Our private Facebook writers and readers group recently held its second WRITE EDIT WRITE Challenge (see the results of the first challenge here). Because my focus is on producing a short film based upon an adaptation of my short story LEAVE, I figured we might as well have a challenge focused on screenwriting. Ergo, we asked the group to submit a 25-word, or less, logline describing a WIP or produced work from a genre of their choosing.
It’s no surprise that the author who submitted the chosen response is a working screenwriter who has some serious writing chops. Author Ann Kimbrough shares her screenwriting expertise in several places on the web, all of which you can reach via her namesake website annkimbrough.com. My favorite medium of Ann’s is her youtube channel where she and other working screenwriters get together to share their knowledge of the industry. Fantastic stuff. We are very fortunate to have Ann as part of our WRITE EDIT WRITE group, and, if I may say, you are very lucky that she has written for us here an excellent post about the mystery and intrigue of writing a logline. You’re welcome. :)
Ann’s logline submission for WEW #2:
In a secret facility, a rookie female FBI analyst struggles to contain a serial killer, but her only hope is trusting a devious bombing suspect.
Birth of Loglines & Beyond
Loglines are creeping into your life!
Once only used by screenwriters, all kinds of writers find the little buggers useful. The first one I ever saw was in a TV Guide. Remember those? I barely remember newspapers, even though I’ve heard they still exist. For Millennials who can’t write cursive, read clocks or relate to newspapers: a TV Guide was a paper booklet that came with the Sunday paper. It contained a schedule of all the TV shows for a week.
Psst: we’re talkin’ back in ancient times when there were only three major TV stations. I know… it’s Epically Stone Age.
The guides also contained a little blurb about each show. Those blurbs were the birth of loglines.
I imagine TV Guides still exist today, somewhere without Wi-Fi, but they must be the size of phone books. Remember those? Err… we’ll save that lesson for another time.
TV Guide blurbs looked something like this:
Kidnapped in Tasmania, MacGyver uses a banana, a piece of gum and a washing machine to make a robot and save the world.
I doubt that episode of MacGyver ever aired, but maybe it will in the re-vamped show that’s on CBS this season.
Loglines actually do two things:
1. Get your concept across ASAP.
2. Sell your story.
Screenwriters pitch their scripts all the time. In turn, if a producer likes the idea, they have to turn around and pitch it to the principals in their company before an offer to option can be made. When a script is optioned, the production company pitches it to the moneymen for funding – financiers or studios. The better the logline, the better the pitch is all the way up the line.
For novelists, loglines can be used in several ways:
- Start a query letter
- On a book’s Amazon page
- On a book’s back cover
- On any sales material to build an audience
In an age when our watches are digital instead of sundials and shoes have Velcro instead of laces, no one has time to read a whole marketing pitch. When writers can get their message across fast, they have a better chance of success.
Plenty of rules exist about what makes a logline a good logline, but I’ll keep it simple.
1. Keep it to one sentence, like my MacGuyer example. Some pundits say to make it under 25 words, but don’t go crazy if you’re at 30.
2. Tell the whole story. Protagonist fights what odds to win what battle?
3. Don’t use proper names. Use occupations with a descriptive adjective. Ex.: a wily candy creator, could be used in a logline for Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Or a deformed recluse for The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
4. Write it in present tense.
5. Don’t include sub-plots. Stick to the main storyline of protagonist vs. antagonist.
6. Match the tone of your story. When Stephen King writes a logline, I’m sure it sounds scary.
7. Test the logline on friends. If they ask a bunch of questions and sound confused, then keep working. If they ooh and aah, appearing to get the story, then you may celebrate.
One caveat: a common logline error is writing a logline that you think fits your story, but makes people see a different story. Such an error will turn any reader sour when your book (or script) takes a turn they didn’t expect.
Ex. 1: A long-haired princess trapped in a tower awaits a dashing prince.
Do you sense a Rapunzel story?
What if the logline should have really been:
Ex. 2: A long-haired princess trapped in a tower awaits a dashing prince to sacrifice for her freedom.
Whoa! That’s a completely different story. An agent, producer or reader might want one version of that story, but not the other. Misleading them, even by accident, will hurt in the long run. Loglines that pitch the whole story lead to more success once the manuscript is read.
Avoid this mistake by testing your logline on your Beta Readers. Or on complete strangers, who know nothing about your writing. (I’ve been told grocery and bank lines are great places to do this.) You pitch them your logline, then ask what kind of story they’d expect to read. If it’s close to the story your wrote, you’re good to go.
Like all kinds of writing, creating loglines gets better with practice. So, get going!
Ann Kimbrough’s imagination comes from growing up as an Air Force brat, which entertained her childhood with foreign lands and amazing characters. They tend to pop-up in all her writing, whether screenplay or novel. The magic continued after college, when she worked in Hollywood and became a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Ann hosts YouTube show Screenwriters Beat, and spends the rest of her time writing contained, thrilling screenplays and cozy mystery novels under pen name Ann Audree, as well as romance under pen names Pippa Minx and Ann McGinnis. Ann is an optioned and produced screenwriter.