Something that I've found often in the writing communities that I associate in are the lack of knowledge surrounding the logline. When I ask for one I am often met with "what's that?" and "never heard of it." Granted, I hadn't heard of it until a few years back myself, and I'd already been writing for some time. Then one day I borrowed a book from a good writer friend of mine called Save the Cat by Black Synder. It's a writing book about structure that I think everyone should read but one of the key takeaways from it for me was the logline. From their I researched this artful little piece of text and realized that they are everywhere. I've decided to take all I've learned and apply it here. This is what you need to write a beautiful logline. I provide a formula at the end, so stick around.
What's a Logline?
So, what is it? A logline is an emotionally captivating, less than 30-word premise of the story that you're trying to tell. It is not an elevator pitch or synopsis, specifically due to how short it is. Sometimes it can go beyond this length if the story calls for it, but the best rule of thumb is that shorter is better. If you are able to include all of your elements to get someone interested in your story in less words, then do it. Don't be afraid of them not getting enough information, because if your story is compelling in its own right, then your logline should be too. Also, don't fall victim to "hiding the ball." Give the audience what they want to get them interested, and then when they read your story or watch the film, give them more.
Why Have One?
Has someone ever asked you that simple but fateful question "So what is your story about?" Did you then proceed to go into a long-winded explanation that didn't actually tell them anything at all that you wanted to about your story? That's why you need a logline. It's your mini pitch. It's the statement that's going to get that agent, editor, or producer to say "tell me more." This gets people interested in your story within the span of 3-5 seconds. On top of this, because it states what your story is about, it also serves as your North Star when you start to get off track during writing. Keep it at the top of your story bible. Refer to it often.
The logline should have four things: The Protagonist, the Conflict, the Inciting Incident and the Goal. The protagonist is the hero of your story, or the person who takes the main perspective for most of it. Sometimes this can be a setting or a group of people, but most of the time it's your main character. The conflict can be a person (antagonist) or a thing that is disrupting your protagonist's life. This is what creates the drama that your potential readers want to hear about. Finally, the inciting incident is the event or catalyst that sets things in motion. Things like "when he discovers he has powers..." or "they are enlisted on a mission to..." are catalysts. The goal is the thing that your protagonist is trying to do or accomplish. Let's create a few loglines for well-known movies.
"After his crew takes off, assuming him dead, a resourceful astronaut must survive alone on Mars." -The Martian
"When two curious kids play a mysterious board game, they discover that its dangerous effects come to life, and are forced to play through it to stop them." -Jumanji
While the previous elements are required, they don't make the effective on their own. You want to also give the reader something to grasp onto. Create an emotional attachment if possible. In one of the previous loglines I describe the children as "curious." While this is a single word that can be taken in many contexts the most prominent may be to associate curiosity and kids with innocence. Now we feel bad that they have to deal with this dangerous game. Now some part of us wants them to succeed. Furthermore, the setting may have an impact as well, and if it is significant to the plot, it may be added. For example, if I'm describe Hunger Games I may say:
"In a post-apocalyptic future, a poor woman is drafted by the ruling upper class into an arena style match to the death."
Giving a description to the woman helps create an emotional attachment to her.
Another important element they may help strengthen the overall impact of the logline is the setting. You may not always be able to add a location, but doing so may create context or tone for your story. In The Hunger Games logline I mentioned that there was a post-apocalyptic future. In the Martian logline I mention Mars. As you can see it's situational, and not necessary, but may also be powerful. Even if you don't use a physical location, a set up may still be in order such as naming the "mysterious game" in Jumanji.
Lastly, notice some of the words I used in the loglines I wrote above? Must. Forced. Drafted. These are catalyst words that create action. This implies that the character has no choice but to face what lies ahead in this story. These aren't necessary, but words that imply that your protagonist doesn't have a choice are powerful in your logline, and will invigorate readers.
Now that you know what a logline looks here is a formula you can try below.
That's it! And the great thing about this formula is that it isn't linear. If some of these things don't work where they are move them around. Notice that the catalyst word may work better before the inciting incident. In actuality the same goes for the rest, so long as it reads well. Try it out yourself, and then tweak it until it's natural.
Remember keep it short and keep it ready. Your logline should be dropped pretty much whenever you're talking about your book. That's why it's so short. It doesn't bore people and it gets right to the point. If they ask for more, that's when you get to elevator pitch status.