How To Write a Logline? (6 Step Guide)

Confession...I hate writing loglines, but it is a necessary step if you want anyone to read your screenplay. Every screenwriter must master the logline basics, but how?

You might be wondering:  

  • What is the purpose of a logline?
  • Is there a formula for writing a logline?
  • Who reads loglines? 
  • Why is a logline important? 
  • Is a movie tagline different from a logline?

If you want to know what it takes to write an effective logline then you have come to the right place!  In this guide, you will learn six basic steps for writing a logline along with other important things to consider. 

Short on time, skip ahead to the action steps or the logline template below.

What is the purpose of a logline? 

There are so many definitions out there when it comes to what a logline is and how to write a memorable one. To bring clarity to a sometimes confusing situation, I want to talk about the purpose of a logline.

The logline has two jobs. The first job is to summarize your story in a compelling, succinct way. The second job is to sell your story! To get people to want to back it, make it or watch it.

What is your story about?

Think of it like this...It’s Friday night. You and your friend want to watch a movie but there are a zillion options on Netflix. You aren’t sure what to watch. Then your friend says, I heard (Movie Title) was awesome! You ask, what is the movie about? Your friend quickly tells you a concise summation and then you decide if it is something that piques your interest. 

Now imagine another scenario. You have a finished screenplay and you want to contact a literary agent about your script. The thing is, this agent doesn’t know what your story is about and whether it’s worth their time. Well, guess what, you can tell them in 10 seconds by sharing your logline.  

What is a logline? 

I like to define the meaning of a logline as the distillation of a story into one to two concise sentences that capture its overall essence and hooks the audience.

Below are three more examples of logline definitions:

Script Mag

The logline is an art form all its own. It’s a one sentence poem, an ode to your script and the film it could become. It must be concise yet thorough, imaginative yet simple, commercial yet unique.

New York Film Academy

One line (or two at the most) which describes what your screenplay is about.

Point Park University

Screenwriters have the opportunity of distilling an entire screenplay down to its salient and most compelling points

Are there rules for writing a logline? 

Yes and no. Loglines should not exceed 30-35 words. Yup, you heard me right, 35 words max! It’s your job as a storyteller to boil down your epic tale in a captivating and concise way. Ideally in one sentence but if you need more wiggle room...two sentences are considered acceptable.

Within those limitations, there is room to break the rules. To write your story’s logline in a way that feels right to you. But don’t forget to include the essential parts.

About the Author

Heather Hale is a film and television producer, director, screenwriter, teacher and consultant. She directed, produced and co-wrote the million-dollar thriller Absolute Killers (2011) which was marketed at Le Marché du Film and the American Film Market. 

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What is the formula for writing a good logline? 

Good loglines often contain five key components. You can rearrange these elements in any order that best conveys your story. But remember, it’s all subjective! There isn’t an exact science to writing the perfect logline only guideposts.

I created an easy-to-remember mnemonic device for writing a logline. (Warning: it's memorable but silly!) All you have to do is answer:  Who wants but and stakes?

Logline cheatsheet, Logline breakdown, Logline template

Can you show me logline examples? 

Sure thing. Real-life examples help solidify concepts, so let’s check out loglines from familiar movies or shows that you might’ve watched. You will notice that not all of the loglines possess the same elements and some are better than others. 

You can also do further research by looking up your favorite movies or series on IMDB and breaking down loglines using this formula. See what loglines meet the criteria!

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

In 1936, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler's Nazis can obtain its awesome powers.

WHO: Archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones

WANTS: To find the Ark of the Covenant

BUT.. Adolf Hitler’s Nazis might obtain it.

& What is the CONTEXT: 1936  

What is at STAKE: The Nazis harnessing the powers of the ark

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

Orphaned at the tender age of nine, prodigious introvert Beth Harmon discovers and masters the game of chess in 1960s USA. But child stardom comes at a price.

WHO: Orphaned Introvert Beth Harmon

WANTS: To master the game of chess

BUT..child stardom comes at a price

& What is the CONTEXT: WHEN: 1960s , WHERE: USA 

What is at STAKE: Not specified, leaves us to wonder...

DIEHARD

An NYPD officer tries to save his wife and several others taken hostage by German terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.

WHO: A NYPD Officer

WANTS: To save his wife and the hostages

BUT…German terrorist have taken his wife and others hostage

& What is the CONTEXT: WHEN: A Christmas Party & WHERE: Los Angeles, at the Nakatomi Plaza

What is at STAKE: His wife and the hostage’s lives 

ALIEN

After a space merchant vessel receives an unknown transmission as a distress call, one of the crew is attacked by a mysterious life form and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.

