Despite the fact that the process of writing loglines is cumbersome and a little bit involving, learning how to write one is a skill that you need to have in your arsenal as a filmmaker or a screenplay writer.
An awesome logline can help writers to remember the main character and their motivations, for producers it can be a device to pitch a movie idea, and for an audience, it is there to function as a synopsis to help in the process of choosing which movie to watch.
A logline is an extremely brief and concise one-sentence summary (approximately 30 – 50 words) of a screenplay, film, or TV show that should swiftly convey the central conflict of the story, the main character, the setup, and the antagonist.
It usually functions as a short synopsis to hook the listener into reading the entire script, draw potential viewers, or for production deals.
How to Write a Compelling Logline
Condensing an entire 150-page script into one or two lines containing roughly 30 – 50 words is indeed challenging, however, it is not impossible.
To understand how to craft better loglines, we’re going to examine the main components that make up a logline.
What is at stake
This basically the main character of your story. When writing loglines start by introducing who your protagonist is.
The best way to go about that is to describe their fascinating qualities instead of providing names.
To get the attention that you require from your reader, it is important that you paint a clear picture of where your story is going to take place in your logline.
This is also known as the inciting incident. It refers to the catalyst that sets off the action in your screenplay/ story.
The inciting incident usually comes after the description of your main character.
What is at stake
This refers to the risk of your main character losing something that is valuable or important to them as a result of them doing something.
In other words, this is like your character’s “call to adventure,” something that changes your character’s life. It can be in the form of death, a promotion at work, or a visit from an old friend.
N/B: For any logline that you’re going to write it is important that you use active voice so as to help raise the stakes hence engaging your reader.
6 Steps to Writing a Great Logline
As you may all know, there’s no such thing as a formula or secret recipe for writing screenplays. The same principle applies to the process of writing loglines.
What we have as aspiring screenplay writers/filmmakers is just a set of guidelines to help you write effective loglines.
Utilize IMDB as your guide
What better way to learn to write loglines than from already released films? Before you get down to the business of the day, head over to IMDB and get a first look at how industry leaders craft their loglines.
Present the main concept
When we talk about concept what do we exactly mean? Basically, these are the building blocks of your story. They include the following:
The main character(s)
The world they live in
The inciting incident
The major conflict they must face
The stakes at hand.
If you are writing your logline these 5 elements forms the structure upon which you build on.
Start with a basic structure
A basic logline structure looks something like this
When [INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS]…
A [CHARACTER TYPE]…
As generic as it looks, you must not confuse this for a straight-up formula. What you need to do is take this as an opportunity to identify the main what is at stake, the main character, and their goal in your story.
Limit yourself to 30 – 50 words
If you need to actually sell or get financing for your script, your Executive Producers don’t have time to read the whole synopsis leave alone the script. Just make it short.
The rule of thumb here is to have approximately 30 -50 words.
Don’t use the names of your characters
To offer anyone reading your logline an instant description of your character uses character types instead of using character names, use character types This usually comes in handy when they are envisioning the right person during the casting process.
Some examples of character types include:
A single mother
An optimistic farm boy
A struggling writer
An autistic teenager
An anxious clownfish
Incorporate Irony concepts
This can be in the form of placing unfamiliar character types together or characters with conflicting personalities
If you can find irony in your story concept try as much as possible to utilize it.
Movie and Tv logline examples
Logline for movies
The Godfather (1972) – The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty in postwar New York City transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant youngest son.
Silence of the Lambs (1991) – A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.
Pulp Fiction (1994) – The lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster and his wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
Inception (2010) – A thief who steals corporate secrets through the use of dream-sharing technology is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a C.E.O., but his tragic past may doom the project and his team to disaster.
Saving Private Ryan (1998) – Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers goes behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.
Parasite (2019) – Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.
Gladiator (2000) – A former Roman General sets out to exact vengeance against the corrupt emperor who murdered his family and sent him into slavery.
Whiplash (2014) – A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.
Django Unchained (2012) – With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal plantation owner in Mississippi.
Avengers: Endgame (2019) – After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to reverse Thanos’ actions and restore balance to the universe.
Logline for tv shows
Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013) – A chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine with a former student in order to secure his family’s future.
Chernobyl (2019) – In April 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics becomes one of the world’s worst man-made catastrophes.
The Wire (2002 – 2008) – The Baltimore drug scene, as seen through the eyes of drug dealers and law enforcement.
The Office (2005 – 2013) – A mockumentary on a group of typical office workers, where the workday consists of ego clashes, inappropriate behavior, and tedium.
Better Call Saul (2015 – 2022) – The trials and tribulations of criminal lawyer Jimmy McGill in the years leading up to his fateful run-in with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
Narcos (2015 – 2017) – A chronicled look at the criminal exploits of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, as well as the many other drug kingpins who plagued the country through the years.
Peaky Blinders (2013 – 2022) – A gangster family epic set in 1900s England, centering on a gang who sew razor blades in the peaks of their caps, and their fierce boss Tommy Shelby.
Stranger Things ( 2016 – Present) – When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying supernatural forces in order to get him back.
House of Cards (2013 – 2018) – A Congressman works with his equally conniving wife to exact revenge on the people who betrayed him.
Spartacus (2010 – 2013) – The life of Spartacus, the gladiator who lead a rebellion against the Romans. From his time as an ally of the Romans to his betrayal and becoming a gladiator, to the rebellion he leads and its ultimate outcome.
The whole process of writing loglines will consume a lot of your time and at some point, you will feel some form of disappointment. Despite all this, always remember that the best loglines take multiple drafts and lots of experimenting.
Writing that logline means giving your story and script an advantage over other scripts. Now that you know what is a logline and how to craft a better one, give your story a fighting chance! If this post was helpful be sure to check out my other articles on filmmaking here