You know what a logline is? It’s a simple tool you can use to break down a story into its essence. You use it to find the core of your story, which helps you write better, but a logline is also be used to get people interested in your story.
That’s pretty powerful. But there’s a catch: you have to promise me something.
See, a lot of people will make their loglines vague. This stems from one of several problems.
- The writer doesn’t have a core to his story.
- The writer doesn’t want to give too much away.
- The writer is trying to put too much of the scope of his epic story into too small a space.
All three of these tend to produce loglines like, “A hero must defeat the darkness within himself before he can conquer the darkness in the world around him.”
Let’s take a few movies and see what happens when we use that formula to write a logline, shall we?
Jurassic Park: A scientist must defeat the darkness within himself before he can defeat the darkness outside.
Facing the Giants: A coach and his football team must defeat the darkness within themselves before they can defeat the darkness outside.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: A boatload of Narnians must defeat the darkness within themselves before they can defeat the darkness outside.
Would you go see any of these movies with descriptions like that? Okay, maybe Narnia… I sure did! But that example aside, you need to tell us what makes your story different from all of those others. So give us some plot details. Watch what happens when we tell what the darkness actually is…
Jurassic Park: A kid-hating scientist must protect two children when a dinosaur park goes haywire and the monsters go on rampage.
Facing the Giants: A failing coach and his terrible football team transform their game by playing football for God rather than men.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: A boatload of Narnians must defeat the darkness within themselves before they can defeat the darkness outside. (Oops, that one didn’t have much else for plot. Seriously, I think that was the real logline for the film! But it’s still a fun movie.)
Do you see how much more compelling these loglines are when we name the inner darkness? What’s even better is if you can also tell us what the outer darkness is, as in the logline from Jurassic Park. Label the darknesses (flaws or problems would be better words) with some imagination-tickling adjectives. Make us see the possibilities of the story in that single sentence. To borrow from Save the Cat!, you need to promise us the premise.
Remember, a logline exists to plant an idea in the mind of the audience (sorry, I just went all Inception on you). A well-written logline will spark the intended audience into imagining what could happen in Act 2 (the middle of the film), where the real fun of the story takes place, or as Save the Cat! puts it so well, during the Fun and Games section of the movie.
So in your logline, make me see how fun or interesting your story could be. Of the above examples, Jurassic Park does the best job. You can see not only the threat of the dinosaurs, but you can also see that this character will have to change his mind about kids if they want to escape being raptor food. It’s also the best-developed story of the three. “Coincidence? I think not!”
By the way, an epic-sized idea such as a series of books is probably the hardest to do this with. But keep at it. If you’ve really got something good, you should be able to boil it down to a single sentence. And your audience will thank you.