A stand-out logline does a lot more than pitch your premise. When written and revised with intention, loglines also create clear, directive starting points for your story’s outline. Here’s why.
A logline—or one-sentence (preferably 25-words) pitch that conveys the Hero, Goal, and Problem driving your story—is the perfect place to “test the waters” for your premise. One of the greatest resources to logline writing comes from Blake Snyder’s notable work on scriptwriting, Save the Cat!; however, the four logline requirements discussed in the book are not necessarily applicable for every storyteller. At least, not in the writing stages.
For example, a writer doesn’t need to know their Killer Title—although essential to pitching/selling a story and something to seriously consider later—before outlining (and then writing) their story.
What is advantageous for a writer is awareness of the Do’s and Don’ts of logline writing, and above all else, how the logline applies the expectations of that story’s genre.
Let’s break this down.
The Best Resource for Writing Loglines and Story Grid
So maybe there’s no “one logline structure to rule them all,” but I’d argue that understanding two top-tier storytelling resources will help you write a better logline than most anyone else.
These resources are: Save the Cat! and The Story Grid.
On the Save the Cat! website (STC), a couple posts provide succinct explanation of the Do’s and Don’ts of logline writing and how you should drive logline structure specific to genre. You can read more (and after you finish this blog, I recommend you do) about this here.
Meanwhile, The Story Grid peals apart the intricate layers of genre like nothing I’ve ever experienced, so much so that I went “all-in” and completed my Story Grid editing certification. If you haven’t already delighted yourself with a taste of Story Grid genre cheat sheets, you can (and should) read Story Grid editor Rachelle Stewart Ramirez’s genre archives here.
The obstacle at hand? The Story Grid doesn’t dig into logline outlining/writing. Instead, it concentrates on the heavy-lifting needed to guide writers as they unpack what works and doesn’t work in a story as a whole. Loglines don’t require such extensive detail. They thrive on simplicity, even if writing a unique, catchy logline can sometimes paralyze a writer more than the blank page.
The fact of the matter is, loglines are inevitable tasks somewhere in the storytelling/publishing/pitching process. For instance, a writer will benefit from a stand-out logline in the querying and elevator pitch stages.
So, if you’re going to need a logline eventually, why not write it first and do it well? And why not use a hybrid logline template that upholds the Big Three discussed in Save the Cat! assimilated with the genre expectations unraveled in The Story Grid?
Welcome to the purpose of this post.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Loglines
In a post on Save the Cat!, Naomi Beaty reveals the Do’s and Don’ts of loglines.
Before diving into this, she sets up a logline template:
“Someone (the protagonist) wants something (the story goal) and goes after it against great odds and/or obstacles (the antagonist and the conflict).”
Then, she digs into the Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do…write a logline that gives a solid picture of the story, but is also succinct so that the listener doesn’t get bored or confused.
- Do…write a logline during the developmental process—preferably the first thing you do for a story idea.
- Do…play around with loglines in a quick and easy way (low risk!) to begin making choices about your story.
- Do…clarify the Big Three (the protagonist, the story goal, and the antagonist) in one sentence.
- Do…identify the three elements of genre in one-sentence to make the logline even stronger.
- Don’t…forget to tell us how the protagonist will go against the great odds and obstacles (this tells us what to expect in Act II/Middle Build).
- Don’t…describe an Act II/Middle Build that could be easily solved with one decision or action.
- Don’t…provide so many details that the logline becomes confusing and/or boring, which you can avoid by concentrating on the logline fundamentals.
Makes sense, right? And yet good loglines are still tremendously difficult to write. I’ll tell you why: these Do’s and Don’ts, while brilliant, don’t dig into genre nearly as much as they should.
MY LOGLINE TEMPLATE: A hybrid template to writing a logline that applies Save the Cat! and Story Grid structure essentials
Strong outlines apply STC’s Big Three but great loglines apply the Big Three in addition to Story Grid essentials, including genre, conventions, and global value shifts.
As much as I love the STC genre types, I do think they lean towards more formulaic understandings of story. The intent, I believe, is to simplify what writers need to highlight in a logline for minimalism’s sake. However, based on my teaching and editing experience, I’ve also seen how limiting a canvas to three principles can unintentionally paralyze a writer’s construction of a logline.
Writers struggle to communicate what they need to say because they think they can only say it in one way. Basically, offering only one logline template can rely too heavily on the Big Three, making it produce cool ideas but not always concepts that can carry a story from start to finish. I would argue that the Big Three are absolutely necessary for a catchy logline—but there’s more to consider if a writer wants a logline that stands-out instead of one that simply works.
