Screenwriting Tips: The Logline (Part Two)

AuthorHouse welcomes you back to Author’s Digest! In our last installment, we began discussing screenwriting by introducing the logline, also known as the “one-line” or the “elevator pitch.”


Basically, a logline is a brief, one to three-sentence description of your story that summarizes it, boiling it down to its essence. Last time, we talked about what a logline is and why you should write one before you start the script. Today we’ll talk about the elements of an interesting, attention-grabbing logline.


So what elements make up a good logline? According to the late Blake Snyder, author and screenwriting guru, there are four:


Irony: a logline should have plenty of irony. It supplies “the hook,” the aspect of your story that grabs the audience’s interest. A movie about a “man that joins the Navy SEALS” is pretty lackluster, right? But change “man” to “woman” (G.I. Jane) and you’re hooked, right?


Vivid mental picture: when you read a good logline, you should be able to see the entire movie unfold in your mind (or the potential for one.) “A police officer tries to save a bus that will explode if it drops below 60 miles-per-hour” (Speed) works great in this regard. Just reading that one sentence, you imagine high-speed driving, crashes, etc.


By the way, the most widely circulated logline for Speed was “Die Hard on a bus.” This kind of logline can work very well because it supplies a kind of shorthand about the movie’s genre, tone, etc. The referenced film should be extremely well-known, though.


Potential audience and cost: a good logline will provide a clear indication of who the movie’s audience will be. Action fans? Horror fans? Parents with their children?


The logline will also give a studio an idea of what the film will cost. Just reading the Speed logline, the studio knows this movie’s isn’t going to be cheap. If they’re looking for a summer blockbuster, fine; if they’re looking for a low-budget movie for their autumn release schedule, they might pass on this one.


A great title: the title and logline are “the one-two punch,” according to Snyder, and you want yours to hit as hard as possible. The title should contain some irony, while (like the logline) telling what the movie is about.


By the way, it’s true that many successful movies have puzzling titles. While this doesn’t make your film impossible to market, it will make things more difficult. Like a mini-logline, your title should hook the reader whenever possible.


Later this month, we’ll present some sample loglines so can see these principles in action.


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