A logline is a brief description of a screenplay, film, or TV show. When it comes to garnering interest in your project, nothing beats the logline. Succinct but striking, the logline summarizes your work—and ideally helps get your foot in the door. If you want to learn how to write a logline, what makes a good one, and how it can help you advance in the industry, this article has you covered.
The traditional logline introduces a screenplay’s major elements and highlights why it should be made into a film. Loglines are an integral part of the movie pitch that help sell a project idea. Occasionally, that project is yourself—many actors also write personal loglines to summarize their acting capabilities for directors and producers.
A standard logline is one to two sentences, consisting of 25 to 50 words. Make sure it has these elements (not necessarily in this order):
- Primary character(s)
- Inciting incident
- Protagonist’s goal
- Conflict and stakes
Logline vs. tagline
A film’s logline is different from its tagline, which is a provocative but less-specific statement meant to entice moviegoers to watch a film. For example, the tagline to John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (“The night HE came home”) is intriguing but doesn’t explain the story. Alternatively, the film’s logline (“An escaped psychopath returns to his childhood neighborhood, terrorizing and killing several people while his doctor desperately tries to warn the local sheriff of the killer’s intent”) is a descriptive summary that still packs a punch.
Writing a logline can sometimes feel more difficult than writing a full screenplay. To ensure that you capture the magic of your screenplay while distilling it down, follow these steps:
1. Use an active voice
Just like your high school English teacher told you, avoid using a passive voice at all costs. Active voice raises the stakes and engages the reader—that means characters doing something, rather than something happening to them. Look at two different versions of the logline to “The Godfather”:
- Passive: “Control of a clandestine empire is transferred by an aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty to his reluctant son.”
- Active: “The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.”
2. Craft compelling protagonists
Kick off your logline by introducing your protagonist(s). Don’t waste precious words providing character names; instead, describe their fascinating qualities. An adjective or two and the proper noun that best represents them works well. For example, the logline for “The Godfather” opens with “the aging patriarch,” which clearly identifies and describes the protagonist.
3. Portray the inciting incident
Name the catalyst that sets off the action in your screenplay. Look at the logline for “The Help"—"An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid’s point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis."
The inciting incident, “decides to write a book,” is included just after the description of the protagonist.
4. Tell a story
The logline should create a clear narrative that intrigues the reader—without spoiling the ending. Do this by clearly describing the protagonist’s goal and the central conflict preventing them from reaching this goal. Case in point: The logline for “Bird Box” says that “a survivor and her two children make a desperate bid to reach safety.” Safety is clearly the protagonist’s goal, but it’s unclear whether she achieves it.
5. Include irony
Summon your inner Alanis Morissette and use the conceit of irony to show that your story is original and unexpected. Highlight the contrast between your main character and the dramatic situation they face in your story. The logline for “Miss Congeniality,” for example, explains “an ugly duckling FBI agent goes undercover as a contestant to catch a killer at the Miss United States Pageant.”
6. Name the stakes
High stakes leave the reader wanting more—meaning they want to read your full screenplay. Take the logline for “Back to the Future,” for example: “A young man is transported to the past, where he must reunite his parents before he and his future cease to exist.”
Once you’ve finished the first draft, request feedback from people you know and trust, and revise until your logline is compelling, concise, and perfectly crafted.
“North by Northwest” Courtesy: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
These logline examples paint a clear picture of the screenplay they represent by naming its major players, primary conflict, and stakes.
- “North by Northwest”: When an innocent advertising executive is framed for murder by foreign spies, he must evade the authorities for long enough to uncover the spies’ plot, and save the enigmatic woman who is mixed up with them.
- “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”: A toon-hating detective is a cartoon rabbit’s only hope to prove his innocence when he is accused of murder.
- “The Silence of the Lambs”: In order to catch a killer who skins his victims, a young FBI cadet must seek help from an incarcerated and manipulative killer.
- “WALL-E”: In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.