How can you tell whether your idea for a screenplay or novel will interest anyone?
The other day I taught a 'taster' session for my Script Coach workshop that's running again at Raindance in Central London starting on October 15, on the topic of "How to use loglines to help you write and sell your screenplay.' One of the things we discussed is how to use loglines to test the appeal of your stories.
WHAT'S A LOGLINE?
A logline is a one or two sentence summary of your story (minus the ending), written in a way that piques the curiosity of the person who hears or reads it.
A logline should reveal your protagonist, your antagonist, and the basic conflict. For example, here's a logline for E.T.:
A lonely young boy befriends an alien and has to protect it from the authorities and help it get back home before the conditions on earth kill it.
THE COMPONENTS OF A LOGLINE
A logline should include:
The protagonist - "a lonely young boy"
The antagonist(s)- "the authorities" and "conditions on earth"
The conflict - protecting the alien and getting it back home. Loglines are so short that you don't have time to get into details, but we can imagine that both the authorities and the conditions on earth will create conflict for the boy.
In this case, if we haven't seen the film, we might be curious about what the alien is like, how an alien can be friends with a boy, what kind of battles there might be between the boy and the authorities, and what he'll have to do to get the alien back home.
Having a logline that arouses curiosity is crucial because usually the goal of sharing a logline is to get an agent or producer to say, "That sounds interesting--tell me more!"
USE THE LOGLINE TO TEST YOUR IDEAS
Loglines are also a great tool for testing your ideas before you start to write, whether you have in mind a screenplay, novel, or children's book. Most writers have more ideas than time, so it's useful to know which one has the most appeal.
You can try out your loglines with friends. You should be able to tell the difference between a polite response and genuine interest.
HOW TO GET GOOD AT WRITING LOGLINES
You can read lots of loglines at IMDB.com (International Movie Database). Just type in the name of a film and you'll see brief descriptions that you can practice re-shaping into loglines.
For instance, here's their description of E.T.:
"A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his home world."
I the earlier version is better because "a lonely boy" is more specific than "a troubled child." "Summons the courage" is kind of abstract. Also, they don't mention the conflict with the authorities, which is a key part of the plot.
TRY REWRITING THIS LOGLINE
Your turn: here's their description of "Get Out!":
"A young African-American visits his white girlfriend's parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches a boiling point."
"Simmering uneasiness," "their reception of him," and "boiling point" all are vague. If you've seen the movie, how would you rewrite the second half of the description to be more specific but without giving away the ending?
If you haven't seen "Get Out!", do the exercise with the IMBD description of a film you have seen.
MORE TO COME...
You can also use the logline to help guide you in the writing process, but I'll save that for another post.