Enter, Story Grid.
Story Grid genres dodge the limitations framing STC genre types by dissecting story conventions and expectations at the atomic level: Story Grid categorizes genre by patterns that pave plot from everything that ranges from life value shifts to controlling ideas to core emotions to obligatory scenes and conventions (it even provides types of sub-genres for the genre). Think of Hemmingway’s Iceberg Theory for books compared to film, that’s what the Story Grid does for genre (Story Grid being the book).
While more intense, the intricacy of each SG genre provides a compass for writers as they break down their story’s macro and micro fundamentals and necessities. This supplies a broader tool for writers who are trying to craft a logline but continually feel like they’re coming up short.
Being an Outline Instructor and Editor, it only makes sense that I would enthusiastically encourage writers to start their story by outlining it (no matter where you fall on the Outline Spectrum). The best way to begin this process is by writing a logline.
To do this, I don’t want to make you choose between the Save the Cat! template or The Story Grid’s understanding of genre. I see immense value in both.
That’s why I’ve designed a hybrid logline template for you to use instead.
In this hybrid, I recommend ways on how to apply the Big Three (Hero/Protagonist, Goal, Problem/Antagonist/Conflict) in Save the Cat! and the genre types, conventions, and global value shifts instructed in The Story Grid.
The 12 Genres for my Longline Template Hybrid
[A Few Clarifications: I’ve explained in detail what the Big Three are but let’s review the three elements I pull from Story Grid for the OW² Logline Template.
– Conventions are “specific requirements in terms of the Story’s cast or methods in moving the plot forward (minor revelatory turning points that must be there but can be weaved into the story at the writer’s discretion)” – Shawn Coyne
– The Global Value Shift is the movement in the protagonist’s life value, which is determined by the story’s genre. This movement is portrayed as a shift between the positive and negative values of a global spectrum. During this movement, the character often flows between a lot of gray zone that works as middlemen (values) on the spectrum, but ultimately there are two values that frame the spectrum where a protagonist’s life value shifts from the beginning to end. This shift represents a clear picture of how the protagonist changed and grew from start to finish. (Learn more about Value Shifts in This Podcast and This Post.)
***For example, The Hunger Games is an Action Story (external genre) that runs on the Global Value Shift of life to death/damnation, and this is the main value threatening Katniss from the moment she volunteers as tribute to the berry scene.***
Keep in mind that while genre should be clear in your logline, not all of genre conventions need to be braided into your logline since loglines do not give away the ending; they merely touch upon what viewers/readers can expect in Act II/The Middle Build. It is also important to notice that the Global Value Shift for each genre is subtly brought to attention in the one-sentence, not stated verbatim. If your sentence nails its genre, the global value shift should organically arise because our minds are biologically wired to recognize patterns based on stories we’ve been exposed to in our lifetimes.
Genre sets-up viewer/reader expectations, so getting your genre right before you start writing is one of the most important things you can do in the outlining process. Finding out the genre you’re really writing starts here, with one-sentence.]
Now, on to the Story Grid genres and essentials!
Consider this breakdown when using my logline template:
Story Type: Conventions
Description of the genre expectations.
Global Value Shift:
Here We Go
ACTION STORY: Hero/Victim/Villain Dynamic, Hero’s Desire is to Stop the Villain and Save the Victim, Large Power Divide, Sudden Event, Stakes are Life or Death
An unwitting hero begins with a life-threatening event, either casual or coincidental, and must take on the life or death situation lest they end with disaster.
Global Life Value Shift: Life to Death/Damnation
Example: A starving sixteen-year-old voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games: a televised competition in which two teenagers from each of the twelve districts of Panem are chosen at random to fight to the death. (THE HUNGER GAMES)
WAR STORY: Soldiers with Unique Central Character, Big Canvas/Setting, Overwhelming Odds, Inevitability of Death, Sacrifice
Set in a war, a unique soldier bands with comrades to fight in a war where they will either fight righteously in order to prevail or risk crumbling and dying in disgrace.
Global Life Value Shift: Dishonorable Defeat (Presented as Honorable) to Victory with Honor
Example: A skilled soldier and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill a notorious Taliban leader, but when the team is caught and little help is within reach, the team must fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare. (LONE SURVIVOR)
LOVE STORY: Incomplete Hero, Love Triangle, Helpers and Hinderers, Gender Divide, External Need, Opposing Forces, Secrets, Rituals, Moral Weight
An incomplete hero must rise above an externally difficult situation in order to achieve romance, peace, and sexual intimacy with a unique and unlikely partner.
