Lessons in Screenwriting: Loglines

Switching hats from Novelist to Screenwriter, the first thing I want to say is that I am in the process of learning about writing from a different perspective all over again.  Screenwriting cannot be confused with the other because they are extremely different in the forms of which they are presented and reviewed.  I will not go into all there is to know about screenwriting because I don’t know any more about it than what pertains to the projects I am currently working on.  I will say that at this point my focus is mainly on four specific elements that are important to all screenwriting.  Let me share them with you here.

  • Loglines – sometimes referred to as an elevator pitch, is about introducing the key points of your story/screenplay in one or two sentences.
  • Synopsis – is a bit more detailed in concern to your story and can run from a single page, 3-5 pages (which is what I have been hearing the most about and using), or a few more pages depending on what is requested in the submission guidelines.
  • Treatment – is a lot like a synopsis but requires a specific writing style and the pages can run the same as a synopsis, up to 30 pages and more, which I wouldn’t recommend unless asked to do so.
  • Script – depending on what you are writing, (sitcoms, plays, hour-long dramas, or film), all run differently, with traditional film scripts being the longest from 90 pages up to 120.   (I see 120 pages as a long shot because each page represents 1 minute of screen time which would bring the movie time to 2 hours.  A better bet today would be 5 to 10 pages less).

In regards to what I have mentioned, there is a lot to learn about each process and the one thing I must recommend is to read everything you can about these elements and familiarize yourself with what they entail before writing your first script.  As for me, I have already written a script, 2 actually, but I needed a refresher course on how to present my work to agents.  Only now am I realizing that I did everything backwards, so for the sake of putting my hard work in the right order I am learning the process from the beginning, starting with the logline.

As I mentioned earlier, loglines are about introducing the key points of your story in 1 or 2 sentences.  This does not mean to tell your whole story from beginning to end.  That is what a synopsis/outline is for.  A logline is what your story is about, which is as simple as I can say.

As an example, I recently joined a site where screenwriter’s share, discuss, and offer suggestions on how to write and improve loglines.  To help myself with getting a better understanding, I submitted two of my own loglines to get some feedback on what I had written to see if I was able to convey my most important story elements in the shortest of terms.  This is what came from it.  And oh yeah – Spoiler Alert – because sometimes that is required.

EXAMPLE 1:  “Paper Images” (Drama)

Logline:  A tortured former artist, now a compassionate young counselor, has dedicated his life to helping other misfortunate souls.  As the troubles of a difficult past continue to cause harm, another life he must fight harder to save is just as important to him as his own…

Personally, I thought that was a pretty good example to describe the main elements in the story.  Not so much according to some of the responses.

  • For one, it’s too long.  46 words.  A good logline should be no more than 25, maybe 30 words.  (Ha!).
  • Two, I needed to dramatize the situation more specifically in regards to the story.

 Rewrite:  A tortured young sketch artist turned crisis counselor, faces his own abusive past in order to save his equally troubled bestfriend from alcohol addiction.”

This new version received star points for being more dramatic and quickly to the point.  It is still 32 words, which means there is room for another rewrite and I am working on that.  Not sure what I can cut or change other than the first few words, but I will figure it out.

 EXAMPLE 2:  “Torn: Sixty Days of Calaboose” (Psychological Drama)

Logline: Accused of a crime for revenge, a sensitive, feminine male struggles to keep his sanity while incarcerated in a small town jail fully inhabited by a variety of unpredictable strangers.

With this one the main issue, I thought, was too many words.  31.  I had no idea what to take out because I choose each word carefully at their importance to the story.  Only 1 person figured out what the story was about and their only suggestion was to remove the description of the main character.  Others were hung up on the very first words; ‘accused of a crime for revenge.”   They didn’t get it.  I didn’t see the confusion.  In the end I wrote a note.

Considering that most responses are focusing on the ‘accused of a crime for revenge’ part, which is actually an important lead into the story and means exactly what it says, I thought I could delete that part altogether.  But without that line, the post seems naked to me.  The central story is mainly about the sensitive inmate and how he tries to keep his sanity while in jail for the first time and at the mercy of unpredictable strangers.

The logline, or rather the response of the one who got it, has since received 3 stars.  I didn’t change a thing. I’m still not sure how I can, but I am cool with the suggestions.

The point of this is that I have a better understanding of how different points of view can be constructive to the overall process of writing a good logline.  Sure, I stuck to my guns on the second one but that doesn’t mean I didn’t consider what was said.  It never hurts to get an outside perspective on things, and now that I have better insight on what makes a good logline, I can put that practice to work that will hopefully help represent my work in a better light.

In closing I want to add that I am not a professional here, I am a student, so this is a learning experience that I wanted to share with you.  Thank you much.  Now I must get back to work.

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Torn Book Cover 3paper-images

For this purpose of this exercise I used two of my books, both available on amazon.

Screenplays in progress.

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