You have an idea for a television show, excellent, we need lots of those forever and ever.
Now you need to distill that idea down to a single, simple sentence: a logline. Once you have a handful of carefully chosen words to describe your story, you whip up that outline and write the script. Fade in…end of pilot.
You’ve written a TV show that you made up in your head! Pure imagination at its finest my friend! Mr. Wonka would be proud.
But…Now, your work has just begun. It’s a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. You need to tell people about your script, so they get excited, want to read it, and eventually make the damn thing.
Typically, you’re not giving people the script first, you’re telling them about it using your logline. So how do you punch someone in the face with a sexy sentence? Three words: Protagonist, Goal, and Obstacle.
1. Identify your protagonist: main character, duo, or family.
First thing’s first. When creating a logline, you need to start with your main character.
Who is this story about? It’s not about ‘a guy.’ It’s not about ‘some chick.’ Put their specific name. We want to emotionally connect to this character, so we need to know who they are. After all, it’s through their point of view that the audience watches the story unfold.
The more specific details you can use the better, perhaps a job or a hint to their age, so we can visualize them, the world, and how we are going to feel while following their journey.
2. Identify their goal.
Step two for crafting a perfect logline is identifying your protagonist’s goals.
What do they want? In answering what they want, there are two parts:
- What is this story about?
- What is this story really about?
What is this story about? Asks about the physical goal. They want to ‘steal the necklace,’ ‘save the world,’ ‘kill the guy who killed their dog.’
What is this story REALLY about? Asks about the emotional goal. Sure, they want to kill the guy who killed their dog, but it’s really about ‘processing the grief and trauma from the loss of a loved one.’ Go ahead and steal the necklace, but, while doing it, reconnect with an ex and unpack the unresolved feelings you had with them, and by talking it out, getting closure and moving on.
Always ask yourself both questions and always force yourself to answer both.
3. Identify what the obstacle is.
The third piece of your logline puzzle is the obstacle or stakes. What is preventing, or delaying, your principal person (or chief creature) from reaching their goal?
Is it Jenkins from HR? Probably. Jenkins is the worst.
If for some reason it’s not Jenkins (highly doubtful), who or what is it?
This could be the antagonist. If so, what do they want?
Do you want to steal the necklace, but there are too many cameras and a big event happening at the same time? Does someone else also want to kill the guy who killed your dog, but you want to be the one to do it for satisfaction and closure, so it’s a race to the death?
Some examples from IMDB. Would you ask to read these scripts?
- Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.
- 1. Our protagonist is Debbie Ocean (and her all-female crew).
- 2. Their goal is to complete a heist at NYC’s Met Gala.
- 3. Their obstacle is that the heist is impossible. (And that the heist is set during such an exclusive event–if you’ll allow me to read between the lines.)
- Ex-hit-man John comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that killed his dog and took everything from him.
- 1. Our protagonist is John.
- 2. His goal is to track down the gangsters that killed his dog.
- 3. His obstacles are that he’s in retirement, that his dog is dead, and that these gangsters took everything from him.
Almost all loglines follow this same format: Protagonist + Goal + Stakes/Obstacle.
Once you got that stimulating sentence ready to go, spread that baby around like butter on warm toast and let the peaked, curious minds inquire about your masterpiece.