Global Life Value Shift: Hate Masquerading as Love to Intimacy
Example: A stubborn and poor country girl continually rejects a single, rich, and proud gentleman who, despite her loathing of him and the reality that she lives beneath his class, has reluctantly fallen in love with her—he hopes to entice her to fall for him. (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE)
CRIME STORY: Crime, Known MacGuffin, Red Herrings, Manipulation, Ticking Clock
A crime is committed, calling a protagonist to become personally involved with the investigation of the crime; this pays off with the identification of the perpetrators or the perpetrators escaping and allowing injustice to win.
Global Life Value Shift: Tyranny to Justice
Example: A detective comes out of retirement when his industrialist friend is brutally murdered a short while after a local widow who was suspected of killing her husband commits suicide. (THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD)
THRILLER STORY: MacGuffin, Red Herrings, Villain Victimizes the Hero, Ticking Clock, External Becomes Internal
A flawed (and victimized) protagonist is thrown into a disturbing, realistic catharsis that reaffirms the sanctity of the individual in mass society.
Global Life Value Shift: Life to Damnation
Example: With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent. (GONE GIRL)
HORROR STORY: Monster that Can’t be Reasoned With and Whose Power Continues to Grow (and is off-screen as long as possible), Labyrinths or other Closed-Off Settings, Perpetual Discomfort, Sadomasochistic Flip Flop, Attacks also Experienced From a Distance (uses technology)
A protagonist commits a sin that pits a victim or multiple victims against impossible odds and a supernatural, scientifically explainable or ambiguous monster possessed by Evil and intent on annihilation.
Global Life Value Shift: Life to Death would be a Mercy
Example: A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where a sinister presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from both past and future. (THE SHINING)
WESTERN STORY: Harsh/Hostile/Wide-Open Landscape, Clear Hero/Victim/Villain, Hero Wants to Stop the Villain, Hero Operates Outside the Law, Power Divide, Stakes are Freedom
An unbound protagonist who is both condemned and exalted by society single-handedly takes on a master villain to defend the powerless after a major threat.
Global Life Value Shift: Subjugation Perceived as Freedom to Freedom/Autonomy
Example: After being diagnosed with cancer, an aging gunslinger spends his last days looking for a way to die with a minimum of pain and a maximum of dignity. (THE SHOOTIST)
SOCIETY STORY: Ensemble Cast with Central Character, Big Canvas/Setting, Revolution and/or Rebellion, Point of No Return that Creates a Clear Power Shift, Vanquished are Doomed to Exile, Large Power Divide, Ironic win-but-lose or lose-but-win Ending
Driven by an ensemble cast, an outsider sets out to save his/her individuality by going against the many who wish to integrate him/her into their fold by culminating a revolutionary event that shifts the power from one segment of the social order to another.
Global Life Value Shift: Impotence/Unwellness Masked as Power/Strength to Personal Power/Well-Being
Example: After painfully mistreated and disrespected, a young black pianist becomes embroiled in the lives of an upper-class white family set among the racial tension, infidelity, violence, and other nostalgic events in the early 1900s New York City. (RAGTIME)
PERFORMANCE STORY: Strong Mentor, Training, All is Lost Moment that Acknowledges there is No Getting Around Imminent Failure, Mentor Recovers Moral Compass or Betrays Protagonist, Large Power Divide, Ironic win-but-lose or lose-but-win Ending
An underdog with a big purpose is forced to display all his/her gifts under duress and society’s critical evaluation or succumb to the prejudices used to plague and destroy him/her.
Global Life Value Shift: Respected Publicly but Self-Ashamed to Honored/Respected
Example: An unknown baseball player whose career is sidetracked when shot by a mysterious woman comes out of nowhere to become a legendary player with almost divine talent. (THE NATURAL)
STATUS STORY: Strong Mentor, Shapeshifters and Hypocrites, Herald or Threshold Guardian is a Striver who Sold Out, Truth Will Out Moment where Protagonist Knows things can Never Be the Same, Ironic win-but-lose or lose-but-win Ending, Deals with Failure and Success
A weak, striving, or principled protagonist internally explores social mobility and the nature of success after an external antagonist or force threatens the protagonist’s ability to escape their current state or threat of failure.
