10 Tips for Writing Loglines

Writing LoglinesLoglines are tricky things – distilling 120 pages of script into one sentence and imbuing it with the power to summarise, titillate and intrigue is a surprisingly difficult task. As a writer it can be hard to develop a good logline because you are invested equally in each part of your work – identifying the crucial story elements and leaving everything else out feels like you aren’t doing your script justice. But remember, a good logline is crucial to selling your script; in a covering letter, in a pitch, in the 30 second window you have with an executive when you accidentally meet on the Great Wall of China. That being the case it is vital that you develop a good logline for your magnum opus, something with sizzle and pop, but also, crucially, something that tells the audience what the script is about.

The difference between a logline and a tagline

A logline is a one (or occasionally two) sentence description that boils the script down to its essential dramatic narrative in as succinct a manner as possible.

A tagline is a piece of marketing copy designed to go on posters to sell the film

- In space no one can hear you scream (Alien)

Crucially, a logline contains all the elements necessary for the telling of a good story. It is written for industry professionals to show them that you can create a viable story for the script – a marketing hook alone won’t cut it.

One further note that you won’t like: A logline is the DNA of your script. If you can’t make the logline work, it’s probably becasue the story in your script doesn’t work. This is why some people suggest writing a logline for your idea before embarking on the script.

Not sure where to begin? These tips are going to help:

1. A logline must have the following

-       the protagonist
-       their goal
-       the antagonist/antagonistic force

2. Don’t use a character name

It has no intrinsic information and so is a useless word. Instead, tell us something about the character.

- A sous-chef

- An ex-superhero

What is Raindance? 3. Use an adjective to give a little depth to that character

This is your chance to show some character. Beware of cliche, and also of the power of irony. It’s helpful if the characteristic you describe will have something to do with the plot.

- A mute sous-chef

- An alcoholic ex-superhero

4. Clearly and quickly present the protagonist’s main goal

This is what drives your story and it will drive your logline too. Make sure that the goal is present early in the script – if you don’t make good on your logline’s promise early enough the rest of the script won’t get read.

- A mute sous-chef wants to win the position of Head Chef at her boss’ new restaurant

- An alcoholic ex-superhero searches for his daughter

5. Describe the Antagonist

The antagonist should be described in a similar, but preferably shorter, manner than the hero. If the hero faces a more general antagonistic force then make it clear that they are battling something, not just life’s bumps and buffets.

- A mute sous-chef wants must fight off an ambitious rival to win the position of Head Chef at her boss’s new restaurant.

- An alcoholic ex-superhero searches for his daughter after she is kidnapped by his dementing, jealous former sidekick.

6. Make sure your protagonist is pro-active

He or she should drive the story and do so vigorously. A good logline will show the action of the story, the narrative momentum that carries you through the script. In some cases the protagonist will be reactive, but note, this is not the same as passive.

7. If you can, include stakes and/or a ticking time-bomb

These are very useful narrative devices that add urgency tou your script. If they fit in easily, include them in your logline.

- To save his reputation a secretly gay frat-boy must sleep with 15 women by the end-of-semester party.

8. Setup

Some scripts operate in a world with different rules to our own and require a brief setup to explain them, e.g. most science-fiction stories. Others have a protagonist whose personal or psychological history is crucial to the story and needs to be explained. Again, be brief.

- In a world where all children are grown in vats…

- Driven to a mental breakdown by an accident at work, an aquarium manager…

9. About the ending

Do not reveal the script’s supercool twist ending, even if it is the next The Usual Suspects. The story, and thus the logline, should be good enough to hold up by itself; a surprise ending should be a lovely bonus found when reading the script. N.B. This all changes when you get to writing your treatment.

10. Don’t tell the story, sell the story

Create a desire to see the script as well as telling them what’s in it. Loglines are like poetry, every word counts. Tinker, test, and tinker some more.

Bonus

If you can’t write a decent logline of your idea before embarking on the script, then maybe reconsider writing that thing. If it’s unfocused and muddled at the logline stage, it’s not going to get any better as you write.

Good luck, and feel free to submit samples in the comments box.

Raindance Film Festival 2014 – Discover A New Generation

24 Sept – 5 Oct 2014 Piccadilly Circus, Central London

Raindance Film Festival 2014

James Burbidge

About James Burbidge

James performs a plethora of tasks for Raindance; writing articles, editing the newsletter, managing Twitter, helping on courses, organising volunteers and running the script services are but a few of the ones he is allowed to tell you about. When he isn’t daydreaming about daylight he watches films (well, duh!) reads a bit, writes a bit and plays Ultimate Frisbee a bit too seriously.

94 Responses to 10 Tips for Writing Loglines

  1. Randy Brown April 4, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Great article.

  2. Evelien van Raaij June 27, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    This helped me so much! Thank you! And if you're curious, this is what I wrote:

    A subdued cleaning lady has to work her way through three dangerous situations as she enters what at first appears to be an empty office building to do her cleaning chores, and encounters a number of egocentric men.

