I had prepared another travel update, then realized that you guys are probably craving another craft article. And given the fact that I will mention the importance of loglining in this next article, I might as well give it its due focus.
by Karel Segers
I first mentioned the art of loglining in the Writer’s Development Kit. Since, I have further refined the segment and incorporated it in the Online Workshop. Now it has become a key component of some of my training course
My friend Lee recently mentioned how he thinks it is ‘insanely infuriating’ how few people recognize the importance of a logline. He is so right.
If you can’t logline it, you can’t sell it
If you can’t immediately give your story’s logline when asked for, this is a symptom of either one of two problems (or both):
1. You can’t sell your story
2. You don’t have a story
The absolutely essential components of a good story are a character that wants to achieve something (the goal, the desire) and the major event prior to this, leading (directly or indirectly) to the desire.
Check this with your favorite movies and you’ll find that each main character has at least those two story points in their journey. These are the exact story points that audiences will mention when talking about your movie.
The Inciting incident (or Call to Adventure) is the ‘what if’ factor. “What if a New York cop gets stuck in a building with a ruthless gang of robbers?” or “What if a shark attacks swimmers in a quiet coastal town?” The answer usually gives us the hero’s goal.
I have read many loglines that fluffed around about theme and character but didn’t manage to capture what the heart of the story is. When deciding what movie to see, only an insignificantly minor part of the audience will look at a movie’s theme. They’ll all ask about those two major story points. What is it about? “It’s about a paraplegic marine on a remote moon, who can get his legs back if he helps forcefully relocate a tribe of blue people”.
If you’re the type of writer who runs for the exit when you hear the word ‘formula’, feel free to leave now. I like to stir the pot. Here comes a formula that may well save you major headaches – and help you refine a story that would otherwise be doomed to oblivion.
When [a major event happens],
[the hero] must [pursue the goal].
This is the bare bones version. It may sound clunky at first but it will contain what is essential to your story. For Jaws, you’d get something along the lines of:
When [a shark attacks swimmers],
[the sheriff] must [protect the town from the killing monster].
With some tweaking, you can make it sound a lot better and still keep it under the “25 words or less”:
When a small coastal town is shaken
by a deadly shark attack,
the local sheriff has to take responsibility
and stop the killing monster.
If you’d like to see some examples of loglines, both successful ones and flawed ones, check out our series The Judges.
Development and Sales
I should have really categorized this post under the label ‘Story and Structure’ because loglining allows you to thoroughly test whether your story has the two main structural components. Of course you can use the logline when you’re pitching your story but usually at that point it is way too late to make fundamental changes – or you may be pitching something you have not written.
In a follow-up to this, I will show you how you can build further on this basic logline and elegantly incorporate your theme, antagonists and stakes.
Can you give us the logline of your own story? Like, immediately?
– Karel Segers
Karel Segers is a producer and script consultant who started in movies as a rights buyer for Europe’s largest pay TV group Canal+. Back then it was handy to speak 5 languages. Less so today in Australia. Karel teaches, consults and lectures on screenwriting and the principles of storytelling to his 5-year old son Baxter and anyone who listens. He is also the boss of this blog.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.