Global Life Value Shift: Selling Out to Success
Example: After her father goes missing and is presumed dead, a young girl must remain true to her values during her servitude at a boarding school, despite the strict and unimaginative regimen desperately trying to contain her. (A LITTLE PRINCESS)
WORLDVIEW STORY: Strong Mentor, Big Social Problem (racism, misogyny, class conflict, etc.), Shapeshifters and Hypocrites, Clear Point of No Return, Ironic win-but-lose or lose-but-win Ending
A troubled hero’s only way to overcome a spiraling life crisis is to defeat the cognitive dissonance upsetting their life balance, a victory that can only be won by shifting their view of reality.
Global Life Value Shift: Negatives Masked as Positives to Sophistication, Belief, Meaning, and/or Wisdom
Example: Set in Depression-era South, an untamed girl experiences a crisis of conscience when her lawyer father defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his children, against prejudice. (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD)
MORALITY STORY: Despicable Protagonist Begins at their Worst, Spiritual Mentor/Sidekick, Seemingly Impossible Conflict, Ghosts/Skeletons from Protagonist’s Past, Aid from Unexpected Sources, Ending that Shows the Protagonist Self-Sacrifice for All or Masks Selfishness as Altruism
A despicable and/or condemned protagonist sets out on a path for redemption in hopes of actively changing his/her moral compass on a scale that runs from corruption to virtue—he/she is also often punished most by their worst enemy—him or herself.
Global Life Value Shift: Selfishness Masked as Altruism to Self-Sacrifice For All Humanity
Example: After a terrible accident, a man scarred by a fateful secret embarks on an extraordinary journey of redemption by forever changing the lives of seven strangers. (SEVEN POUNDS)
My Logline Challenge to Kickstart Your Outline!
I’ll be the first to admit that loglines are tough to write. They’re also necessary, so when you do write them, stick to the essentials and fundamentals. Often when I’m working with writers who get too wordy, it’s because they’re trying to shove multiple genre types into 25-words. Don’t do this.
Instead, use my hybrid Logline Template to experiment with multiple genre types by writing several drafts of your logline…and switch up your genre choice. It’s foolish to assume that only one genre makes a story unique and memorable. There’s always crossover!
That being said, one genre should rise above the rest in order to set up clear reader and audience expectations. This is the genre you need to talk up in your logline. Does one of your logline types stand out more than the others? Does it target the crucial details your readers/audience will want to see and read?
Steps to Writing YOUR Logline
1. Read over the Logline Template for each genre. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the Big Three and Story Grid’s Genre types, Conventions, and Global Value Shifts before continuing. Email me if you’re confused.
2. Pick five genres on the list to try. It’s likely that your story idea has crossover, so testing out multiple genres really is worth your while. Read over each genre type a few times and visualize your protagonist, their want/goal, the conflict, and how they will shift/change from beginning to end.
3. Use the formula below to pinpoint your Big Three while keeping your genre choice in mind. (P.S. It’s ok to mix it up!)
The hero (protagonist) + what he/she wants + what he/she does or needs to do (plot) + irony in the story (to hook) + main antagonist/conflict preventing him/her from getting want (power divide) + the global value scale driving your story (purpose).
4. Write your loglines in one-sentence (ideally about 25-words). Keep it in present tense and write lots of versions. I’d recommend three loglines for every genre you picked, but you can do this at will. Everyone works differently, and that’s cool. However many sentences you choose to write, use the Longline Template from this post for guidance!
5. Pick your three favorites! Are they all in the same genre? Is there a mix? No problem if there is or isn’t, it’s just always nice to exercise self-awareness.
6. Pitch your three contenders to your future readers—not just your friends. Bonus points for courageous peeps who find a “goal” agent or editor and DM/tweet it to them. Who knows, you might get some happy and/or productive feedback.
7. Send your logline to me! I’m happy to give feedback to anyone who does. You can do this by emailing me at abigailkperry [AT] gmail [DOT] com or tweeting me @abigailkperry
8. Take a breath. Reward yourself with something awesome! Prepare yourself for the future steps in my 5-Steps to a Story Plan.
*Psst* Did you know I’m a certified Story Grid Editor who specializes in Story Plans? Loglines are terrific way to kickstart your story concept, but it’s only the first step in my 5-Steps to a Story Plan process. If you’d like to tackle a Story Plan with an editor, check out my Story Plan editing service or set up a free consultation call with me to learn more.
Until then, and happy writing!