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Foundations of Storytelling – #Loglines – #Blurbs by Sean Carlin

 

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 ArkDie 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.

 

Source: Foundations of Storytelling, Part 1: The Logline as Both a Sales and Writing Tool

 

©DGKaye2020

 

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D.G. Kaye is a nonfiction/memoir writer, who writes from her own life experiences and self-medicates with a daily dose of humor.

28 Comments

  • Diana Peach

    Sean’s posts are always informative, Debby. And coming from the film industry, the knowledge he shares is fascinating. I’ve learned a lot about the evolution of story-telling recently, as well as where it seems to be going. This was a memorable post because log lines aren’t something I think about often, and I rarely think of them as the start/story’s inspiration, though I think that’s the case. A great share!

    • dgkaye

      Thanks so much Diana. That’s exactly what spurred me to share Sean’s post – we as writers usually learn about condensing our books into a logline, whereas Sean’s article goes deep into how loglines should be the beginning of the creation of the story. And yes, whenever I visit Sean’s blog, I always see a comment there from you, lol. Good to see we travel in same circles! <3

  • sally cronin

    An excellent post and loglines are great to have in the blurb and definitely can hook the reader in.. as well as used as an elevator pitch. I looked at my notes for my stories in the next collection and they are almost there with some tweaking and very useful as I develop the stories in the future, sometimes months later. ♥♥

    • dgkaye

      Fabulous Sal! I was initially engaged with Sean’s logic for writing a logline first – usually something we do last as book writers. I thought it was a most worthy post to share with fellow writers. <3 xx

  • Sean P Carlin

    Thanks so much, Debby, for sharing this piece with your readership! Much obliged, my friend.

    I studied both cinema and English lit in college — I have a dual-major degree in both subjects — but the advice I share about loglines was acquired working in the Hollywood trenches. Authors often learn their craft in a vacuum, producing full manuscripts in solitude, then blind-querying them to prospective agents and editors, so the “logline” isn’t really a skill they develop.

    Screenwriters, on the other hand, are constantly taking “development meetings” with producers and execs, so there are no shortage of opportunities to practice one’s “elevator pitch.” Most screenwriters I know use those sit-downs to pitch their story — pitch the logline — to a dozen or so execs, and it’s in those meetings that they informally “workshop” their ideas, taking feedback that then helps them shape the story. By the time a screenwriter “goes to pages,” as they say, he’s honed the logline and developed a good sense of how the story itself should be structured. Screenwriting teaches a certain on-the-job discipline that novelists don’t always have the benefit of developing for themselves.

    That said, I am much happier as a novelist than I ever was as a screenwriter; I use the tools I learned as the latter to produce material as the former. And I am always happy to share those tools! But my advice to anyone who’s looking to develop a concept for a novel is to nail that logline first: It’s got to meet all five criteria I outline — and generate a sense of excitement in those who hear it! That’s not an easy thing to do, but when you pull it off, you can write your first draft with confidence, knowing your premise is conceptually and commercially sound.

    Thanks again, Debby — and thanks to all who take the time to read and/or comment here. My gratitude and best wishes to you for sustained health and productivity.

    • dgkaye

      Sean, thanks so much for coming over and detailing here a bit more on your article. It does make so much sense, and as you say, as novelists, we work on the condensing part after, in screenwriting, the logline is the nucleus! I find it all fascinating and so appreciated your in-depth dissection of getting to the core. <3

  • Liesbet

    Thanks for sharing this informative, helpful, and – as you told me – timely article by Sean. I’m off to read more on his website now. And then, I’ll have to rethink (and/or rewrite) this whole blurb/back cover of the book thing!!! Sigh…

      • Liesbet

        Thanks again for referring and introducing me to Sean, Debby. He is a very knowledgeable, experienced, and genuine person. I started my own conversation with him in his comment section. You are so right about the extensive information he shares, not only in his main articles but also in his comments! He even followed my blog back. 🙂

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