Screenwriter/author, Sean Carlin wrote this gem of an article on Loglines. He states in his informative post that successful stories should emerge from a logline (elevator pitch) and outlined around the logline. This is a fascinating post from the always informative and articulate Sean, who is as generous with this replies to comments with nuggets of worthy information as he is with his succinct and in-depth posts on the various aspects of writing. Sean breaks down each stage of writing beautifully with examples.
This is the first post in an occasional series.
With the Second World War looming, a daring archaeologist-adventurer is tasked by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant—a Biblical artifact of invincible power, lost for millennia in the desert sands of Egypt—before it can be acquired by the Nazis.
On Christmas Eve, an off-duty police officer is inadvertently ensnared in a life-or-death game of cat-and-mouse in an L.A. skyscraper when his wife’s office party is taken hostage by a dozen armed terrorists.
Over the Fourth of July holiday, a resort-island sheriff finds himself in deep water—literally—when his beach is stalked by an aggressive great white shark that won’t go away.
All of the above story concepts should sound familiar—that’s why I chose them. Yes, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, and Jaws are all popular—now classic—works of commercial cinema. But they are also excellent exemplars of storytelling at their most basic, macrostructural levels, as demonstrated by the catchy summaries above, known in Hollywood as “the logline.”
THE LOGLINE AS A SELLING TOOL
The logline is a sales pitch: In a single compact sentence, it conveys the protagonist (respectively: the adventurous archaeologist; the off-duty cop; the beach-resort sheriff), the antagonist (the Nazis; the terrorists; the shark), the conflict and stakes (possession of the Ark for control of the world; the confined life-and-death struggle; the destruction of a man-eating leviathan), the setting (1930s Egypt; an L.A. skyscraper at Christmas; a summer resort), and the tone/genre (action/adventure; action-thriller; adventure/horror). You can even reasonably glean the Save the Cat! category of each:
- Raiders as Golden Fleece (Subgenre: “Epic Fleece”)
- Die Hard as Dude with a Problem (“Law Enforcement Problem”)
- Jaws as Monster in the House (“Pure Monster”)
A cogent synopsis like any of the above allows a prospective buyer to “see” the creative vision for the movie, ideally triggering the three-word response every screenwriter longs to hear: “Tell me more.”
Note what isn’t included in the logline: The names of any of the characters. Thematic concerns. Emotional arcs. Subplots. Descriptions of particular set pieces. That’s the “tell me more” stuff, and none of it is necessary—it is, in fact, needlessly extraneous—for the “elevator pitch,” so called for the brief window one has to hook to an exec before he steps off onto his floor (read: loses interest). The point of a logline is to communicate the story’s most fundamental aspects, and to capture what’s viscerally exciting about the premise. . . Continue Reading at Sean’s blog
Note: Don’t forget to read the comments under Sean’s article, they are also filled with tips.