Friday, May 17, 2013

Blurbs for Success: Loglines & Elevator Pitches

Charlie Brown is finally invited to a Halloween party; Snoopy engages the Red Baron in a dogfight; and Linus waits patiently in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin. - Logline for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown**
 Logline:  A log line or logline is a brief summary of a television program or film, often providing both a synopsis of the program’s plot, and an emotional “hook” to stimulate interest. – Wikipedia

Elevator Pitch: An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization and its value proposition.  Salespeople use well-rehearsed elevator pitches to get their point across quickly. - Wikipedia

Learning to write a powerful and persuasive logline or elevator pitch may not seem important, but in truth, these short pitches are powerful marketing tools; and learning to master the technique of writing them may get your foot in the door when you’re ready to look for an editor, agent, producer, or publisher. 

During a recent screenwriting workshop we were asked to write a logline for a project we were working on.  We were told to keep it to one sentence.  

A young man and woman from different 
social classes fall in love, must outwit her abusive fiancĂ©, and find a way to survive aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea. 
     - Logline from Titanic.   

Although it sounds simple, synthesizing your entire screenplay or novel into 25 words or less can be intimidating – or seem downright impossible.  And boy, did some of us create the longest, most run-on, convoluted sentences you ever laid eyes on.  I have never seen so many commas, semi-colons, dashes, hyphens or parentheses.

It was then I realized I’m not alone in finding it tough to tell the entire plot of my 110-page screenplay in one sentence, let alone worry about grabbing the interest of a potential producer at the same time.
Log Lines are critical. These are the short blurbs you see in the TV Guide, telling you something about the program listed. You'll also find Log Lines beside the title of books in book club brochures. These words are the real marketing tools.
You may have thought it was difficult to reduce your screenplay to a One Page, but squeezing it into a Log Line that is so exciting, so well-stated, that a reader will want to invite you to submit a script, is a real challenge... everyone finds it difficult, though. Esther Luttrell 
When professors discover that an aimless janitor is also a math genius, a therapist helps the young man confront the demons that are holding him back.
         -  Logline from Good Will Hunting
Loglines must include some very specific information.  One good online guide to logline structure I found online was written by Christopher Lockhart in his essay, I WROTE A 120 PAGE SCRIPT BUT CAN’T WRITE A LOGLINE: THE CONSTRUCTION OF A LOGLINE.  
His entire piece is insightful and well written.  It is well worth reading in it’s entirety, but I’ve included a few helpful tips below for your use.  I especially like his three formulas for a successful logline.

LOGLINE TIPS from Christopher Lockhart 

A logline should be 25 words or less and must express the core of the story without excess details.  The best loglines include as many of these elements as possible: hero, flaw, life changing event, opponent, ally, and battle.

A logline must answer these questions
            1.  Who is the main character?
            2.  Who or what is standing in the way of the main character?
            3.  What makes the story unique?

Use action words when writing your logline.

Add descriptive words to create an image that will stay in the mind of your reader. 
Here are three basic logline formulas. They're pretty simple and that allows you to put your focus on presenting your story, instead of trying to figure out some brilliant, but complicated logline structure.

1. Protagonist (has problem) and (must achieve goal) to solve that problem.
     Example: THE FUGITIVE
     Protagonist: A prominent doctor...
     Problem: ...wrongly convicted of killing his wife...
     Goal: ...escapes custody to find and expose the real killer.

2. Protagonist has (a goal) but (major obstacle) stands in his/her way.
     Example: THE MUMMY
     Protagonist: An archaeologist...
     Goal: ...seeks the treasure hidden inside one of the great pyramids...
     Obstacle: ...but must fight off thousands of mummies to get it.

3. (Situation) causes (main character) to face (largest obstacle) and (outcome)
     Example: LIAR LIAR 
     Situation: Son makes birthday wish...
     Main Character: ...shyster attorney...
     Largest Obstacle: ...must reveal the truth...
     Outcome: ...reveal the truth to everyone, including his son.
Writing something short and exciting is never easy. It takes practice. A lot of it.  Read and study professionally written loglines in TV guides (sometimes “iffy), newspapers, Variety, Internet film reviews… anything you can that will help you express your story concept in one sentence. - Christopher Lockhart
After writing dozens of loglines for a screenplay I’m working on, I decided to follow Lockhart’s advice and began researching loglines online, on Netflix, etc.  I also recently shared my logline with a screenwriter's group.  I've found some helpful examples and the feedback I received helped...but I'm still searching for the perfect wording.  

How about you?  Do you have a logline or elevator pitch you used or use when pitching your book or screenplay?  What logline did you use to sell your project to a publisher or producer? 


elizabethbrinton said...

Brilliant. It would be a good idea to have a logline figured out, before even starting to write. If you can nail it easily, you have a story. On the other hand, if you write an entire novel and then cannot figure out a logline, you have a problem.

Mary Jane Honegger said...

You're right, Elizabeth, many say a writer should start with a great logline, which helps keep you focused s you write. What is your elevator pitch (or logline) for My American Eden, Mary Dyer; Martyr for Freedom?