The Heart Of The Matter: The Logline

young man at 80s computer

The Logline is the first essential tool necessary to pitch your screenplay. The one sentence Logline presents the concept or hook of your story in miniature. Based on this one sentence, a skilled reader can predict strengths and weaknesses in the screenplay. A logline is merely a by-product of the screenplay. If the screenplay has systemic flaws, these will appear as symptoms within the logline.

The structure of a logline must satisfy the three basic questions of classical drama: Who is the hero? What does he or she  want? And why can’t he or she get it?

A logline must thus present the three key story elements:

  1. ‘Who’ the story is about (protagonist)
  2. ‘What’ does he or she strive for (goal)
  3. ‘What’ stands in his or her way (antagonistic force)

The protagonist’s major goal is the engine of a screenplay, and it must be present in the logline.

The logline must also present the antagonistic force – the story element that prevents the protagonist from reaching his goal.

A logline must convey the action of the story, and carefully chosen words must be used to give the logline B. The most useful word in writing a logline is ‘struggle’, because it presents the goal (and scope) of the story and conveys drama. Conflict (the basis of drama) is inherent in the word ‘struggle’.

‘After a series of grisly shark attacks, a sheriff struggles to protect his beach community against the bloodthirsty monster, in spite of the greedy chamber of commerce.’ –Jaws

A logline should avoid revealing the script’s conclusion. This should remain part of the intrigue.

Do not confuse a ‘high concept’ with the logline. A high concept is a premise that immediately conveys a movie (with a great deal of conflict) in fewer words than it takes to write a logline.

The high concept for Liar, Liar is a ‘lawyer who cannot tell a lie’. This oxymoron demonstrates an unlikely situation. However, a high concept idea is not a logline, in that it does not offer much in the way of the three key story elements.

A proper logline for Liar, Liar therefore could go:

‘When his son wishes he will only tell the truth an attorney, and pathological liar, is magically compelled to be honest for one day while he struggles to win the biggest case of his career – without telling a lie.’