Normally loglines would be written AFTER the script is done, right? So a reader reads your script and generates a logline based on what he/she just read.
Sometimes it’s fun, as a writing exercise (read: totally legitimate way to kill some time while at work) to something slightly counter-intuitive, which is to write a logline as if there were a script already written.
The ability to write a logline based on thin air stimulates your ability to recognize story and character combinations that MIGHT work as a screenplay. It is a muscle builder, in other words.
If you can write a decent logline – even a slightly silly, playful one – based on nothing but a couple of suggested elements, it’s like playing with a Rubik’s Cube; you learn how to take the given information and click it into a pattern that works. It’s WAY good for your writer’s brain.
So your logline needs to have:
1) A flawed character/set up
2) A complication
3) An antagonist
4) A big choice or sacrifice for the main character
Notice, that in this simplified way of looking at it, that the setup includes a main character and his or her flawl: A pacifist Menonnite. An ambitious journalist. A paranoid PETA scientist.
The complication includes the situation in which the main character then finds him or herself: Is transferred to Dubai where he must manage a strip club. Gets an assignment to cover the World Mud Wrestling Competition. Is kidnapped and forced to concoct a formula that makes turkeys violent killers.
The compelling choice/sacrifice might be something like: But when he falls in love with a Persian stripper on the lam, he must choose between his non-violent ways or the love of his life. But when one wrestler drops out, threatening the worldwide simulcast, he must either get in the ring to save the event or report the sensational flop and win journalism’s highest award. But when a turkey that only he can stop attacks the President of the United States, he must choose between his lifelong ethics and the life of the leader of the free world.
Now let’s throw in an antagonist: A ruthless sheik. A ruthless newspaper editor. A sociopathic turkey farmer.
Okay so these are all ridiculous examples – but it’s like one of those flip books for kids where you turn the page and the chicken has a dinosaur head. And now it has human legs. And so forth. So if you take the ridiculous examples above and put them together:
When a pacifist Menonnite is transferred to Dubai where he manages a strip club, he falls in love with a Persian stripper who just happens to be on the lam from a ruthless sheik who’ll stop at nothing to get her back. Now he must choose between his pacifist ways and the love of his life.
So do you see how the italicized bits are the moving parts? Can you see that a “pacifist” might make a good choice of a flaw here? Can you see where that’s going to arc this character? Can you see an ethical choice for him? Remain a pacifist or screw that and go get the girl. So this guy’s gonna change. But the fun of this is that maybe it would be more interesting if this Mennonite were actually a kick-boxing champ. Maybe it would be more interesting if he fell in love with a ruthless sheik. What if the antagonist were the Persian stripper? See how you can move the parts around? Maybe it’s not Dubai, it’s Philadelphia. Or Anchorage in 1872. It’s almost endless. But the moving bits have to have a fulcrum point – a relationship to one another.
Okay let’s take another one:
An ambitious journalist is assigned to cover the World Mud Wrestling Competition but when one wrestler drops out, threatening the world-wide simulcast, he must either defy his boss, a ruthless newspaper editor bent on notoriety and get in the ring to save the event or report the sensational flop and win journalism’s most prestigious award.
So again the moving bits have a relationship to one another. The flaw of the main character is going to SUCK in the situation you choose. So an ambitious journalist assigned to cover the inauguration of the new president of Zimbabwe (please, god) isn’t really going to be up against much, is he? No, that’s a pretty cool assignment. I mean, we could complicate that but let’s choose the situation that is going to have the MOST suckage for that character. Ambition. Mud wrestling. Terrific.
And so forth.
What can kill your logline would include, but not not be limited, to:
Too broad a flaw for your main character.
Too small, unoriginal and uncompelling a situation.
Lack of an antagonist.
Lack of some kind of big choice or sacrifice.
Generic language; platitudes e.g., “must choose between love and peace.”
This is the kind of thing one might see which signals DO NOT READ THIS SCRIPT:
A college graduate gets the job of his dreams, falls in love and learns that love is more important than ambition.
I kid you not, I have read hundreds if not thousands of scripts in which that an approximate upshot of the script. Where’s the freaking antagonist? What’s the main character’s flaw? What dream job? What ambition? Just kill me with a spork and do it now.
So here is a fun writing prompt for you. Choose one in each category, write up a log line and send it my way. If you manage to come up with something fun, amidst this silliness, your logline will be on the blog, so your friends and family can know, for sure, that you are a weird writer. You’re welcome
*A vain nun
*A greedy artist
*A paranoid politician
*inherits a ranch in Montana
*is framed for murder
*gets lost in the amazon
*a sociopathic animal trainer
*a one-armed rogue cop
*a claustrophobic arsonist
…I’m not giving you the choice or sacrifice. With the three elements above, you should be able to cook up something pretty interesting yourself…