This post is another that initially started out as one, then multiplied into two like some ever-divvying amoeba newly-enamored with mitosis. So let’s start out with Loglines before we delve into Taglines and Blurbs next go around.
Now there are loads of articles out there defining what all should go into loglines, and a quick google search will give you much more in-depth info than you’re about to get here. But I’m all about maximum effectiveness for the minimum effort, so hopefully this short(ish) post will suffice.
Now let’s get to what a logline is: A brief summary that gets across all salient information as to your idea. It is the hook or core concept on which your story is based.
Sounds easy, right? Well, yes and no. Being so close to your own idea makes the author a little biased, and like new parents who insist that their child is objectively the most beautiful baby out there; we’re unable to see the flaws in our own ideas. Or what the exact hook is that's going to resonate with others. Basically, we're blind to our own idea.
Yet there’s an… well, I won’t say art to writing a logline. But there’s at least a pattern to it that everyone should know.
I’ve already shilled for the wonderful Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat in the past, but I’m going to do so again now. And if you don’t think this screenwriting book is valuable for a novelist, know that Will Wight picked it first when asked for references for improving writing (in the comments; search for “Snyder”).
I’m not really going to give Snyder’s section on loglines justice (so go read the book!), but here are the things he’s looking for in a good logline:
1) Protagonist defined by an adjective
2) Antagonist defined by an adjective
3) Hero’s primary goal/ motivation
5) Potential/ the hook
I think the Protagonist is the most important aspect here, followed closely by his/ her descriptive adjective. Because we’re all telling narrative stories here, and therefore we need a character to identify with to center our story around. Otherwise, without the hero’s journey, it’s just an essay.
So tell us WHO we’re going to spend the next several hours of our life with.
But wait, that’s still sort of boring. Just saying “a guy/ girl/ puppy” is so generic it makes my teeth hurt. So that’s what makes the adjective describing the protagonist so important: We want to know what makes him/ her so special that we’re going to stick around to ingest his/ her story.
The antagonist is the inverse of this and should be pretty self-explanatory in that we want to know specifically who (or what) the protagonist is fighting against (giant, killer shark maybe?). We need to know what makes them so special as well, and both why they will be an obstacle for the protagonist and why they need to be defeated in the first place.
The goal/ motivation is the why the story is going on and makes it more personal for the protagonist, and therefore us, the audience. The more personal you can make it for the protagonist, the better. So “to save his daughter” is significantly better than “to earn world peace” because world peace is so broad and general, while saving a family member is both personal and visceral.
Irony is a bit more difficult to define, but it basically boils down (and this is my own theory here) the protagonist being either uniquely-suited, or ill-suited to overcome the antagonist. Uniquely suited means the protagonist was probably chosen because of his/ her role to overcome the antagonist; e.g: "But what I do have are a particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a long career." Something like spy, scientist, assassin, prom-queen, ANYTHING that makes it obvious why the protagonist was specifically selected for this story.
Please note that all of these examples were descriptive NOUNS for the protagonist.
The inverse of this is the ill-suited protagonist, whose descriptive role makes their conflict with the antagonistic force more difficult. Examples include alcoholic, shut-in, racist, turnip, etc. All things that you would assume would exacerbate the situation rather than alleviate it.
Also, all nouns again.
But the best logline is when you combine the uniquely and ill-suited protagonist with an adjective + noun combo. To wit: An alcoholic spy sent on a dangerous mission…, a shut-in scientist faces down his academic nemesis…, a racist assassin must save a prom-queen turnip from…, etc.
Potential is even more nebulous, but it’s basically that x-factor that makes your story different than everyone else’s out there that just NEEDS to be told.
Because, and this is the real importance in figuring out your logline before you sit down to do your outlining: it gets across to anyone who listens why they NEED to hear this story. It is the CORE CONCEPT, the crux of your story distilled down to its purest form.
It’s the magnetic center around which your story must revolve.
And if you don’t have that pinned down from the onset, everything’s just eventually going to spin off course in an ever-widening gyre as the center cannot hold and everything comes crashing down.
Now the last bit of advice I'll give on this, which is my most recently discovered. As I stated above, it's really hard to write your own logline because as we put our ideas down, we all sound so stupid and insincere for some reason. It's the same reason I hate writing cover letters: Because you (meaning me) always sound like a corporate douche spouting off exactly what you think your interviewer is going to want to hear ("My greatest weakness is totally that I work too hard!").
Effectively, you're going to feel silly as you write your logline, like you're doing your best Don LaFontaine impression as you strain to make your idea sound impressive. Everything comes across overly-serious, like it should take place, "In a world..."
So my advice is to embrace that silliness and write your logline with Mr. LaFontaine's voice as your own. Write your logline like it's going to play over the trailer for your future movie. And though that does indeed sound silly, I assure you, when you read it to your friends, they'll love it.
Or at least not throw tomatoes at you. Because, really, that's all we can hope for as writers.
But before I go, I want to share this, which Blake Snyder wrote in my copy of Save the Cat more than a decade ago. I don’t know, but assume, it’s his usual inspirational tag; something he spit out to everyone, because so many people asked him to sign their books.
But I don’t care.
Because the man was kinder and more considerate than anyone has any right to be (especially to aspiring screenwriters). You see, I had just recently joined a screenwriting group in NYC, and by some miracle reached out to Mr. Snyder to see if he would speak while in town promoting his book before a large crowd the next night. And by another, even bigger, miracle, he agreed. So we scrambled to find people in our nascent little club to hear him speak. For free.
And only four (including myself) showed up. Because we were really less than nothing at that point. But instead of balking at our inability to muster an audience equal his reputation, Mr. Snyder didn’t blink as he gave us a full hour of his time; treating us like eager equals rather than the novices we were. And when it was done, he answered all our questions, set one of us up with his agent’s contact info, and then invited us to walk with him as he saw the city’s sights.
Anyways, this was a big moment for me in my burgeoning career, and something I will never forget. I remember where I was when I heard Mr. Snyder died; just as I remember vividly where I was when I was lucky enough to meet him in the flesh.