Last week, I discussed how a logline has to promise something, but I didn’t really define what a logline is or how you would use one. So for those of you who were lost last week, fear not! Hopefully, we can clear some things up today.
A logline is a way to break your story down to its lowest common denominator. You’re trying to give me the elevator statement version of your story. What’s an elevator statement?
Let’s say you and I get onto an elevator together, and I ask you what you’re working on. You can do one of two things.
You could start from the beginning and pitch me your entire two-hour film (or 300-page novel) in an elevator ride. If you take this approach, you’ll probably be eyeing the emergency stop button as the elevator gets closer and closer to my floor and you haven’t even gotten past the introduction to the story’s hook yet. But, alas, you’re too late. We arrive at my floor and I get off rolling my eyes and wondering why I asked.
Instead of trying to pitch your entire movie in such a short time, you could just give me your logline. In the time that it takes to ride an elevator, you’ve given me an idea of what your story is about, who the characters are, and (assuming you had a good logline) you’ve tickled my fancy enough for me to give you my e-mail address and say, “I’ve gotta run now, but e-mail me some more about this, okay?”
Powerful, ain’t it? If you already knew about loglines, you’re probably cackling like a villain with a destruct-o ray.
Now, a lot of people quibble over the length of these amazing storytelling tools. There are those who will tell you that a logline can have two sentences, but I am a firm believer in the single-sentence logline. It’s neater, it looks less intimidating, and it forces you to make yourself condense things into as small a space as possible. And that means it’s easier to memorize your logline for that mythical elevator moment.
Can you do anything with a logline besides hit me with it on an elevator ride? You sure can!
You see, a logline is a double-bladed weapon. Not only can you use it to tell somebody what your story is about, but you can also use it to tell yourself what your story is about.
“But I know what my story is about!” you protest. Really? Can you tell me in one sentence?
That’s what I thought.
If you don’t know what your story is about in a single sentence, you run the risk of meandering your story into places where it doesn’t belong. You fall into the trap of putting everything and the kitchen sink in because it’s cool.
When you tell a story, it’s about something. There’s a main character who is on a journey (whether it’s a physical or spiritual journey depends on the story). He’s going to discover something, or we won’t think the journey was all that rewarding (even if he finds out that the journey was its own reward). The story that will make him discover this thing is what your logline is about.
So get your story into a logline before you write, “FADE IN,” or, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Tape it to your monitor (or typewriter if you’re still in the dark ages) if you have to. Remember, you’re promising us something with this story. Find your story’s core and tell us your premise in a single sentence, then make us happy by sticking to it and delivering on your promise.
And if you’ve already written a draft, that’s okay! Just decide not to write another draft before you can boil your story down to a logline. Your next draft will thank you. (It might even send you a card! What? Your drafts don’t do that?)
Coming up in the next two posts, I’ll talk more about what should go into your logline and how to find that main story thread.