    It's going to be a dutch story, so I've translated it for you :P

  3. Anne Katherine July 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    A humble but gifted priest must risk his son’s reputation in order to reunite with his beloved and save his world before a dark priest seizes Wisdom’s power.

  4. Anne Katherine July 17, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    This is the logline for my screenplay.

  5. MJ Brewer July 30, 2013 at 12:40 am #

    I really love what you have to say about Loglines and how to include everything, but nothing extra. I'm a film student and this information is valuable. Thank you.

  6. John Joyce August 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Thanks James,
    That simple information about loglines really helped me with the novel 'Fire & Ice'. More power to your elbow – as we say here in Ireland.

  7. Daniel Cooney August 29, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Thanks for posting this, James — I've been working on adapting my comic book series for tv and this is a great springboard for getting it started.

  8. Markos Pandora September 2, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Thanks for the advice! I used your 'formula' and – what are the duties you are not allowed to tell about?

  9. Chrissafo Sandy Selemidis Selorme September 12, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    Wonderful site James…thanks!

  10. Maguy Cohen October 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Thanks James,
    The information about loglines and taglines really helps me. Thank you so much.

  11. Valerie Hill October 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    Thank you James, just what I needed, good straightforward notes.

  12. Paul Mckoy October 18, 2013 at 4:06 am #

    Great stuff , James. Thanks very much.

  13. John Cheung November 1, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    A lonely teenager lives completely alone in a boarding school, without any friends or teachers. However, he soon discovers he might not be the only one living there…

    Is this all right?

  14. Charlie Leeves November 1, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    Why would he even be at school if there were no teachers?

  15. Joe Hughey December 1, 2013 at 12:50 am #

    very helpful. I'm writing my first short film and just beginning to learn all about this stuff : )

  16. Shahrohan Yaakob December 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    great helps!!… thanx alot

  17. Shrirang Nargund December 9, 2013 at 5:42 am #

    here is logline of my film that is in development stage – "Top Comedian looses his power of comedy; his soul as he faces the fear of death; Cancer… and then the struggle begins within to get his power back!

  18. Marvin Powell January 3, 2014 at 4:58 am #

    "A stressed-out cynical young adult seeking love and fulfillment must fight against rival forces on the side of good and evil after learning he is prophesized to change the fate of the human race."

  19. Wilmar Luna January 7, 2014 at 4:47 am #

    "An ex-assassin turned superheroine is on the run from a vengeful CIA Agent who has discovered her secret identity."

    I hope you will consider doing a marketing blurb how-to as well! I know that's more for books, but I think this kind of advice transcends all mediums.

  20. Nur Inci January 7, 2014 at 8:59 pm #

    Beautiful post about logline thing, thanks a lot for this brief info!

  21. Kiron Kesav January 14, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    That was so refreshingly simple, yet profound.. Loved it!

  22. Rolando Calfa January 22, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    What about: In a world where all children are grown in vats, a mute sous-chef must fight off an
    ambitious rival to win the position of Head Chef at her boss’s new restaurant while helping an
    alcoholic ex-superhero search for his daughter after she is kidnapped by his demented, jealous former sidekick, who was driven to a mental breakdown by an accident at the aquarium where he now works…

  23. John Wright January 23, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    When a mother and her talented daughter move to California to chase the Hollywood dream, they discover not everything is how it seems.

  24. Ayla Ponzini January 29, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    d

  25. Bigg Syyno February 5, 2014 at 4:33 am #

    Lol at Rolando Calfa. Love the extension.

  26. Bigg Syyno February 5, 2014 at 4:38 am #

    "A confused young screen writer must decide whether to pitch his idea on this page or risk his pitch being stollen by his ever so eager competitors who read these posts." How is that?

  27. Gary Writes February 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    How would you do this for a new sit com with multiple characters ?

  28. John Moore February 21, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

    A handsome dude commenting on this article is suddenly attacked by ninjas and ……..

  29. Jim Conway February 23, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    My comedy log log log logline is hard f f f for me to write about, be be be cause my key
    pad stut stut stut stutters, damn!

  30. Anil Senior March 18, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    An uneducated poor and cocky nobody, falls in love with the daughter of an oxford educated business tycoon and single handedly defeats him in business to prove his worth and get the girl.

  31. Tia Hall-Brown April 15, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

    Generalize the group. A gang of misfits, a diverse set of friends, mixed-matched couples…. hope that helps.

  32. Tia Hall-Brown April 15, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

    Generalize the group. A gang of misfits, a diverse set of friends, mixed-matched couples…. hope that helps.

  33. Tia Hall-Brown April 15, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    An affluent housewife wants to catch her husband in the act, so she and her two childhood friends venture on a girl’s weekend at her summer home on the historic Honeywell Lake, but she finds out more about herself, her husband and her friends than she bargains for. ????

  34. Tia Hall-Brown April 15, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    An affluent housewife wants to catch her husband in the act, so she and her two childhood friends venture on a girl’s weekend at her summer home on the historic Honeywell Lake, but she finds out more about herself, her husband and her friends than she bargains for. ????

