This guest post was written by Jordan Smith, a filmmaker, screenwriter, and hot sauce enthusiast. His book Finding the Core of Your Story helps writers tell better stories by using loglines. You can also check out his blog, Phantom Moose. Thanks for joining us Jordan!
Logline

Photo by Shazeen Samad

Do you know what a logline is? If you’re not a screenwriter, chances are good that you don’t. And that’s a shame, because loglines are great tools for any writer.

Allow me to enlighten you. A logline is a very brief summary that gets across your story in the smallest possible space.

Most importantly, when you story starts to get confusing and messy, loglines can help you get your story back on track.

What Is a Logline?

Loglines are mainly used in Hollywood as a way to market screenplays to executives, but you don’t have to be a screenwriter to use a logline. I’ve taught all sorts of fiction writers how to use these little single-sentence wonders. You can use them for novels, short stories, video games, and even operas if you’re into that sort of thing. If it has a story, you can write a logline for it.

To give you a quick idea of what a logline looks like, here’s one for one of my stories:

A newbie pastor gets into unexpected trouble with the domineering church board when he and his wife decide to adopt a child.

Here’s a breakdown of the logline: A logline should contain a protagonist (newbie pastor), an antagonist (domineering church board), a situation (the trouble over adoption), and a goal (adopt the child).

There are all sorts of nuances to crafting a logline. I encourage you to explore on your own later and see what you can find. For today, though, we’re going to talk about how you can use a logline to keep a story on track.

Loglines Help You  Stay on Track

When your story just isn’t clicking for some reason, you can write a logline to get down to the heart of what’s important. Then compare your logline to where you’re taking the story and see if it measures up.

I did this with a screenplay I wrote called The Portal. After I wrote a first draft, I felt like something wasn’t quite right. Time for a logline. Here’s what I came up with:

Stumbling on a portal and fleeing through it to escape trouble at home, a rebellious teen is forced to return and reconcile with his family to obtain the one item he needs to capture a crime lord from a parallel universe.

When I got it all laid out in a single sentence like that, I realized something: Despite what the logline claimed, my story was not about this rebellious teen. When I looked back at my draft, I found that the teen disappeared within ten pages. He was replaced by three kids who discovered his portal and eventually teamed up with him. The story belonged to the kids, but they weren’t even in the logline.

Armed with that information, I rewrote my logline like this:

When three kids find a portal to another dimension and release a vengeful crime lord, they must join forces with the portal’s rebellious creator to set things right.

With that better direction, I am now re-working the story to focus on the true main characters instead of spending so much time on somebody who’s playing a supporting role. I finally feel like this story is going somewhere, and it’s all due to my trusty logline.

Have you ever used loglines in your writing? Did they help you get to the core of your story?

PRACTICE

Write a logline for your work in progress, and share it in the comments section.

Then, check it against what you’ve actually written. Does your logline match your story? Why or why not?

Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith