Before You Write Word One...

All too often, we see writers struggle to come up with a logline after they have written (and sometimes after they have even filmed) their screenplays.

You got it backwards! we scream in our minds, whilst tearing out our hair.

It's understandable — you've written, changed, modified, riffed...and you want to maximize your logline for marketing purposes.

But the thing you want to do is have the logline perfected before you start writing.

Your premise is the seed which grows the mighty oak of your script. A flowery cliché, true, but think about it — within any seed are the components to create the entire plant the seed will become. They are perhaps in microscopic form, and surely the seed relies on additional elements like water and soil nutrients... but the analogy holds. The seed contains all the plant needs to become a potato, a flower, a giant spreading tree.

The key is to hold off on beginning until you have a premise that actually forms a logline — to develop your premise, the simple idea which gets you going, until it is a logline.

Some screenwriting gurus suggest that a logline only gives you about two or three good scenes, and that may be true. But the elements of a well-written logline will contain, latent within them, the power to create many more scenes, not just the obvious ones.

The best logline is a single sentence that explains what your script is about, what happens in it, and supplies a clue as to what the conflict will be — and indicates what's awesome about the script.

A son's birthday wish renders a smarmy lawyer unable to lie for 24 hours.

The most often quoted high-concept idea, turned into a good logline. Anybody will be able to imagine what this story is about from this — and imagine what hijinx will ensue.

A newly-minted FBI agent must team up with a creepy but brilliant serial killer to solve a series of horrific crimes.

Logline should not contain too many modifiers, unless they are important to one's understanding of the story. The fact that the FBI agent is newly-minted suggests an immediate conflict. "Creepy" is a judgment call — but "brilliant" just isn't enough. We might think he's a straitlaced upstanding citizen, otherwise. The fact he's a serial killer adequately states his insanity, so no need to double-down there.

There's also, in the above example, an element of mystery. Two of them, actually. If you didn't know what was going to happen, you might think that maybe she just teams up with him somewhere in the world. Or that he's out doing crimes and she's receiving help from him. That's one mystery. The other is, of course, the "horrific" crimes. Another modifier, but justified, in this case.

The complexity of a logline, in the story planning phase, helps you anticipate the potential complexity of your story. You want to engineer as simple a logline as you can so that your story will be, even if complex, easy to understand.

A young man discovers he's living in a computer-generated dreamworld --  the real world is a hellish dystopia where humans fight for their freedom against ingenious and nearly invincible machines.

Somewhat longish. Hey, it's a somewhat complex movie. But in one sentence — with the all-important dash to keep it one sentence — the essential gist of the movie can be easily communicated.

A thief able to infiltrate dreams embarks on an impossible mission -- the "inception" of a false memory in the mind of a billionaire industrialist -- while trying to avoid losing himself and his whole team in Limbo

A real doozy! But, you do want to get it all in! That's an example of the dreaded two-dash logline. It's black diamond. It should only be attempted by advanced players. But it is all one sentence, isn't it? And, while complex, tells you all you need to know about the players, the conflict, and even the stakes.


There's lots more that can be said about loglines, but really this is the gist. The beauty of creating the right logline in advance means you can have it there before you... to help guide the story as you write it. If the story changes, then change the logline. Then, when it's time to market the completed script, you have your logline available - and by then it will have been honed and honed and honed until it's diamond sharp!

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