A simple trick that separates a weak logline from a strong one.

“Torn by his daughter’s suicide, an existentialist writer must recapture his faith in humanity while journeying in a magic wonderland.”  Not a real logline, but I’ve read dozens that were very similar.

Loglines like this skirt around the actual meat of the movie. They don’t have a single picture in them. I get the goal, but I need to see the visual means by which the goal is achieved.  The means are very, very important.

Example: “A teen gets stuck in the past and must make his parents fall in love or he’ll die.”

This logline is a premise, but it doesn’t suggest anything about how it’ll be executed.

  • It could be dark: He must make sure his parents fall in love by brutally murdering their other partners.
  • It could be trippy: He must make use of the machine from ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND to create a magical world of memory traps to ensure they fall in love.
  • It could be talky: In service of this goal, he engages on a series of existential conversations a la MY DINNER WITH ANDRE.
  • It could be 80’s formula: To survive, he must teach his dorky dad how to beat the town bully in the county-wide drag race.
  • Or it could be Back to the Future: He must teach his dad to be a man while avoiding the town bully and his amorous mother in a series of clever action bits and scams that inadvertently create 50’s teen culture.

That’s why I created my logline template (is Lazarus Logline taken? Too much?) to ensure that you include the means in your logline. Here is the same story but with different means:

Example: “A nerdy kid must learn karate with the help of an unorthodox, wise teacher or else lose his girl and get destroyed by bullies.”

  • A young jester must learn to joust with the help of an unorthodox magician to destroy an evil knight and get the maiden fair.
  • In a world where only teens are sharp enough to play a video game that pilots space ships, a young cadet must learn to fly with the help of an unorthodox trainer or else lose his girl to a dickish hotshot.
  • In the zombie blighted ruins of America, a young farmer must learn to slay the zed or else lose his girl to a wandering mercenary.
  • A kid from the inner city must learn to fence or else lose his scholarship and lose his girl to the captain of the Yale team.

The means allow you to see what the image is on the poster, they change a karate movie to a MMA movie, a standup comedy movie, or even a zombie movie. If you know what the means are, you can make a list of how you’ll explore them. These become your set pieces in the second act. More on that later.

You might be thinking, “I’ve read a lot of loglines, and none of these go into such detail on the means.”  You’re right.  This is an exercise that over-emphasizes the means of your story.  By focusing on it now, you’ll internalize this very useful principle so that you’ll internalize it and ensure that you’re actual logline hints at the means and the genre of the story in a more elegant way.

The means are one of many tricks that take a logline from terrible to average. They help you crystallize your idea in a way that transmits from your mind to another mind without losing fidelity.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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