The Hidden Power of Loglines

Whew! There has been a lot of teaching over the last ten days. Between the Cinestory retreat and the screenwriting residency program at National University, the sheer number of loglines I’ve helped people develop recently defies imagination and possibly the time-space continuum. But there is value in that focus; it has revealed to me the key to a great logline:

Clarity, my friends. Clarity.

Not humor or a snazzy vocab or a killer twist — although those are all awesome. No, clarity above all else. The purpose of the logline is to give just enough information that the person listening can decide whether she wants to hear more or not. That’s it. You’re not selling, you are presenting facts: title, genre, gist of the story.

If she says no after the logline, it is not that the logline itself has failed.

On the contrary, a “No” means the logline has succeeded: you have given her enough information that she can see it’s not right for her. This saves both of you time and energy and gives you the opportunity to find out what she *is* looking for. You might just have another project that is perfect for her.

But there’s a second clarity here that is equally important, and that is your own. When you listen to your own logline, is that the movie you want to write? If yes, then your logline is your North Star. Keep it posted, keep it present as you write. Keep yourself on track.

If it’s not the story you want to tell, however, STOP WRITING.

Loglines distill your story down to the most basic decisions, and that includes who your hero is and what he wants. If you realize the character in the logline is not your hero, and the story the logline tells is not the story you want to write, stop now. Regroup. It’s much easier to rewrite a logline to be both true and inspiring than to rewrite a script that got lost in the weeds.