Untangling the Threads of Your Story, Part 2

Last time in our adventure in the land of loglines, we looked at A-story and B-story and how to separate one from the other to simplify our loglines. But we ended by wondering what to do with a more complicated story, one that doesn’t break down quite as neatly.

Let’s jump right in and write a logline for a movie with lots of story threads. And let’s make it harder by picking one with multiple main characters.

Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl: A band of cursed pirates attempts to lift their curse by kidnapping the governor’s daughter, which sends her brave lover hot on the pirates’ heels with a pirate captain out for revenge on his former crew, but both ships are pursued by the daughter’s jealous and pirate-hating suitor.

Whew! That’s a lot to work over! And it’s quite the run-on sentence into the bargain. (Not to mention that monster of a title making the logline look even longer!) We have lots of story threads to follow here, so let’s break them down.

  1. The story of the lover (Will) and pirate captain (Jack) trying to catch the pirates.
  2. The story of the rival suitor (Captain Norrington) trying to catch the pirates and Will and Jack.
  3. The story of the love triangle between Elizabeth, Will, and Norrington.
  4. The story of the pirates trying to lift the curse.
  5. The story of Jack’s revenge plot.

But which one of those five stories is the main thread in this complicated film? Often with these types of films, you can look for the character with the largest arc or the character with the epilogue moment, but here that’s just not the case. Though the story beats follow Elizabeth, Will gets the biggest arc, and Jack gets the epilogue (drink up, me hearties, yo ho!), so that’s not going to work here.

What we can do in this case is boil the movie down to the main thread that ties everything else together. For Pirates, that’s the chase to save Elizabeth, regardless of which of the three ships we’re following at a given moment. If we run with that, we get a logline more like this:

Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl: When the governor’s daughter is captured by pirates, her brave lover must join forces with a half-mad pirate captain to save her.

Okay, that’s much better, but it’s not too compelling. How is this movie different from all the other swashbuckling-and-pirates-on-the-high-seas movies? We could add a bit about the curse to really amp this up and show the uniqueness of the story:

Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl: When the governor’s daughter is kidnapped by a band of cursed pirates, her brave lover must join forces with a half-mad pirate captain to save her before she is sacrificed to lift the curse.

Now we have higher stakes, so this version shows more of the excitement. We also see that this is a curse-lifting voyage and not a treasure hunt, which is even more interesting!

If we wanted another take on this logline, we  could try playing up Jack’s strained relationship with his old crew…

Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl: When the governor’s daughter is kidnapped by a band of cursed pirates, her brave lover must join forces with the only man who can help him save her – the half-mad, former captain of the cursed crew.

Either of those last two versions could work, depending on which angle you want to go at the story from. But remember, the logline is meant to grab the audience and make them ask for more, so you want to give them the version that is the most compelling, then feed them the other details when they show interest. Personally, I’d go with the version that plays up the curse (and if Wikipedia is to be believed, that’s the angle that sold the screenplay, so it’s probably not a bad choice!).

Next time, we’ll look at a little trick that can punch up a good logline and make it even better.

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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2 comments on “Untangling the Threads of Your Story, Part 2

    • I’m not sure I could recommend it to you… I used it because it’s a great example of this concept, but I’m almost certain that you would have trouble with some of the content.

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