The logline is probably the hardest sentence to write.
The logline sums up a story in one sentence. This sentence should be memorable and clear, which means it is unlikely to be much longer than thirty words or to have complex syntax.
Once your reader has read your logline – or your listener heard it –, they will ideally know the following about your story:
- who it is about
- what the central conflict or main problem is
- what the most important characters do in the story
- why they do it, i.e. what their motivations are
- how they do it
- where all this happens, i.e. what the setting is
- when it happens, i.e. what the period is
The first of these points even counts double – since usually the logline should convey not only who the main protagonist is, but also what antagonism she faces.
What’s the logline for?
The purpose of the logline is to pitch your story. So it is important to know at whom it is directed. Therefore your story may have several variations of logline for different situations or recipients. A one-sentence blurb on the back of a book is likely to be different from the one sentence heading an exposé for a publishing house or production company. In the former case, you are trying to convince a consumer to spend a few dollars (or pounds, or euros) on a book. In the latter, you are trying to convince an editor or film producer to read on, perhaps in the hope of getting a contract worth a few thousand dollars. In the first case, you must not give away the ending of the story. In the latter, you should at least not keep the ending a secret.
While the logline’s ultimate function is to arouse the recipient’s curiosity, the first thing this person wants is to be able to categorise the story. That means, the logline should convey the genre – by which we mean the general style of the work. This carries implications of target audience. Is it a story for children? If so, what age group? Is it a story aimed at women rather than men? Most people will have interests, and dislikes. If the recipient doesn’t want science fiction, and your story is science fiction, then it is probably better for both of you that no more time is wasted.
The examples cited below are not perfect. A logline is always work in progress. It can always be improved.
As examples, we have chosen well-known stories, so that you can see how the principle of the logline works. And of course, the stories have already been told. You may know them. If you know the material, judging the effectiveness of a logline is a completely different thing from reacting to nothing more than a sentence of thirty words.
Furthermore, bear in mind that a logline need not stand alone. Your work needs a title, and if you have one already, it can be a great support to your logline. They function together. However, before a book is published or a film released, the name by which it is referred to is often a working title, which may yet be changed.
The three sons of a king fight to protect their empire when their father, a mafia Don, is shot. Each has a different approach, and the one who least wanted the throne succeeds to it.
Star Wars – A New Hope
A fairy tale set in a distant galaxy has an adventurous boy having to leave his provincial home in order to rescue a princess and destroy the evil lord’s mighty space station fortress.
You’ll notice that the examples often describe the premise. They may leave open to the reader’s imagination all that might happen in the story. Or they may suggest the change that the story describes, which means they effectively give away the ending. They tend to include the main problem, the principle conflict, or the main character’s great dilemma.
Main characters are often described with one adjective which points to that character’s core emotion. Often, the antagonist is described with one adjective too. Both their goals or wants factor heavily, since motivations are what drive them to act, and their action comprises the plot.
Loglines may simplify details and certainly leave questions open – which is good, because you want the recipient to ask you questions after they have heard your logline. If no conversation ensues, your logline has failed.
Can you do better?
Can you improve on our examples? Have you got any others? Share them with us! Comment on this post or write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.