Last week in our ongoing discussion of loglines, we looked at how to use conflict. This time, we’re going to look at the more subtle art of including irony in a logline.
Irony is a very valuable commodity in a logline, especially if your story is a comedy. It makes your audience settle back into their seats thinking, “This is gonna be good!” Because everybody loves irony. It makes us think about how this story is going to show two sides of the same coin.
Audiences love stories that show them two (or more!) sides of a coin. (Though I suppose if it had more than two sides, it wouldn’t be a coin, would it?) We enjoy deep movies and books that explore all the little nooks and crannies of a theme.
A theme, by the way, is the main idea that your story is exploring. The stories we consider classics often have characters that each live out a different facet of the theme, giving the audience a vast experience with an idea and allowing them to see where following that idea would lead.
As far as comedy goes, irony is great, because irony is very funny when done right. The key is to use irony to hint at the comedy and let the audience run wild thinking about how funny the premise can be.
So how’s this work in practice? Let’s grab some Hollywood films and check it out.
Drama is easy, so let’s start there. We can use a logline from some of the previous posts to illustrate this. The logline from Jurassic Park already has some great irony.
Jurassic Park: A kid-hating scientist must protect two children when a dinosaur park goes haywire and the monsters go on rampage.
How ironic! You mean this scientist who hates kids is going to be stuck in a dangerous dinosaur park with two children for a good portion of this movie? Some sparks are going to fly, that’s for sure.
Or how about the logline from Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl?
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.
As I hinted at in the adjective post, this logline has a lot of irony going for it. A scrupulous guy has to join up with a criminal pirate (and a half-mad one at that!) to save his girl from other pirates? How ironic!
So both of these loglines use adjectives to show the irony of the dramatic situation. The audience immediately starts thinking about how interesting this movie will be because of the situation the characters have been thrown into.
Not too hard, is it? Well, we haven’t covered funny stories yet, though that’s not much harder. With these, we want to use irony to show how hilarious this could get. Let’s try a movie where the hook is meant to be humorous.
Despicable Me: A super villain must adopt three adorable orphans to carry out his evil plot, bringing chaos to his secret lair and making him wonder if villainy is really all that great.
How do we make this logline ironic? Well, the humor here is that a super villain has to adopt some kids as a key part of his plan. We need to use our logline tricks to bring out the irony. We could start by showing how much this villain hates kids.
Despicable Me: A super villain who delights in making children cry must adopt three adorable orphans as part of his next evil plot, bringing chaos to his secret lair and making him wonder if villainy is really all that great.
That adds some irony, but it could be even more fun if we mention that these kids have to like him! We’ll have to rewrite this a lot to make it work.
Despicable Me: A super villain who delights in making children cry must adopt three adorable girls as part of his next scheme, bringing chaos to his secret lair as he tries to keep the kids happy.
Now that’s funny! You mean this villain who likes to see kids cry is going to have to keep these girls happy to carry out his plan? How ironic! And we the audience can totally see the girls running wild in his lair, trying out his death rays and villain equipment. This guy has his hands full of an ironic mess, and we can’t wait to see what happens next!
As a side note, you’ll notice that I eliminated the part about making the villain wonder if his villainy was worthwhile. Part of writing a great logline is making it compellingly promise your premise without misleading the audience. Despicable Me was “sold” to me on the premise of the logline we started with, but it didn’t deliver on the premise. Because of that, I chose to write a much more honest logline, even if it wasn’t quite as compelling.
Of course, if you can’t write a compelling logline for your story, maybe something’s wrong and you need to go back and rework some things! If that’s the case, jump in with both feet, remembering that irony is one of the keys to a great story. Rejigger your story into shape, then go write a logline that sends folks running for a theater.