Throughout this series on writing loglines, I’ve danced around the idea that a good logline contains conflict and irony. I’ve even given you plenty of examples that contain one or both. But I haven’t talked specifically about how each works. It’s time now to concentrate on bringing those two elements to your logline party. We’ll cover conflict in this post, and next time we’ll look at how to use irony.
Conflict is the fundamental element of story. But it’s also an element that is often misunderstood or outright ignored, especially by beginning storytellers. So let’s go back to the basics for a minute.
Every story is about somebody (the main character) who wants something (a goal). This goal could be anything, but some of the most popular ones are things like wealth, love, a promotion, love, revenge, and love. However, for this to be an interesting story (actually, for it to be a story at all), something or somebody must oppose the main character and try to keep him from reaching his goal. That something or somebody is called the antagonist, or the antagonistic force if it’s inanimate or internal. That’s the source of the conflict.
“But I can write a story without conflict,” you protest. “I’m working on one right now. It’s called The Shopping Trip and it’s about a girl who goes to the mall and does some shopping.”
Okay. Let’s write a logline.
The Shopping Trip: A girl goes to the mall and does some shopping.
Hear that sound?
Come on, don’t you hear that distinct sound of silence?
That’s the sound of thousands of people not jumping out of their seats and running, not walking, to the nearest movie theater to see The Shopping Trip.
I hate to break it to you, but nobody ever made a career out of an empty theater.
So what do you do? Well, you need to find the conflict in your story. What does this girl want? What’s keeping her from getting it?
You work on that later. Right now, we’ll look at a logline for a Hollywood movie before and after we add conflict.
Tangled: A girl with really long hair fulfills her dream.
That’s not compelling at all. Let’s put in some conflict.
Tangled: A girl with really long hair runs away from home to fulfill her dream.
Now we see a little bit of conflict. It doesn’t really grab you, but it’s a start. This logline isn’t going to get your audience into the theater yet, so let’s think about how we can make it better with some more conflict.
The movie has a few other conflict points that we can play with. We could work with the type of home the girl runs away from, or we could add something about the guy that she runs away with. Her home situation is rather difficult to get into a single sentence, so let’s be lazy and start with her road companion.
Tangled: A girl with really long hair runs away from home with a handsome thief to fulfill her dream.
That’s more interesting, isn’t it? But it could be better. If we take a cue from the trailer and boil the home situation down to being grounded for, like, forever, we might get somewhere. We’ll have to do a little rewriting to fit it in, but we can do it.
Tangled: A long-haired girl who has been grounded her entire life runs away with a handsome thief to fulfill her dream.
Now we have two external conflict points with the thief and the grounding. Now let’s get more specific about her dream, so it’s not like defeating the darkness within herself.
Tangled: A long-haired girl who has been grounded her entire life runs away with a handsome thief to fulfill her dream of seeing the world outside her window.
This could still be better. The movie is really about how the girl’s dream changes after she leaves the tower. And that’s internal conflict, so let’s add it to all this external conflict we’ve already got. We can rewrite the logline drastically to work in the internal conflict.
Tangled: To fulfill her dream of leaving a tower she’s lived in for eighteen years, a long-haired girl runs away with a handsome thief and discovers what it means to find a new dream.
That’s pretty good. It’s a whole lot better than where we started!
For those of you who have seen Tangled, you’re probably thinking that a lot was left out to make this logline. After all, it’s a complicated story! You’re right, of course. I did leave a lot out.
Remember, a logline is for sparking interest, and keeping you on track while you write. You’re trying to get down to the essence of the story. You know the rest of the details, so you just need to pique the audience’s interest enough to make them want to know more. Let ’em see some good conflict and they’ll be begging you for the rest of the story.