I recently attended a screenplay writing seminar with Publishers and Writers of San Diego. It was taught by writing coach Marni Freedman and focused on taking an existing book and developing it into a screenplay. Screenplays are extremely concise – they average around one hundred pages. Being concise means really having to know the infrastructure and outline of a story. There are several aspects of screenwriting that are helpful in book writing, and one of those aspects is the creation of a logline.
A logline is a one sentence synopsis of your story. It is like the cover of a book. A good one makes you want to open it immediately to see what is inside. Before you can create a logline, you will need to understand where your book is going. When you try and select a movie on cable, you see loglines all the time. They are very brief descriptions of the show’s content.
For example, let’s look at a logline for The Godfather by Mario Puzo: A 1940’s New York mafia family struggles to protect their empire from rival families as the leadership switches from the father to his youngest son. Although The Godfather is an epic, the plot can still be boiled down into a one-sentence pitch. Audiences have short attention spans and you only get one chance to make a first impression. Effective loglines are compelling: they draw people in and make them want to know more.
Ready to create your own logline? It can be comprised more easily if you are able to supply the following story formula that Marni will be publishing in an upcoming book – 7 Steps to a First Draft:
Story idea: Who – Unique Problem – Goal – Ending (Marni Freedman 2010)
- Who do you want to write about? Why are they interesting? Why should we care about them and want to follow them?
- What unique problem does this person face?
- What is this person’s goal? How will the person solve it? Who or what will try to stop them?
- How does their journey end?
Writing coach Marni Freedman (www.thewriterinyou.com) encouraged our group to create loglines, as they are not just for the authors to be able to quickly explain the heart of their story, but also serve as a pitch that can be used when interacting with agents, entering contests, meeting with producers, or anyone with whom you want to engage. If you would like to practice this exercise, think about one of your favorite stories (which can be the form of a book or movie) and create a one sentence synopsis of the plot and action.
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: Four children travel to the magical land of Narnia where they must battle an evil queen with the direction of the Lion, Aslan.
Citizen Kane: Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance.
Toy Story: A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.
The creation of a logline takes time and effort. It’s hard to boil down your story to a one sentence synopsis. It may take you several attempts, so don’t beat yourself up if you find it a harder process than you originally anticipated. You will know that you have stumbled on your perfect logline because it is fun to pitch and rolls off your tongue. Try it out on your friends and watch their reactions. If their eyes light up and they say, “yeah!” then you know you are on the right track. Just start giving it a shot, and you may find that you understand your story with surprising clarity.
Can you see how creating a logline might add value to your writing?