by Douglas King
The logline: one sentence—35-45 words—that best illustrates the inciting event, protagonist/antagonist, main plot, and jeopardy of your film. Every screenwriter should master the craft of writing a logline so that they increase their odds of selling their spec script. And, just like writing a feature script, writing a logline means rewriting.
I wanted to briefly illustrate the evolution of writing a logline so you can see the actual process and how, through multiple passes, a logline improves.
In this case, I was asked by a writer to critique and rewrite the logline for his script. The following logline is owned by Laughing Dragon Entertainment, LLC.
1st draft provided by writer:
“A lonely science teacher dies and goes to summer camp, where he learns to connect with others and in the process alters the future of humanity.” (26 words)
This read more like a concept that an actual logline. As written, it does not establish an inciting incident or conflict. We know who the protagonist is (the lonely science teacher), we know the setting (summer camp), but that is about it, and we are not drawn into the story.
“When a lonely science teacher dies and goes to summer camp, he learns, with help from supernatural beings, how to connect with others, in the process altering the future of humanity.” (31 words)
Better. I boosted the inciting incident (the death) and established that the story takes place after this event by beginning the logline with “when.” This sets up the second act, but what about the third act?
We now know the protagonist is not alone (supernatural beings), which provides a sense of genre and we have an idea of the story (protagonist has to learn how to connect with others). But there is still no sense of conflict or jeopardy.
“When a lonely science teacher dies and wakes up in a campground, he must learn, with help from supernatural beings, how to connect with others before the Grim Reaper comes for him.” (32 words)
All right. We are starting to get a sense of conflict, jeopardy and danger. The Grim Reaper is coming!
“When a lonely science teacher dies and wakes up in a campground, he must learn, with help from supernatural beings, how to connect with others to alter the future of humanity before the Grim Reaper comes for him.” (38 words)
In this final draft, I added back the phrase “to alter the future of humanity” to establish the stakes of the film. This elevates the tension and also establishes a goal for our protagonist. This also creates a purpose for the story. If the teacher is dead, why does he care to connect to others or alter the future of humanity? If he doesn’t the Grim Reaper is coming for him. This is why I added “must” (the imperative) and “the Grim Reaper” (the jeopardy). Now there is conflict and a goal. We have established the inciting incident, the second, and third act.
Like your screenplay, writing a strong logline requires constant rewriting to craft a perfect synopsis of your script, answering the four important questions: Who is your main character? What is he or she trying to accomplish? Who is trying to stop him or her? What happens if he or she fails?
With each pass of the logline you should hone the key points using dramatic words that create a powerful image in the reader’s mind so they want to read more.
I hope this example of a logline’s progression helps you in refining your own logline. For more detailed instructions on how to write a strong logline check out my book Loglines: the Long and Short of Writing a Strong Logline available at The Writer’s Store.
Douglas King has been writing professionally for 25 years in film, television and print. He is currently working on a feature screenplay for Tall Castle and producing a movie trailer review show for local television in Dallas. You can also read daily loglines on King’s blog and Twitter account @LoglinesRUs, where he can be reached for consultation. Follow King on Twitter: @DouglasKing4.