Part II, we shared our copyrighted and trademarked LOGLINE FORMULA©, highlighting the identification of the major seven major elements of the logline- the lead character (protagonist), the obstacle, the goal, the loss (stakes), the irony/inciting incident, the “new” (better known as the “hook”), and the enemy (antagonist).
In Part III, we’re going to highlight three additional steps that one must take to create an effective logline.
TONE: The tone of the logline is the indicator of the genre. You shouldn’t have to waste valuable logline real estate by including phrases such as:
“MAN BITES DOG is a COMEDY about a…”
“‘THE NAKED GHOST, a horror movie unlike any other, deals with…”
Genre needs to be indicated in a logline, and to do that, it must be implied through tone. Most times, the subject matter itself helps tremendously in this area; there aren’t a lot of comedies about children getting wiped out in a tsunami. The exception to this, of course, is if you’re writing for the Monty Python troupe. In order to imply tone, you must use the proper dramatic words to reflect that genre. A logline about a comedy damn well better be funny. A crime drama will most likely involve blood, death, murder and/or mayhem, and the logline should indicate this.
WORDWEIGHT: This is an area of much controversy, at least in my circles. There are many arguments as to the number of words needed for a logline. The rule of thumb has always been “the fewer the better”, but there is a certain “allowance” of up to thirty words. My chief goal is twenty-five words, but I often allow it up to thirty in an effort to improve its quality.
This is a rule that has its share of naysayers, and is often argued, but usually only by those who cannot write a decent logline. Again, referring back to Part I and the purpose of the logline, you need to keep it brief and concise- think “elevator pitch”. If you can share your concept in one thirty word sentence, and it allows the listener to picture the entire story in their head, then you achieved greatness. That’s the goal. Anything beyond thirty words tends to be a rambling, run-on sentence containing too many unnecessary details that tune out the listener.
Now, does this mean 31 words are too many? Probably not, but you have to have a cut-off somewhere. Thirty words seem to be the acceptable length in most circles.
Are there examples of loglines much longer than thirty words? Yes, and they were most likely written by well-known, previously produced screenwriters with a proven track record. They don’t have to follow rules, and therefore, they are the exception. As in all of these “rules”, they are guidelines for the new spec screenwriter.
Please keep in mind- the TV Guide descriptions of a movie are NOT loglines. The NETFLIX description of a movie is, generally, NOT a logline. These are short descriptions of the movie written in a way to make you see the movie. It’s a bit different than trying to get someone to read a script that has not yet been made INTO a movie.
Also, as a reminder, a TAGLINE is not a logline. A tagline is used for advertising purposes only; the bottom line of a movie poster. The tagline “In space no one can hear you scream”, was a famously effectively tagline for the movie “Alien”.
What it isn’t is a logline.
LOGLINES ARE YOUR COMPASS: Once you’ve developed an effective logline that tells your story in the shortest, most basic, way possible, while also identifying the main elements, you should use this as your compass in writing your story. Print it out and paste it to your computer monitor and refer back to it constantly and consistently. Make sure that the story you are typing is including these elements and following the path to eventually reach your logline conclusion.
What does this mean? It means you’ll have to develop your logline FIRST, which I strongly recommend.
Loglines can, and will, change, as your story changes. You may discover a better “road” to your conclusion, and will have to adjust your logline to account for this new path. This is completely acceptable. In the end, hopefully, the logline will most accurately describe your story as it is told.
You can- and should- try out your logline on your “peers” and “rocketeers”. There are numerous writing groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, and other sites, that would welcome a review of your logline. I have, however, read some of the “advice” in these groups, from well-meaning people, and it seems to be more of a case on “the blind leading the blind” than actual help.
While some might suggest that loglines should be “three lines or less”, I would always suggest keeping your loglines to one sentence. I’m also not a big fan of the logline that asks a question. In most cases, the answer is easily a resounding “no” and the reader will just pass it over for the next one.
In the end, however, the most effective logline is the one that gets your screenplay read and, eventually sold. However you achieve that should be YOUR logline formula.