John Krissilas / Writer, Thinker, Storyteller
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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Logline Hell... and Heaven

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Loglines. One sentence pitches. Hooks.

However you want to describe them, they have one thing in common: I hate them.

Which makes it extra tough when you're trying to write one for your own project. How do you boil down an entire story into one sentence? How do you work that sentence for all it's worth — including all of the essential elements of a pitch? And lastly, finally, how do you make that bloated, hard-working pitch sound as snappy and pithy as it needs to be?

Those were rhetorical questions… I had no idea myself. But I did have some help. I knew from previous contests, especially those run by Brenda Drake, that there were six elements that had to be present in the pitch in some form or another:

(1) Character
(2) Inciting Incident
(3) Goals
(4) Obstacles
(5) Conflict
(6) Stakes

Maybe I could map these out and cobble them into a sentence?

Nope, too difficult. While the first two may be easy, distilling goals obstacles, conflict, and stakes is harder than it seems.

So I looked to a helpful guide called "Writing Loglines That Sell" by Jonathan Treisman. Though it is geared towards Hollywood film scripts, it did offer some helpful tips, and more importantly, some examples of loglines for films that I've seen:

A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea.

A 17th Century take of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England's daughter and reclaim his ship.

When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by a corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek his revenge.

(Titanic, Pirates of the Caribbean, Gladiator… duh)

This helped a lot. Now I could see how loglines are supposed to sound, look, and feel. I especially liked the smoothness and flow of the Gladiator one.

The last place I looked was my Query. This is, at least it's supposed to be, an expanded pitch anyways. So all of the elements that I needed should already be in there. And, for the most part, they were.

So, with all these things in mind, and with a 35-word limit firmly in place, and scrawled out a few options and eventually arrived at this:

When the pirates that raised him are killed, 17-year-old Neas goes on the run in the lawless Underground and joins the hunt for a relic with ties to his past.

I liked it.

It had a pretty good flow, sounded kinda like the logline examples from Treisman's guide, and it had all of the elements that I needed (in some form). It simplified things where they needed to be simplified and used detail in very specific ways.

Key words like "pirates", "lawless", "hunt", and "relic" give you sense of the adventure and danger present in the story. There are also less obvious details, those that seep in but don't necessarily scream at you:

being raised by pirates = Neas is an orphan
killed, on the run = Neas' life is in danger
ties to his past = he's got some mystery to his origins

And ultimately, it hit all of the six elements I listed above:

(1) Character: 17-year-old Neas (possibly a pirate)
(2) Inciting Incident: the pirates that raised him are killed
(3) Goals: running for his life, hunting for a relic
(4) Obstacles: the "lawless" Underground
(5) Conflict: his family was killed, he's an orphan (implied)
(6) Stakes: his life, the truth about his past (origins)

So there it is! My logline for 151. I'm happy with it, for now. It does the job. We'll see how it does in the contest circuit, but for now, I am pleased :)