – it seems to belong to a pretty serious science fiction film. You might expect a clear-cut hero’s journey from this script. There’s clear emphasis on the setting and who the “hero” and “villain” are. The stakes are also significant compared to the first: saving a planet vs. writing a logline.
While a logline can be written after you’ve already completed your screenplay for pitching purposes, it’s also a good place to start. It’s an outline that you can build on. It can act as a reference point to ensure you’re following the trajectory of your original premise, but you might even find that it evolves as you write you become more confident in the story you want to tell.
No matter how or when you decide to write your logline, your main objective with it is to make your script irresistible to your target audience. They should be desperate to give that chihuahua of yours a pat!
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