Growing up in the early 90’s in a desert, I was one of those kids, the lazy ones who would rather spend time in my room tucked up in a good book than go and enjoy the sunshine and play sports like my peers. It was also something my mom said I was doing while we lay on the pebbly Iraqi beach as refugees escaping Kuwait during the first Gulf War. My attachment to books growing up was so great, infact, that even when we were leaving Kuwait, the country I called ‘home’ and I had to choose what items I wanted, I left all my toys and took my books. Thus, through my love of good stories, my first writing adventures were born. Books were my best friends and movies became an extension of that.
Which brings me to the next point: what is the first thing you do once you know what you want to write? In those days, when all I had was a typewriter (eventually succeeded by a DOS computer and rickety dot-matrix printer), I would just…start writing, and see where it took me. Then, once I started educating myself, I discovered there were some small tricks here and there to get me to my writing goals sooner – which brings us back to our main subject.
A logline, as many of you are aware, is a brief, two-sentence bite of your idea – essentially your story concept in a nutshell. Recapping generally, a good logline contains three components:
1) THE HERO/PROTAGONIST – who is the story about?
2) GOAL – what is the protagonist’s goal?
3) THE OPPOSITION/ANTAGONIST – who is against the protagonist? Who is stopping him from reaching his goals?
Some movie examples:
• What if Peter Pan grew up? (Hook)
• When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (Gladiator)
• An attorney, because of a birthday wish, can’t tell any lies for 24 hours. (Liar, Liar)
• After segueing from a life of espionage to raising a family, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez are called back into action. But when they are kidnapped by their evil nemesis, there are only two people in the world who can rescue them… their kids! (Spy Kids)
• A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea. (Titanic)
Observing each of the above in detail, you may notice the first one bends the guidelines I just mentioned above, quite a bit. However (assuming everyone knows ‘Peter Pan’), it immediately introduces us to its intriguing concept (What happens if the one boy in the world who never grew up actually does?), and last but not least, gives us a tantalizing taste of the story… which is still the right way to go.
So, before you slog your way through that long journey to your finished 110-120 page script, why not start by distilling and boiling your concept into a sentence? (Note: I must mention that writing a logline before you start writing is not any kind of be-all, end-all rule! I have also found it a pain-in-the-butt because it forces you to simplify everything into something cohesive – a hard task when your inspired brain is boiling over with details!)
That being said, it is something you will need anyway after you have finished your screenplay – the ability to pitch your entire story in thirty seconds and entice agents, production companies, etc.
So my bottom-line: try it out and see how far you get.
For more background on this series, read my rant from last week. Next week: Brainstorming.