  35. Karl Gerhardt April 20, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    That is lol, Rolando!

  36. Eilish Rafferty May 1, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    Can anyone advise if you need to spell out that it's a comedy in your logline?

  37. Nick Douglas May 7, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    Anyone good enough to write your idea better than you could, already has their own idea that they're working hard on. So don't worry. Pitch it!

  38. Sarah Hermione Tyrer May 8, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    won't she be cooking the babies from the vats? or only the ones bred in rare-vineyard balsamic vinegar?

  39. Sarah Hermione Tyrer May 8, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    make it funny? light?

  40. MJ Brewer May 8, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    But can you say it all in one breath?

  41. MJ Brewer May 8, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    The comedic giveaway would be contained in the adjective used to describe your protagonist combined with the situation. If you need to spell it out, you can do better.

  42. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    I correct your log lines,pitch,synopsis and share brilliant creative ideas to perfect your script. Contact me.

  43. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    I correct your log lines,pitch,synopsis and share brilliant creative ideas to perfect your script. Contact me.

  44. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    You got me laughing already. Your comedy will do great

  45. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    You got me laughing already. Your comedy will do great

  46. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    I agree with Tia Hall-Brown, generalize the group and add the goal

  47. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    I agree with Tia Hall-Brown, generalize the group and add the goal

  48. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    You write comedy below your screenplay's title

  49. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    You write comedy below your screenplay's title

  50. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:43 am #

    You write comedy as a title on its own, which falls below your screenplay title and before the logline

  51. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:43 am #

    You write comedy as a title on its own, which falls below your screenplay title and before the logline

  52. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:45 am #

    Stunned silent but…….huh?

  53. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:45 am #

    Stunned silent but…….huh?

  54. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    This is only a tip of the risk

  55. Jesse James May 27, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    This is only a tip of the risk

  56. Conchita Harris July 30, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    This is priceless and I would go see it.

  57. Az Marv August 6, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

    A whole village is razed to the ground when a demented and perverse herbalist deceive the people that a certain girl was responsible for the recent deaths in the village and must be sacrificed to the gods to cleanse the land, while the local chief is away to a nearby village to seek diagnosis and treatment for cholera.

  58. James Hamman III August 7, 2014 at 3:42 am #

    a panicked nobody writer furthers his research on perfecting loglines all while fighting off the voices in his head that suggest to forever keep changing the perfect wording.

  59. Gabriel Anthony Peña Bofill August 8, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    On a regular workday at home in NY city, a young screenwriter witnesses a girl's kidnapping below his window and becomes involved, which entangle him with the kidnappers and eventually embroils him into the Russian mafia's underground in the US and with a shipload of stolen uranium seeking a buyer….his actions precipitate a nuclear catastrophe that could end the world as we know it….

  60. Gabriel Anthony Peña Bofill August 8, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    there is a twist though…lol

  61. Gul Ramani August 18, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    Typically unlikely and bollywoodish

  62. Anil Senior August 19, 2014 at 2:48 am #

    Thanks Gul… You are right, this is for bollywood.:)

  63. Michael Gillam August 19, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    Ahh…La Boheme…?

  64. Anil Senior August 19, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

    Yes la boheme…

  65. Amit Sharma August 21, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    56-year-old ex F1 champion was not sure if where to begin his life from, after losing 30 years in unknown. His search for his loved ones leads him to take on the steering wheel once again, this time outside the stadium. He will not let the fate take it away from him again.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 10 Tips for Writing Loglines | FilmmakerIQ.com - April 7, 2013

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  2. Loglines – Setting The Story Hook | The Massage Manuscripts - June 1, 2013

    [...] I found a couple of sites worth looking at for more about loglines. They focus on the film/script genre, but the advice is identical for novels, too. Check out How To Write Better Loglines, and 10 Tips For Writing Loglines. [...]

  3. How to write your film logline - June 3, 2013

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  4. LOGLINES AND TAGLINES ARE DIFFERENT And You Need Both For Your Novel by R. Ann Siracusa | RWA San Diego - June 6, 2013

    [...] Resources http://www.dailywritingtips.com/whats-your-novels-log-line/http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/writing-good-log-lines.html http://www.ehow.com/how_8663965_write-taglines.html http://www.bang2write.com/2010/05/loglines-are-not-taglines.html http://www.staceynash.com/2012/08/24/taglines-hooklines-loglines/ http://theloglineblog.blogspot.com/p/how-to-do-log-line.html http://www.kimberlykillion.com/writers.asp http://www.closequartersmovie.com/cms/uploads/press-kit.pdfhttp://www.flyingwrestler.com/2013/02/loglines-dont-tease/http://www.raindance.org/10-tips-for-writing-loglines/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Log_line http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag_line http://www.lifeformz.com/logline.html http://carissa-taylor.blogspot.com/2013/02/pitch-factory-twitter-pitch-logline.html [...]

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