Tickle Me with Your Adjective Feather

It’s time once again to explore the craft of writing a great logline. This week, we’re going to look at what a good adjective does to a logline.

Let’s take some rather bland Hollywood movie loglines and see what we can do with adjectives to improve them. We’ll do a two films from previous articles, and we’ll also do a new one so you can see the process a little better.

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

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

How to Train Your Dragon: Against the traditions of his Viking tribe, a boy befriends a dragon and discovers secrets about the creatures that will change his tribe’s way of life forever.

All of these loglines are missing a key ingredient. We need to describe our characters with a good, imagination-tickling adjective. What we’re after here is a descriptive word that gives our reader a feel for who the character is. Let’s jump in and take it from the top.

For our Jurassic Park logline, we have to describe the scientist. To find our adjective, we can make a list of words that could describe him.

  • Adventurous
  • Tall
  • Kid-hating
  • Rough
  • Computer-breaking

If you’ve read the previous posts in this series, you know that I’m going to pick kid-hating from this list. That’s because it sets up the conflict and irony of the situation better than the other choices.

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

Okay, that one was pretty easy because we only needed one adjective. Let’s try Pirates of the Caribbean, where we need to describe several characters. We need adjectives for the pirates, lover, and pirate captain. (We could also do the daughter, but we’ll keep it to three for this example.)

Let’s brainstorm for the pirates.

  • Angry
  • Cursed
  • Smelly
  • Flea-bitten
  • Undead

Undead could work here, but since we bring in the curse later, let’s use cursed to set it up so that the curse doesn’t come out of nowhere at the end.

Now let’s do the lover.

  • Scrupulous
  • Brave
  • Blacksmith
  • Legolas-look-alike
  • Lovestruck

Much as I’d like to go with Legolas-look-alike, that’s not going to work here. Lovestruck is just redundant (Jordan was groping for adjectives, can you tell?), and blacksmith tells us nothing about his character. I used brave in a previous post, but I’m going to go with scrupulous this time. Again, it plays to the irony of this upright young man joining up with a pirate captain to get the job done. And speaking of the pirate captain…

  • Tipsy
  • Perpetually drunk
  • Half-mad
  • Carefree
  • Untrustworthy

I struggled with this one when I wrote the logline before, but I settled on half-mad because the character is portrayed as somewhat not all there. Here’s our final logline:

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

One more to go. For How to Train Your Dragon, we have the boy and the dragon. So, starting with the boy…

  • Hapless
  • Clumsy
  • Misfit
  • Wimpy
  • Gangly

Actually, I tricked you. I’m going to take two of these adjectives and just drop the noun boy. My new version will use clumsy misfit. Now we’ll do the dragon.

  • Fearsome
  • Smart
  • Black
  • Cute
  • Wounded

Now here’s where this gets interesting and really shows the power of an adjective. We could take fearsome and imply that this a story about how the wimpy boy overpowers a scary dragon. Or we could use cute and imply that it’s just a cuddly dragon baby and not really that much of a threat. We could try smart, implying something like a boy-teaches-his-pet-dragon-to-play-sports movie. (Think Air Bud with dragons. Come to think of it, that’d be pretty cool!) Most appropriate here, though, is wounded, as it shows that this is a friendship born out of necessity, and it leaves the fearsomeness of the dragon up to the reader to imagine! Our final logline is:

How to Train Your Dragon: Against the traditions of his Viking tribe, a clumsy misfit befriends a wounded dragon and discovers secrets about the creatures that will change his tribe’s way of life forever.

So get out your logline and an adjective feather. See what happens when you tickle your reader’s imagination!

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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3 comments on “Tickle Me with Your Adjective Feather

  1. This is great stuff. This logline making is not only vital for selling a script, but also it helps you condense and in the end make the story better and sharper.

    (I still haven’t seen “A House for Marge. ;(

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