Your logline is every bit as significant as your screenplay. That’s because a logline not only serves as the first glimpse at your subject matter but it also reveals its marketability while showcasing your writing abilities. With all this in mind, it’s absolutely essential to know how to write a killer logline.
Writing an eye-catching logline can spark the interest of producers, agents, investors, and development executives to request your screenplay, and hopefully score you a meeting or career-defining opportunity.
Industry professionals are busy and have little time to sift through the countless scripts and query letters they’re sent in a given week or month. So, in most cases, your logline will determine if your screenplay is read or simply passed over.
So, let’s explore the ideal logline formula to entice your readers to request your full screenplay.
- What is a logline?
- When to write a logline?
- Key components of a logline
- Can loglines break the rules?
What is a Logline?
Let’s start with what a logline is not. Loglines are not summaries. You don’t need to stuff every detail of your story into it or overly describe your characters. In fact, you typically don’t even want to list their names.
Take Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — even the titular character isn’t referenced in the logline: “A high school wise guy is determined to have a day off from school, despite what the Principal thinks of that.”
Think concept, not story. Some writers try to tell you what happens in their story and miss the bigger picture. Instead, your logline should serve as a core concept that seduces your audience to the point where they are compelled to learn more.
Your standard logline is 1-2 sentences long and ranges from 25 to 50 words. And if it’s successful, it will hook the reader while teasing the central conflict of your story.
When to Write a Logline?
You’ve finished writing your script, so now it’s time for creating marketing assets such as your logline, right? Well, yes and no. Even though it’s never too late to create the resources that you’ll need to market your film, it’s actually a good idea to work on them concurrently with your project. This includes your logline.
Blake Snyder, whose infamous book Save The Cat adorns the bookshelves of nearly every screenwriter in Los Angeles, writes how he crafts a logline early on in his writing process to determine if an idea is marketable.
So, now that we’ve established that it’s a good rule of thumb to write your logline before you write your screenplay, let’s see why.
There are many benefits to this practice as it forces you to boil your story down to its most vital components. Yes, your logline may change a half dozen times, but that’s okay! Rewrites are an unavoidable feature of writing. As the vessel for your story, allow yourself the space to grow your idea before, during, and after you write it.
When writing just to an outline without a succinct logline, it’s easy to get off track from the main idea. With that logline, you can reference it from time to time to keep you on course, like a lighthouse beacon during a foggy night at sea.
Key Components of a Logline
Not all loglines are the same, nor should they be. That said, there are a few key logline components that you should consider from identifying who your main characters are to the stakes at hand.
Once defined, you’ll have the meat of your logline that you can then set to refine!
Here’s what you should highlight in your logline.
- Who’s your protagonist?
- What’s the state of their world?
- What is the inciting incident?
- What’s the major conflict?
- What are the stakes?
Starting with the key components will ensure that you keep to the core points of your screenplay. You don’t need to give away the entire story. This isn’t the place for nuances like twists, reveals, and C storylines.
Going back to Blake Snyder, he’s frequently remarked how your logline is the DNA of your film. So, try and keep it to the core elements. Here’s a more in-depth look at each component.
Who’s your Protagonist?
Describe your protagonist but, like in the Ferris Bueller example above, don’t name them unless it’s for someone renowned or for some other good reason. (Note our example below under Can loglines break the rules?)
What’s the State of Their World?
Articulate their world as it pertains to the plot of the characters themselves, like in City of God: “In the slums of Rio, two kids’ paths diverge as one struggles to become a photographer and the other a kingpin.”
What’s the Inciting Incident?
Need help with your inciting incident? It can come in the form of a major life event. Let’s take Network, for example. When news anchor Howard Beale discovers that he’s about to lose his job, he angrily airs his grievances live on air, pushing ratings through the roof. Thereby a movement is born. Repeat after me, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Here’s how the inciting incident is applied to their logline: “A television network cynically exploits a deranged former anchor’s ravings and revelations about the news media for its own profit.”
What’s the Major Conflict?
The strength of your major conflict is the key to a good plot. It makes for the spine that your plot is held up alongside and can be a struggle with an antagonist. It can be as straightforward as John McClane fighting his way through a Los Angeles skyscraper to save his wife from Hans Gruber in Die Hard.
That translates to: “An NYPD officer tries to save his wife and several others taken hostage by German terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.”
What are the Stakes?
How great are the stakes of your protagonist? Are they thrust into a life or death situation like Hugh Glass in The Revenant or a matter of love loss and figurative death between Alvy and Annie in Annie Hall.
“Alvy Singer, a divorced Jewish comedian, reflects on his relationship with ex-lover Annie Hall, an aspiring nightclub singer, which ended abruptly just like his previous marriages.”
Can Loglines Break the Rules?
By this point, we’ve dissected more than a few loglines and pulled out the main features, observing what makes them tick.
Now that you know the basics, let’s talk about breaking the rules with loglines. Don’t get us wrong, a solid traditional logline often wins the day. And even when you break the rules, you still want to work within reason.
Your script most likely isn’t an avant-garde piece, and if it is, then a traditional structure (and marketing strategy) was never in the cards for you. That said, when you do break the rules, it should be motivated and enhance your concept — because, again, it’s all about the concept.
But — and a huge BUT here — when done correctly, you can shine past other well-structured loglines with something a bit less conventional. Just within reason.
Above, Annie Hall breaks the rules by naming its characters, but as a rom-com written and directed by a famous director, you can be a little more indulgent. The same rings true for Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas.
“The story of Henry Hill and his life in the mob, covering his relationship with his wife Karen Hill and his mob partners Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito in the Italian-American crime syndicate.”
There’s motivation for the name drops as they relate to a true story based on real people.
However, don’t forget that sometimes there is perfection in simplicity. The logline for Elf is “A Christmas Elf goes to New York City.” Simple, to the point, and leaves you wanting to know more.
The Bottom Line
Your logline is much more than a selling point for your marketing strategy. As we uncovered above, a successful logline contains the DNA of your screenplay.
It’s a good idea to craft your logline early on in your writing process as a way to clearly define the key components of your story.
There’s no set logline formula but we suggest starting by incorporating the following:
Protagonist + Inciting Action + World + Main Conflict + Stakes
The nice part about loglines is how you can find them simply by searching IMDb. Compare yours alongside genres and subject matter similar to yours to see how they relate and differ. The more you write, rewrite, and simplify your logline, the stronger and better it will be.