The Single Sentence…

blog2 IMG_2859That will SELL Your Script
If you’ve already written your movie script, you might want to scroll back up to the very beginning and start re-reading that masterpiece. (Go ahead, I’ll wait while you weep and cut open another vein. I’ve been there, too.)
If you haven’t written anything yet, good! Now you can start the right way—with one single sentence. If you absolutely have to, maybe two sentences. (But, for God’s sake, stop there!)

We’re talking about the main idea of your story, or what we call a logline. You’ll the word is LOGLINE, not loglines. It’s one sentence.

RELATED: How to Write a Super Successful Treatment.

I know what you’re thinking—there’s no way I can pack all the twists and turns, all the great characters I wrote, all that meaty goodness into one sentence.

You Must Get Pithy!
A logline describes a movie in one sentence. It is the complete premise of your story.

One of the major reasons most writers fail with their screenplay is because they don’t (really) know the premise of their story. If you’re thinking, “I do know! But, there’s a bunch of things this story is about…” I understand. Your story has an intricate plot, maybe even a subplot or two, characters with villains, heroes and maybe even an antihero, and so forth.

It’s far too complicated to write one sentence that describes it all.

And you’re wrong.

It boils down to this—your logline is the foundation of your entire story. It’s the promise of what we can expect to see when it becomes a movie. And yes, it can be narrowed down to one single sentence.

It’s also the single most important selling device you have when it comes to your screenplay. Producers and studios won’t listen to you—they want to read a logline.

The Technique of Being Pithy
If you’ve gone back to the beginning of your story, and are trying to write your logline, think about what it was, the general idea of your story, at the time you started writing it. If you haven’t written it yet, start exploring the main ideas of what makes this story unique and exciting for you.

The technique is the same no matter where you are in the process. I’ve read scripts, watched completed films, and movies still in post-production when the film was up to 4 ½ hours long—all in the effort to write one sentence.

Start with a series of ideas that lay out the central challenge to solve in the story. This is the most important part. If you need some practice, or get frustrated, take the summaries of feature films that have already been completed, and try to narrow down the premise to one sentence. It gets you into the practice of writing pithy.

Let the Idea Blossom
Write as many ideas as you can. Put it aside and come back to it later with fresh eyes. Explore where the story might go, how it might blossom, and summarize with one sentence (or two) that provides attention-grabbing verbiage.

The real difficulty isn’t simply crafting the sentence; it’s making it clear, finite, succinct. It also doesn’t lead to questions about what your movie is about. The logline should sell itself. It’s as simple—and difficult—as that. The difference between taglines and loglines is that a tagline is meant to tease an audience, whereas a logline is a clear idea of what your story is (or will be) about.

As you work through ideas, the logline should provide the following:

Here are some good examples of loglines taken from “Honest loglines for Famous Scripts.” You might recognize the movie based on the logline, but if you don’t, the answers are below.

  1.    “In the distant future a desperate war is ripping apart an endangered alien planet until a battle-hardened hero fights to preserve the twinkling beauty of the rainforest and the lucrative future of stereoscopic 3D glasses.”
  2.    “A band of mis-matched labourers are called up to board a space shuttle, fly it into space, land it on a moving rock (roughly the size of Texas), drill a hole on the moving rock and blow it up before it collides with Earth, all to a soft-rock soundtrack. The title will be something end-of-the-world based.”
  3.    “One man’s compelling struggle against poverty, poorly tended public toilets and India’s answer to Chris Tarrant.”
  4.    “An intergalactic saga which begins as a simple tale of one boy’s destiny, an ancient religion and infuriating computer generated sidekicks.”
  5.    “An unassuming US Navy chef and a band of vicious mercenaries. Essentially, Die Hard on a boat.”
  6.    “On an infamous doomed vessel, a street-wise hustler crosses paths with a stifled aristocratic dreamer to create an unsinkable love story. And a suspiciously accurate erotic drawing.”
  7.    “A high-octane action adventure that offers a dizzying glimpse into the thrills, adrenaline-fuelled battles and elongated volleyball montages that characterise the world of elite Naval aviators.”
  8.    “Vietnam, Sixties counterculture, Watergate. A Southern simpleton has a bumbling hand in some of the 20th century’s biggest events in this touching story of love, courage over adversity and snappily-named shrimp chains.”

1. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace   2. Under Siege   3. Slumdog Millionaire   4. Titanic   5. Armageddon   6. Top Gun   7. Avatar   8. Forrest Gump

Jennifer B. White is an award-winning director, writer and Hollywood copywriter and tagline writer. All her opinions and photos are her own. 

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