Why? Because a logline is a great tool for writers trying to tell people what their story is about.
Tomorrow I'll be back on task with a blog report on my goals.
Now for LOGLINES <rubbing hands together>
"What is your story about?"
1) Character: Who is your story about? Give a description, not a name. A common technique is to provide a “dominant impression” which is an adjective plus a noun (like timid writer, neurotic housewife, murdering dentist, etc.)
2) Goal: What does your character want? The character's overarching goal in the book.
3) Conflict: What's keeping them from getting it? Can be internal and/or external.
Arriving at the logline
Loglines are invariably too detailed or too general. It takes work to hone it to the perfect short one-liner that hooks the reader and conveys information about your story without sounding like a thesaurus.
I’ll try to illustrate what I mean using the Hunger Games.
A girl on a reality TV show has to make difficult ethical choices in order to win.
If I hadn't told you, would you have known this logline is for the Hunger Games? Maybe, but it's awfully general, isn't it? It could take place in any time period, in any place. It reveals nothing about the world, and almost nothing about the character. There’s nothing intriguing or unique to hook the reader.
Let’s try to improve on that example.
In the future, amidst the ruins of North America lies the nation of Panem where a 16-year-old girl who is a loner and sole-supporter of her family, Katniss Everdeen, takes her younger, weaker sister Prim’s place in the nationally televised Hunger Games where she’s a longshot to survive the fight to the death against other teenagers from every District—a fight to the death on live TV.
A desperate 16-year-old fights to be the sole survivor of the Hunger Games, but at what cost to her humanity?
I think we’re getting somewhere now. This has the three elements I list above. Here’s how it breaks down:
A desperate 16-year-old (CHARACTER) fights to be the sole survivor (EXTERNAL CONFLICT, GOAL) of The Hunger Games, but at what cost to her humanity? (INTERNAL CONFLICT)
So this version is better, but I don’t think it’s as good as we can make it yet. Let’s try adding the “plus” – that something extra to hook the reader.
In what used to be North America, a desperate 16-year-old girl battles to be the sole survivor of the nationally televised "Hunger Games" where teens fight to the death, but at what cost to her humanity?
Here's the breakdown:
In what used to be North America (PLUS), a desperate 16-year-old (CHARACTER) battles to be the sole survivor (EXTERNAL CONFLICT, GOAL) of the nationally televised "Hunger Games" where teens fight to the death (PLUS), but at what cost to her humanity? (INTERNAL CONFLICT)
Ultimately the success of a logline comes down to a matter of personal opinion, market considerations, and a host of other factors we (the writers) don’t have control over. But we do have control over creating a clear, straightforward, succinct sentence that conveys the essence of the story. And by adding a little “plus,” hopefully we can hook the reader.
The “Hollywood Pitch” has become a common way to address the logline. This type of logline is a catchy “tagline,” like you might see on a movie poster. It gives a tease, the flavor of a story, maybe the big-picture concept, but typically does not address all of the elements I list above.
I have some examples to help illustrate this approach in case you want to try it.
But first I have some cautionary notes:
2. If you use a Hollywood “tagline” you must nail it, meaning
a) it must be good/catchy, and
b) it must actually be demonstrative of your story
3. You should be able to follow up this tagline with a SECOND line of more substance, such as the traditional 4-element logline described above.
1. Tried and True (CLICHÉ)
a. Beauty and the Beast
b. Marriage of Convenience
c. Fish out of Water
2. Tried and True with a Twist (CLICHÉ "PLUS")
a. Beauty and the Beast BUT the Beauty is an 80 year old man
b. Marriage of Convenience BUT it's between two aliens
3. Equate and Differentiate (AN EXISTING WORK "PLUS") where you equate your project with a book/movie with a proven track record, then differentiate it from that story to show your unique take
a. It's like Lord of the Rings with giant alien spider creatures
b. It's a Native American Wizard of Oz
4. X + Y = mine:
a. The Flintstones in Jurassic Park
b. Sleeping with the Enemy in futuristic Athens
5. General “High Concept" (like a tagline for a movie poster) that does not follow any certain formula:
A PIECE OF HEAVEN: A man sues God.
STAR WARS: A ragtag band of rebels is the only hope of saving the universe.
AGENT CODY BANKS: Save the world, get the girl, pass math.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY: For three men the Civil War wasn't hell, it was practice.
HOOK: What if Peter Pan grew up?
THE FUGITIVE: A murdered wife, a one-armed man, an obsessed detective. The chase begins.
MOONRAKER: Outerspace now belongs to 007.
THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME: Double-O Behave
Here are some examples:
PRICELESS: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures
THE ENDURANCE: Shakelton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
BEYOND THE BLUES: A Workbook to Help Teens Overcome Depression
I hope this not-so-little aside helps you with your own loglines.
See you tomorrow for an update on my journey to achieve my wildest writing dreams :-)