How To Create
a Compelling Logline
by Jeff Bollow
When we first introduced the Logline submission form at the Embryo Films website, a curious thing began to happen.
Full grown adult men and women began attempting to cram an entire movie into a tiny little box.
And funnily enough, a quick search around the internet shows that grown adult men and women around the world continue to try to cram entire brainfuls of ideas into Loglines that simply aren't big enough to accommodate them.
You've seen them. They're these enormous run-on sentences your English teacher would've castigated you for (she would've probably told you not to end your sentences with prepositions, too, but let's not get off topic).
They use the words AND and BUT generously, and allow the tail end of the sentence to snake all the way around the block and back again. Like so:
It's the story of a man called Johnny who's having trouble getting his girlfriend to notice all the things he's done for her AND then one day he walks into the store where his girlfriend (her name is Joanna) works BUT the store manager has this stupid grin on his face AND tells Johnny to go take it outside BUT then Johnny pretends to leave BUT secretly hides behind the avocado stand AND sees his girlfriend making out with the store manager at which point he gets so enraged that he...
And next thing you know, your "two sentence" logline qualifies for the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest sentence ever written.
In case there's any question, the above is NOT a good logline. And there's a very simple reason for it:
It's not a logline at all.
It's an abbreviated attempt to tell the story.
The secret to creating compelling loglines is to make a very specific distinction in your mind between CONCEPT and STORY.
When you're creating a logline, don't try to tell the whole story in one sentence. Instead, encapsulate your CONCEPT.
And here's where most writers go off-track.
They think CONCEPT and STORY are the same.
(Or, at the very least, they think Concept is something they don't have to think about.)
Storytelling requires two or more people.
First is the writer. That's you. Without you, the story doesn't exist.
Second is the audience, which can be one listener or reader, or it can be a global viewing audience of several billion people. Without the audience, the story might as well not exist.
The fundamental mistake most writers make is that they forget about the audience.
But hang on!
Why should an audience want to see your film? What about your film is compelling? There are hundreds (even thousands) of ideas, images, stories and distractions out there. What is it about YOUR idea that's going to stop someone dead in their tracks and DEMAND to know more?
Imagine stopping someone on the street (let's say it's a guy with an angrily furled brow), and trying to tell him your whole movie. How long do you think it will take before he tells you to bugger off? (Answer: About 15 seconds.)
But what if you weren't trying to tell him your whole story -- and you merely tried to grab him with your CONCEPT instead?
Could you pique his interest enough in 15 seconds to get him to ask for your business card?
Sure you could. But you're going to need to polish that pitch, aren't you?
THAT'S what a logline is all about.
Craft a one- or two-sentence pitch that GRABS THE READER ENOUGH TO MAKE THEM ASK FOR MORE.
Don't even BOTHER trying to tell the whole story. No one has time, even if they WERE interested.
Just GRAB them. Make them ask for more.
By engaging the reader's mind. Here are three ways to do it:
QUESTIONS engage the reader's mind. For example, "How would somebody get out of THAT situation?" or the best screenwriting question a reader can ask, "Wow, what happens THEN?"
IDEAS engage the reader's mind. For example, when you create an unusual or intriguing scenario.
STAKES engage the reader's mind. For example, when someone we care about is in danger of losing something THEY care about.
Because the human mind is infinitely fascinated by the unknown, there are countless ways to engage your reader's mind.
But that's the key. Engage your READER'S mind.
When you do, and you whittle it down into one or two sentences that stops a stranger dead in his tracks, you'll have a compelling logline.
And then watch as your script gets requested repeatedly.
Keep on writing!
Jeff Bollow, founder of Screenplay.com.au, is an award-winning filmmaker, acclaimed screenwriting teacher, creator of FAST Screenplay, co-founder of New Zealand's Big Mountain Short Film Festival, and author of two best-selling books.
This article is copyright © 2005 by Jeff Bollow, and may not be reprinted without permission. You are free to link to this page, provided it is not within a frame on an external site.