Monthly Archives: May 2011

Logline: What it Is and How to Write One

Savvy Writer Article #1102 By DENISE MILLER HOLMES

A logline is a one-sentence description of your story idea. You use it to both help you focus on the story you are writing as well as to pitch the idea to publishers, agents, and the like. Steven Spielberg likes it less than 25 words, and that’s what is usually done.

The first question the logline answers is, Who are the protagonist (hero) and antagonist (villain)?

In the case of Star Wars, the hero is Luke (a farm boy in a distant galaxy) and the villain is the evil empire. Darth Vader (a powerful sorcerer) is also the villain, and he represents the evil empire.

Then we have to ask, What is the goal of the hero? For Luke, the goal is to prevent Darth Vader and the evil empire from gaining more power and to reestablish the republic.

What is the goal of the villain?—to complete the takeover of the empire with the evil Syth in control.

Okay, so we see the conflict of the story. Now we have to implement some rules.

  • Don’t use character names in your logline, tell the character’s role or title instead. (a farm boy, a princess, a housewife, a businessman)
  • Describe your hero and villain (add adjectives)
  • Communicate the setting, the time frame (if applicable), and the genre.
  • Choose conflict that’s emotionally charged (Blake Snyder, in Save the Cat, recommends irony.)
  • Use present tense
  • Tell the setup only. Leave the conclusion a mystery

A strong-willed farm boy must become a warrior in order to join a rebellion against an evil galactic empire and its powerful sorcerer. ~Star Wars

Let’s break it down:

Farm-boy—tells his role but not his name

Strong-willed—gives just enough character description to understand that the empire is in for a fight and that our hero is flawed.

Warrior—another role the hero plays in the story, and this tells us there’s action.

Empire—that’s the bigger, social villain.

Evil—for this story, labeling the empire “evil” is enough. For another story, you would use a more specific adjective to describe the villain. You might contrast the adjective for the hero with the adjective for the villain, for instance, to show why there is conflict.

Galactic—lets us know it’s not an earth empire, like Ancient Rome, but a huge empire that involves many planets and people.  This also helps us know the genre, Science Fiction.

Sorcerer—this is the personal villain, and it also shows us that besides being SciFi, there’s a touch of fantasy, or magical realism, however you see it. There is also great contrast between the hero (a farm boy, who is a neophyte in “the force”) and a powerful sorcerer.

The conflict is emotionally charged because we have a farm-boy coming up against an evil empire. The stakes are high and the odds are against him.  This logline promises us an intense action-adventure science fiction story!

Here are more loglines:

Legally Blonde—A ditzy-blonde, California sorority president, dumped by her Harvard-Law-School boyfriend, leaves California and fights to succeed at Harvard Law to prove she is worthy of him. 

Pretty Woman—A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend.  (quoted in Save the Cat by Blake Snyder)  I might add an adjective for both “businessman” and “hooker,” but this is fine without it because there is such an obvious conflict/contrast between a businessman and a hooker.

Terminator—An ordinary waitress fights the attacks of an obsessed time-traveling robot who is trying to kill her because her future son will lead the resistance against the violent robotic rulers. (Yes, it’s a little long)

Remember that only you and the person to whom you are pitching will see your one-sentence summary. If it gives away some of the story, it’s okay. The reader/viewer never will see it.

Blake Snyder recommends being a “slave” to your logline because it keeps you on track while writing. If you want to make a major change, go back and work it out as a one-sentence summary.

What a short description like this does is strip down the story to its bare minimum. It allows you to see the plot conflict and if there is enough contrast between the hero and the villain. Before you write or change your plot, work it out as a logline to see if your story works.


You may also like: Deepening Story Conflict with a Clash of Values.