Now that we’ve spent four posts getting our loglines hashed out, I want to share a tip that I think can punch up a good logline and make it great.
It’s the simple use of the word must or forced. How’s that work? Let’s look at some loglines.
In my previous post, I gave a few loglines for existing movies that I had written as examples. The one I wrote for Facing the Giants could use some extra oomph, so we’ll take a closer look at it a bit later. First, I want to come back to the best example from last time, which was the logline for Jurassic Park. Let’s write that logline two ways.
Version 1: Jurassic Park: A kid-hating scientist protects two children when a dinosaur park goes haywire and the monsters go on rampage.
Version 2: Jurassic Park: A kid-hating scientist must protect two children when a dinosaur park goes haywire and the monsters go on rampage.
Which one is more compelling? The second version. But why?
There’s only one difference between these two loglines, and it’s all in the first section. The first logline says, “A kid-hating scientist protects two children…” while the second changes the opening to, “A kid-hating scientist must protect two children…”
The only difference between those two loglines is the word must. That one word implies so much extra that just isn’t there in the first version. It means this guy is thrown into a situation where he has to do something he hates. It means we’re going to see him stretch and change for better or worse. It means he didn’t exactly make the decision to protect the kids on his own, which means conflict (and conflict is story). Will he change his attitude toward the kids, or will he end up abandoning them?
By implying all of that with one small word, we’ve suddenly made this logline much more interesting. Let’s see if we can apply this trick to Facing the Giants. Here’s what we had last time:
Facing the Giants: A failing coach and his terrible football team transform their game by playing football for God rather than men.
To get this one to a point where we can use the must trick, we’re going to need to do a little bit of rewriting. Something more like this:
Facing the Giants: Faced with losing his job, a failing coach must rally his pitiful team to transform their game by playing football for God rather than men.
As with the Jurassic Park example, this one is improved by including the word must, but there’s a little more going on here. In the original logline, we had nothing that would have forced the coach to change. We had to fix that before we could use our trick, so we added the opening clause, “Faced with losing his job,” to set up the conflict before dropping our magic word. Now that’s a much more compelling logline!
When you’ve gotten pretty good at using must, you can start using the forced (you know you saw that bad Star Wars joke coming). It works on the same principle, but make sure you use forced only when it’s appropriate.
Because the word forced implies that our hero has no choice or is thrown into a situation, make sure that he has no other choice before you exchange must for forced. It wouldn’t be appropriate to use in our Jurassic Park logline, since our scientist could have run away and left the kids to themselves, and we’d still have had a story to tell. But what if we were writing a logline for a movie like Apollo 13?
Apollo 13: When a moon mission goes horribly wrong, three astronauts are forced to improvise a new way home.
You could use must here, but forced works well in this case because the astronauts are thrown into this situation with no immediate way out except to give up right now and die. And since we certainly wouldn’t come to the theater to see that (or I wouldn’t, anyway), we know the astronauts have been forced to come up with a way home.
Try it with your own loglines and see what wonders these little words can work. While this trick isn’t for every logline, and you can write a perfectly good logline without adding these two words, it might be just what you need to turn a good logline into a great one.