How to Write an Effective Logline in Ten Easy Steps – Part II

SnakesonabuggyNow that we know what a logline IS and its purpose, as well as what a logline is NOT, we can take the next step(s) in creating one.

The Script Mentor has developed a fool-proof logline formula (okay, nothing’s fool-proof. I know so many fools…) that will ensure AT LEAST the identification of the proper elements that should always be included in your effective logline. You’ve seen this list before from The Script Mentor, I’m sure. Some of the smart ones probably cut and pasted it into a word document, and printed it out on colored stock, frame it and placed it in a conspicuous spot near your writer’s station.

Why?

Because you’re anal. But, besides that, it’s because you keep forgetting what these elements are, so you do a Google search for “logline” and are now inundated with 10,000 pages of logline references on how to construct a logline, logline consultants, etc. Pretty soon, you’re distracted by that ad for “instant, guaranteed weight loss in three days or less”, and you forget what you were searching for to begin with and give up altogether.

Okay…maybe that’s just me.

However, now you don’t need to subject yourself to a memory test each and every time you have a new, exciting concept and want to document that idea by writing a logline for it for your notes.

Just remember “logline”: L-O-G-L-I-N-E.

These are the elements that are going to be needed for any logline to be effective.

L – Lead: “Lead character”.
This is your protagonist. You do NOT provide the character name in the logline, unless, of course, the story is biographical about a famous person. If you’re writing a screenplay on Albert Einstein, you may say “When genius physicist Albert Einstein discovered the zombie virus…” If your character is “Secret Agent Bob”, or “Joe the Plumber”, you do not use their names and take up valuable logline real estate.

O – Obstacle: The obstacle is what your character MUST overcome in order to achieve their goal and complete their character arc.
Your character must overcome his fear of heights in order to catch the killer and win the girl. Your character must overcome poverty in order to win the Heisman trophy, etc. The obstacle may be a person, place or thing, conceptual or real (bullying is conceptual; a bully is real, and please, no drawn-out discussions on how “real” bullying is; we’re arguing semantics).

G – Goal: The goal is the one thing your character hopes to win or achieve: to win the heart of a girl, to ascend to the throne, to fly, etc.

L – Lose; as in “what they stand to lose”.
This is also known as “stakes” or “risks”. Your hero has to stand to lose something or else there is no threat in trying to get to the goal. Your hero wants the girl, but the girl has a boyfriend, who just happens to be the toughest kid in school. What does your hero stand to lose? How about his face – figuratively and literally?

I – Irony/ Inciting Incident: This gets a little tricky now. I believe the better the irony, the more effective the concept, the story and the logline. What element single-handedly ratchets up the conflict of Sheriff Brody fighting a man-eating shark in “Jaws”? How about the fact that he is deathly afraid of the water! What about a mob boss so riddled with guilt that he sees a psychiatrist? A king who needs to make one of the most important speeches in his country’s history, but is so overcome with his debilitating speech impediment (stuttering), that he nearly gives up his crown?

Sometimes, though, no matter how much you search for it, you might not find any irony (sorry for you). In those cases, I would include a reference to the inciting incident.

N – New; as in “What’s new in this story that we haven’t seen a hundred times before?”
This is better known as your “hook”.

The hook is, in my opinion, THE most important element, not only of your logline, but of your entire story. It is also the most misunderstood element of the screenplay. It is not easily defined or described, but, much like “porn”, I know it when I see it. The hook is the element (s) of a story that is unique to your story and, hopefully, had not been done before. Recently, my multi- award-winning screenplay, “Banking on Betty”, had received so much recognition, not only for the screenplay, but also for the unique “hook” that it served up. The premise was a simple buddy-buddy story that takes place cross-country; a federal witness being pursued by gangsters and corrupt cops. Hook number one was that the witness was an 80-yr.old woman, with a mouth like a sailor, and hook #2 was that she was testifying against the mob, for which she was the primary financial accountant, and has a photographic memory. The twist (also hook #3) was that as a witness, she would be testifying against the Godfather himself- her own son, who wants her dead. The fact that none of these hooks had previously been seen before, you can understand why it received the attention.

Some people mistakenly believe that a “hook” is a story that “hooks you in” like a fish on the line. In fact, it is these one-of-a-kind elements, unique to your story, that actually hook you as a reader. Remember- hooks are those elements that are unique to YOUR concept that have NOT been done or seen in that exact way before.

E – Enemy; your antagonist.
This must be a specific person or thing. Entities like “law enforcement” or “the government” cannot be antagonists. They must be represented by an individual.

Now, I realize that “haters gonna hate”, and claim this to be some hokey made-up formula that doesn’t solve the issue at hand.

Hater. I know who you are…and your logline sucks, btw.

The fact is you still have to structure this information in a sentence or two that resembles what TPTB expect when they request a logline.

We’ll tell you what the remaining three steps for creating an effective logline in our next entry…

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4 thoughts on “How to Write an Effective Logline in Ten Easy Steps – Part II

  1. Marc Johnson

    I can say from personal experience, that TSM’s formula is spot on. And to those “haters” out there the TSM speaks of, I refer you to one of the great minds of the 20th Century and his quote on insanity “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein. Unless of course, crazy works for you.

    Reply

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