Loglines: they’re tricky lil’ b******s. Whether writing loglines on paper or pitching them out loud in person, scribes have a horrible habit of totally BLOWING IT when it comes to encapsulating their story and hooking their pitchee’s interest.
Yet this is the very definition of submissions insanity! It’s simply NOT POSSIBLE to get a successful pitch down and garner a read request from an Industry Pro without good loglines.
WHY do you need good loglines?
Because you have to tell that industry pro in question WHAT your story is about and WHO is in it!
So if you don’t know these two things, nobody else will either. Ipso Fatso, as Bart Simpson would say. But what are the CLASSIC logline mistakes I read and/or hear, practically daily?
1) The writer confuses loglines with taglines. You’d think this mistake would have FINALLY gone away in the age of the internet, but if anything it’s got worse. All of us know what taglines are: they’re those pithy little PR sentences at the bottom of a film poster, the most famous of course being ALIEN’s: “In space no one can hear you scream”. In comparison then, the story of ALIEN would be something *like* “Seven space truckers accidentally pick up an intelligent, hostile alien life form, intent on picking them off, one by one in the confines of their giant star freighter.” (Note how I DON’T go into mega detail on the face hugger/chest bursting element? That’s for the screenplay to reveal, or you, in the case of the actual pitch!). And another thing lieutenant: writers often ask me if they can write taglines on their pitch docs and so on. Sure, why not? Just don’t do it INSTEAD OF a logline!
2) The writer thinks cliché stands in for story. This is the thing: script readers and other Industry Pros read and hear pitches ALL DAY. This means that very frequently, they will hear the SAME THINGS in the loglines. I cannot stress this enough. One mistake then that crops up all the time are clichés: those cheesy little one liners that take up space and rob you, the writer, of telling that industry pro YOUR story. One such cliché I hear constantly is this one:
“[CHARACTER NAME] has to learn to love and live again”.
NO!!! Yet Romances and Rom Coms and even tragedies frequently cross my path with this ridiculous reductive pitch as part of its logline. Just think of ROMEO AND JULIET with it: useless, right?? And not just because both characters DIE. Remember: a cliché is not a story; it’s a cliché. Le duh.
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3) The writer asks questions in his/her logline.This is the thing: if you have a question in your logline? You seriously need to rethink this tactic (unless you answer yourself, of course). Why? Because *usually* the writer will include that question because s/he thinks it seems more intriguing … But it’s NOT! It’s a mistake, for two (yes, two!) reasons:
i) It’s too obvious – let me demonstrate:
“Will Katie find her way back in time through the desert and a giant lizard’s hunting area, before her boyfriend is thrown into a pit with a two-headed, sex-starved Lemur?”
My immediate reaction is, “Well, YES, presumably – else there’s no screenplay”! ??
It comes down to this: if you’re asking a question in the logline that’s supposedly answered by the plot in the accompanying screenplay, then why bother with the question in the logline; why not just describe what happens in the screenplay? That’s the good stuff.
ii) It’s what I call “red flag” material about a writer’s level of experience (or lack of it). Over the many, many years I’ve been doing this script reading malarkey, I’ve noticed (generally) NEW writers employ the above tactic. I honestly cannot remember a time I’ve heard or read a pitch from a professional writer that includes a question that doesn’t answer itself or work for some *other* reason (i.e., to ask the reader to imagine him/herself in the protagonist’s place, though this generally works best with novels, rather than screenplays I find).
So, my recommendation? DON’T ask questions of your pitchee, on paper or in person – use your loglines to TELL US what happens. It’s what we want to know!
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4) The writer goes on and on and on! The crashingly obvious here: YOU know what’s in your screenplay; you wrote it. But the Industry Pro reading your query or hearing you pitch has NOT READ IT YET. We want a summary of what happens – not every single little detail. Yet, often writers will launch into the details of what’s in the script or even worse, HOW they wrote it, what sacrifices they had to make and OMGWTFSOMEONEKILLMENOW.
5) The writer forgets a sense of tone, time or place. Dudes, you’re writers: use WORDS to their proper effect. This means you don’t make your comedy sound like a horror; or your drama like a comedy; you forget to tell us it’s historical, fantasy or science fiction; or that it’s a precinct drama, or location and/or arena plays a specific part in the story. Best of all, give us a sense of your writer’s VOICE in your loglines. Yes, it’s difficult – possibly more difficult than writing the actual screenplay. This is why you should NEVER skimp on your logline.
6) The writer forgets “The 3 Cs.” But WTF are the three Cs, you ask? Here you go:
CLARITY – In your loglines, you need to be as clear as possible. I know, LE DUH, right?? But you’d be surprised by how many writers screw up (usually via the previous 5 things in this article) and end up with a logline it’s simply impossible to unpick.
CHARACTERS – Again, obvious: WHO is in it. Remember my reimagined logline for ALIEN, here. I start with “Seven Space Truckers.” I think the best loglines mention the characters rather than *just* the situation, so the reader/listener can “anchor” him/herself (though it’s not impossible to do it the other way around).
CONFLICT – So, this means WHAT HAPPENS in the story. In my reimagined ALIEN logline, I use words like “accidentally” to show those Space Truckers never meant to pick up that “intelligent, hostile alien life form”; I also use “picking them off, one by one” to give some suggestion as to how the plot works out.
But The 3 Cs are not just it … If you want to be a writer and really stay the course? You need The 3 Ps as well, but I’ll let you find out what those are and why…
‘Til next time!
- More Submissions Insanity articles by Lucy V. Hay
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- Balls of Steel: Pitching Tips