THE BAD NEWS: If you’re making these 5 mistakes, you’re not ready for prime time.
THE GOOD NEWS: Correcting these 5 mistakes will rocket your logline quality up so fast NASA might ask to read your script.
1: KILL THE METAPHORS: Metaphors in a logline are not your friend. How many story descriptions have you seen that mention “personal demons”? [I have seen a lot.]
“Personal demons” is an ambiguous metaphor that does not tell anyone, let alone a potential reader, what a story is about. “Personal demons” could be anything from getting over a bad nail biting habit to getting over that water phobia so you can win the local surfing contest to thinking maybe all those bodies Dad buried in the basement are not a good thing. “Personal demons” is a metaphor. It’s undefined. It doesn’t tell anyone what the story is about.
2: FIX THE GENRE: I read a logline the other day that was tagged “occult feature.” “This is an occult feature.” “Occult” isn’t a genre. A thriller is a genre. A supernatural thriller is a genre because thriller is a genre and supernatural defines it more. But occult? Not so much.
People also tend to regularly wrongly use the genre tag “adventure.” “Adventure,” in terms of genre, means, there are exotic locations and characters travel long distances, generally crossing country lines, during the course of the story. Usually with big action. Lord of the Rings is an adventure story. Raiders of the Lost Ark is an adventure story. Two women driving from New Mexico to Arizona? Not so much.
Use the right genre tags when you describe your story. Genre is about how the world [erm, marketers] perceives genre tags, not about whether or not your protagonists think they are being “adventurous.”
3: KILL THESE WORDS NOW: DECIDES, REALIZES, DISCOVERS: Protagonist goals in a story’s description must be active. This protagonist must do this thing. That’s an active statement that tells a potential reader what the protagonist must do. Telling a potential reader a character in a story discovers something, realizes something, or decides something, doesn’t tell a potential reader what is actually actively happening in the story or what the protagonist’s solid active story goal is. It just tells a potential reader what a character is thinking.
4: DON’T MASK BIG TICKET STORY ELEMENTS: Here is a bad logline: Matty must overcome personal demons when she discovers DARK FAMILY SECRETS.
Okay…. What are the dark family secrets? Nobody in Hollywood asks for a script looking to be surprised. People ask for scripts because the story sounds interesting. So say what the story is about and in this case, that means, what the dark family secrets are. Five bodies buried in the basement is solid and tangible and could be interesting to a potential reader. “Dark family secrets” is not, it’s vague, undefined and screams “newbie writer who doesn’t know what the story is about or just won’t say, pass.”
5: KILL EXTRANEOUS DETAILS: If you’ve spent any time reading loglines, this will look familiar: Matty, who was orphaned at 16 when her parents were killed in a car accident, (hit by a drunk driver), and who is struggling with heroine addiction, and who is in a bad relationship with her senior boyfriend who might be a serial killer, and who loves dogs, and also she designs her own clothes –
I am exaggerating [not really, ahem, I have seen loglines just like this] but you get the gist.
Backstory and character work go in the script. Not the logline.
A logline is about an immediate [active] protagonist goal, opposition, and when it is important, stakes. Everything I just typed above might be interesting, in terms of the whole story or the character? But doesn’t tell someone the immediate story. For example, Seventeen year old Matty must stop her serial killer boyfriend from blowing up the high school on prom night.
That’s specific. That tells someone what the story is immediately about.
Get to the specific fast.
Also, notice, that doesn’t say Matty discovers her senior boyfriend is going to blow up the high school on prom night. It says she must stop him. That word is important. “Must.”
*Ultimately, loglines must include very specific information:
[Title] is a [Genre] about [Protagonist] who must [Protagonist’s Goal] or else [Stakes].
If that’s not there in really concrete ways in the loglne? There is probably a problem.