WHO: Crew on a space merchant vessel

WANTS: to decipher a distress call  

BUT then...one of the crew is attacked by a mysterious life form 

& What is the CONTEXT: WHERE: Outer space 

What is at STAKE: The crew’s lives

TITANIC

A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.

WHO: A seventeen-year-old aristocrat

WANTS: To love a kind artist

BUT...he is poor. 

& What is the CONTEXT: WHERE: The Titanic

STAKES: Their lives on the ill-fated ship.

BREAKING BAD 

A high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine to secure his family's future.

WHO: A high school chemistry teacher

WANTS: To secure his family future by manufacturing and selling methamphetamine

BUT...he is dealing with an inoperable lung cancer

& What is the CONTEXT:  Not specified 

What is at STAKE His family’s future

GODFATHER

An organized crime dynasty's aging patriarch transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.

WHO: An organized crime dynasty's aging patriarch

WANTS: To transfer control of his empire to his son. 

But...Not specified 

& What is the CONTEXT:  Not specified 

What is at STAKE: Not specified 

Why is a logline important?

If you want to sell your script then you need a logline. If you want to enter a screenwriting competition, you need a logline. If you want to write a screenplay, you need a logline.

Who reads loglines? 

Literary agents, managers, producers, production companies, script readers, competition judges, interested parties, a target audience. You!

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When do you write a logline? 

I suggest you write a logline at the very beginning! Before you write a single word of your screenplay. Why? Because it will anchor you through the entire writing process. 

A logline will provide you with focus and clarity. It’ll help you stay steady when you are knee-deep in a rough draft. In the early stages of writing, I like to call my logline my anchor sentence. It keeps me from thrashing around! 

Your logline will evolve as your writing evolves. You will likely tweak it as you develop a better understanding of what your story is really about.

How To Write a Logline (6 Steps)

step 1

WHO

Tell us who the story is about? Who are the character(s) or protagonist(s) we are following?  Use a descriptive word or two! 

step 2

WANTS

What do they want? What are they after? What is propelling your entire story forward? 

step 3

BUT

But then something happens…what gets in the way of what the protagonist wants? This could be your inciting incident or related to your antagonist.

step 4

AND

Bonus: Provide us with some context. When and Where does the story take place. Especially if your story is set in a specific period of history.

step 5

STAKES

What is at stake if your protagonist doesn't get what they want? In jeopardy? The risks?

step 6

PUT IT TOGETHER

Put it all together in 1-2 sentences that don’t exceed 35 words and make it compelling! If you have a hook or a unique twist in your story, include it or allude to it. Arrange each element in whatever order works best!


Ta-Da you have a logline! 

Do other genres use loglines? 

HECK YES!  Books and Music have taglines. Graphic Novels have loglines. Businesses have mottos. Brands have slogans.  

Most screenwriting books tend to focus on story structure, scene writing, navigating the business, and other parts of the craft that come AFTER the initial choice of the central concept for a story. Multiple Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning writer/producer Erik Bork (HBO’s Band of Brothers) takes a different approach.

What is a Movie Tagline? How is a Movie Tagline different from a Logline? 

A movie tagline is a catchy phrase that captures the overall theme and tone of your story.  A movie tagline or slogan is often used by movie studios and marketers to sell a movie. 

What are examples of a Movie Tagline? 

The Alien Movie Tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream.

The Godfather Movie Tagline: An offer you can't refuse.

Diehard Movie Tagline: 40 Stories of Sheer Adventure

Should I have a tagline too?

When you are writing a screenplay oftentimes you can't see the forest for the trees. I recommend you come up with a tagline exclusively for personal use! 

Why? You'll be giving yourself a gift! TWO anchors instead of ONE.  When you are having a rough writing day, you will need something to keep you steady, focused and centered. The tagline and logline will help you see the forest AND the trees. 

The trees being your logline -  which gives you clarity about what your main character(s) wants, the obstacles getting in their way and the stakes involved. 

The forest is your tagline- which captures the overall essence, theme, and tone of your story.

Both will serve you as you transmit your ideas onto the page!

Any other advice? 

Don't give up! Sometimes a second opinion helps. Tweak until it feels right. And use your best judgement. Below is a blank logline cheatsheet to get you started! 

Stories with Whitney
Blank logline template, Blank logline breakdown, Blank logline cheat sheet

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