Untangling the Threads of Your Story, Part 1

It’s time for part three in the series on writing a great logline! This week, I want to focus on another of the common mistakes of beginning logline writers.

Oftentimes when you meet a beginning filmmaker and ask him what he’s writing, he’ll give you a logline that goes something like this:

My Great Movie: While the main character is working hard at his job, something big happens, causing him to go on a journey to defeat his inner darkness so he can confront the evil in the city around him, all while he tries to reconcile with his estranged parents and get the perfect girl to fall for him.

The problem here is that the writer has lost his focus on the main story thread. Let’s take a look at a Hollywood film and see how this plays out.

Here’s what happens when we take Jurassic Park and write a logline that follows the above pattern:

Jurassic Park: When a dinosaur park goes haywire and the monsters get loose, a kid-hating scientist must protect two children while another group of scientists tries to fix the park before everyone gets eaten.

Now we’re getting our A-story and B-story mixed up. Let’s first define what these two stories are.

An A-story is the main thread of the movie (or what have you, since you can write loglines for any story). It’s the main reason we came to see this movie.

The B-story is something on the side that supplements and informs the A story, often by showing the flip side of the theme, but it plays second fiddle to the main thread of the A story.

And it’s not just limited to two. You can have as many as you need (but not as many as you want). This is especially easy to pick up on when watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as our heroes end up splitting into three distinct groups, along with several other story threads running throughout that epic movie.

The key here is to find the main thrust of your story and keep the logline about that story only. This requires that you actually know what your story is about! (Now there’s a concept…)

At its core, Jurassic Park is about how the scientist and the kids bond while avoiding Mr. Tyrannosaurus Rex and his raptor buddies. The part about fixing the park is secondary. Our main group of scientist and kids could escape being lunch in any number of ways. It’s not dependent on the park getting fixed, though that’d sure be nice!

Because the scientist and the kids are the focus of the story, we can take out the part about fixing the park, boiling this logline down to single A-story thread.

Jurassic Park: A kid-hating scientist must protect two children when a dinosaur park goes haywire and the monsters go on rampage.

“But wait!” you say, “My movie is much more complicated than Jurassic Park! I have more than one main character, and I’m following multiple story threads that get really tangled up. I can’t boil this down to a main thread because I can’t pull one thread without the rest coming along like so much spaghetti!”

I hear you. Stay tuned.

Logline Book CoverWant to learn more about loglines? There’s a whole lot more where that came from in Finding the Core of Your Story! Featuring all-new chapters alongside revised material from the logline series, the book takes you from no knowledge of loglines to being able to write a great logline of your own. Visit the official page for more information.
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