What is a logline?
It started out back in the day when big studios had countless unproduced screenplays and they needed a quick reference system. Rather than reading a synopsis that can be up to ten pages long, they needed a short form answer to the problem.
Thus - loglines were created for each script - a single sentence summary of the entire story.
Why is it so necessary to have a logline?
As a writer you will be asked countless times, what's your film about?
The worst possible answer is -- "Well, it's about a lady, and she's got some problems, with her family -- but she really wants to --"
You see where I'm going with that. It's boring as hell, and what it really says about you as a writer is that you don't actually know what your story is about.
A logline is less than 50 words. You can memorise less than 50 words really easily. If you have two or three stories you've got ready to pitch to people - then you can easily memorise two or three sentences.
Loglines can be tricky to write.
There's a saying, if you want me to speak for an hour give me the day to prepare, if you want me to speak for five minutes give me the week. (Or something like that.)
The idea is, the fewer words used, the harder it is to make your point.
To distill an entire story into less than 50 words is incredibly difficult.
Fortunately there's a formula to it.
The following are the elements you need to know about your story to formulate a good logline.
FUNCTION, FLAW(S), GOAL, INCITING INCIDENT, ANTAGONIST, STAKES, TICKING CLOCK
Your Hero's FUNCTION is how they fit into society.
Nurse. Doctor. Fire Fighter. Police Officer. Etc.
It's not limited to job titles. it could be vagrant. Or serial killer. Neither vagrant or serial killer are 'jobs', but they do describe a position in society.
Next you need your Hero's FLAW. Your Hero's flaw is the inner demon that is holding back your hero from achieving what it is they need to achieve to live a better life.
So, take the example of Police Officer. Our Police Officer's flaw could be that he's aquaphobic. He has a terrible fear of water.
Now wait up - what does aquaphobia - a fear of water - have to do with a police officer?
This is a major point that needs to be made - the FLAW of your HERO should be RELEVANT to your STORY.
Now, in most scenarios a fear of water is not relevant to a police officer's life or career. So unless your story is set on - say - an island - where there's lots of water - or your police officer is part of the coast guard, auqaphobia isn't relevant.
This is one of the great things about writing a logline. It tests your story concept before you go on to spend months writing it.
There's nothing worse than finishing 100 pages of writing - then distilling your screenplay into a logline and ONLY THEN realising that your Hero's FLAW doesn't really have anything to do with the story.
Once you have your characters FUNCTION and FLAW.
Next you need the film's INCITING INCIDENT.
First - what's an inciting incident?
An inciting incident is something OUT OF THE ORDINARY that TESTS the Hero's FLAW, and propels them on a journey.
Now that - TEST THE HERO'S FLAW - part is really important.
If you have a police officer who is afraid of water, then the inciting incident MUST have something to do with water.
So let's take the example of JAWS.
What's the inciting incident there? It actually happens in the opening scene.
The Girl is eaten by a shark.
That's your inciting incident, as it will test Sheriff Brody's flaws.
That's right - FLAWS - plural.
Sheriff Brody has two flaws.
ONE is that he's afraid of water when he's a police officer on an island.
The second and most important flaw - is that he's IRRESPONSIBLE.
What? I hear you ask? How is Sheriff Brody irresponsible?
He hasn't fixed the kids swing set and one of his children gets hurt playing on them.
He lets his kids play in a boat - when he knows there's a shark out there.
That's just two examples of how Sheriff Brody is irresponsible.
The inciting incident is JAWS is great as it propels Brody on a journey that will test both his flaws. He will have to become responsible for the lives of everyone on the island, and to do that he will have to face his great fear of water to go and kill the shark.
So, we've got our --
Hero's FUNCTION, his FLAW(S), and the INCITING INCIDENT.
Next we need a GOAL.
What is Brody's goal in Jaws?
Protect the people of the island? Yes, that is a goal, but it's an OPEN ENDED goal. It's a general goal. How is he going to protect the people of the island?
Goals that are closed ended work better. In this instance - he must...
KILL THE SHARK.
That's his closed ended goal.
Next we need the SHADOW.
The shadow is the bag guy - the villain, the antagonist.
In JAWS the MAYOR of the town is the bad guy. He's the one that wants to keep the beaches open.
Next is TIMELINE - or TICKING CLOCK.
In this instance, the town Mayor insists on keeping the beaches open for the fourth of July.
Jaws is a funny one - it doesn't have a perfect ticking clock, but there is the notion that if Brody doesn't go out to sea and kill this shark immediately, there WILL be another death. So in that sense, there is a ticking clock.
Because the beaches are kept open by the mayor - it's only a matter of time before someone else gets eaten by the shark.
The final element is STAKES:
In this instance, there is the stakes of SOMEONE'S life. That's pretty big stakes. There's also the financial stakes of the entire town. If the shark is not killed - the town will not earn enough money during the summer months to carry them over for the winter months.
Let's look at all our elements for the logline:
FUNCTION: Island Sheriff
FLAW(S): Fear of water. Irresponsible.
GOAL: Kill the shark
INCITING INCIDENT: Young woman eaten by shark.
ANTAGONIST: Island Mayor
STAKES: More shark victims. Town bankruptcy.
TICKING CLOCK: Before the next victim is killed. (While important to the story, it's not essential for this logline.)
These are the elements you need to make your logline sing.
Here's a logline using ALL the elements.
When a young woman is eaten by a shark, an irresponsible island sheriff terrified of water must go to sea to hunt and kill the shark before the next victim is killed when the island mayor insists on keeping the beaches open for the tourist trade to save the town from bankruptcy.
But there's no hard and fast rule.
Remember, what you're trying to do with your logline is to create an interesting hook to sell the idea of your story.
Here's a leaner version of the same logline.
When a young woman is eaten by a shark, an irresponsible island sheriff terrified of water must go to sea and kill the shark to prevent more deaths, when the island mayor insists on keeping the beaches open for the tourist trade.
That reads much cleaner.
I'd call this your BASE LOGLINE.
Once you have your base logline - you can then embellish a little -- add some adjectives to spice it up, rearrange the structure a little to see what works best.
After a harrowing shark attack leaves a young woman torn to pieces, an irresponsible island Sheriff must overcome his phobia of water and take to the sea to hunt the man eating monster before it strikes again, which is sure to happen as the imbecilic town mayor insists on keeping the beaches open for the tourist trade.
Best of luck with your logline writing...