Writing Loglines: Please, Notice Me!

What is a logline? They are often described as a short, one or two-sentence summary of a story. It’s different from longer summaries and some refer to the idea as an “elevator pitch”, but others distinguish between a “pitch” and a “logline.”

For the purpose of this article, a logline is a short summary intended to generate interest in your story.

You want a logline that will encourage people to stick around for any longer summaries, or better yet, one that encourages them to engage with your work! (Or pledge to your Kickstarter campaign.) Regardless of what your story is about, the less effort it takes for people to understand what you’re going for, the more people will be interested.

The overall question: what parts of your story do you mention when describing it to other people? It depends! Read on to find out.

TL;DR: Short, clear pitches that highlight ironic contrasts, genre-relevant details, the main characters, and significant conflicts make it easier for people in (and out of) your target audience to care about your story!

Audience

One of the first things to know: Who is your audience?

Start with yourself! You, the creator, will enjoy the work more when it contains things you care about. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What drew you to this concept?
  • What are you excited to write about?
  • What do you feel is missing or uncommon in your favorite genre/piece of media?

Regardless of your feelings about yourself or your tastes, there are billions of people on this planet. Chances are some of them like the same things as you, even if those interests are really specific. Some people in your audience feel like they’re in a desert of content. Be their oasis!

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with aiming for a wider appeal. If you happen to like something like “people with mysterious powers fight monsters,” for example, there’s all sorts of existing media like that and you’ll have an easier time finding people who would be interested in more. It’ll be harder to answer what makes your project stand out from all the similar ones, but pay extra attention to that third question about what you feel is lacking in your inspiration points. Does your project include that? If so, try to convey it.

Genre

No matter how niche or broad your idea’s appeal is, you also want to know what is the genre?

In the previous section, I mentioned the specific idea of “people with mysterious powers fight monsters,” but that could be approached in a variety of ways. The urban fantasy version of that story will be different from the spaghetti western one.

“Genre” is a slippery term, but here’s my personal definition: genre can be thought of as a collection of storytelling expectations, moods, and themes.

You can discuss these in very broad terms (action, horror, comedy), more specific terms (western, slasher, slapstick), or even more specific terms. Once you get under the broad umbrella (romance, for example), you’ll often find a variety of subgenres or genre combinations (queer historical romantic comedy). You can mix and match many different things, but it bears repeating: be able to describe your idea in terms of genre.

Expectations

What happens in other media that’s in this genre?

Whether you’re thinking as broadly as “drama” or as narrow as “post-apocalyptic coming of age story,” there are other things in that genre and you can learn a lot from them. Pay attention to things highly rated or well-known within that genre, see how people describe them and how those things are marketed.

Regardless of how you feel about the quality of something popular, chances are it’s influenced what other people in that genre expect.

If you go into a light-hearted, slice-of-life story and then halfway through it turns into a murder mystery, you might win some people over with the “twist,” but you’ll alienate people who expected a fun slice-of-life story. Even things that assume a light-hearted front to reveal something sinister often include red flags and subtle cues from the beginning, because they’re trying to appeal to people who like that sort of bait-and-switch, not people who are just interested in cute, relaxing, slice-of-life.

Mood

What sorts of emotions do you want in your story? What do the characters feel?

Characters in a horror story often experience dread, fear, and foreboding, but these same emotions can found in comedy as well: think of that sense of secondhand embarrassment or fear of social humiliation some comedies use to create tension.

So what is it that separates these two? You might “feel” an answer in your gut even if it’s hard to word, and this is how determining mood can go. You Feel It. Or you could identify a genre beforehand, look at the emotions that typically come up, and then intentionally build those feelings into your work.

It’s unlikely for an enjoyable story to have only one emotion. Many have a small number that show up a lot and can be very specific emotions. (Such as saudade, a sense of painful longing often seen in Brazilian/Portuguese media, and even that explanation probably doesn’t do it justice.)

The important thing is to identify some of the feelings in your work, and think of words, images, or anything else that help you convey them to someone else. Easy, right?*

* no, it is hard but good to try. This is one of the more abstract parts of what you can try to convey in a logline. In general it’s good to know what overall mood and tone you want to strike in the rest of your writing.

Theme

What large-scale ideas are in the story? What topics are present? What questions does it ask?

Different genres appeal to different sets of emotions and experiences. Romances focus on a specific relationship or set of relationships, which implies even a basic idea of “relationships are important.” Is that something to emphasize in your marketing? Probably not phrased like that, but if your pitch emphasizes a specific relationship and the conflict of the story centers on that relationship’s outcome, you just might have something that includes romance as a genre.

Romances also tend to ask the basic question of: how will the protagonist(s) end up in a successful relationship? Horror stories often ask things like: which characters will survive? Mysteries often ask: who was responsible for the crime and will they be brought to justice?

These are only a few examples. Answering questions like “what makes an action movie an action movie?” is a big one, turns out, and you can spend a lot of time trying to understand that. Everyone has their own interpretations, but if you spend time with media that is described as “action,” you’ll come up with your own answers.

How do you know what genre your story is in?

  • What kind of emotional notes or ideas do you focus on?
  • What are recurring topics and/or themes?
  • What is the setting?
    • Sometimes this has a big impact on what people expect. This goes beyond whether or not something is set in the “real” world: something with an emphasis on military surroundings may or may not be described as “military fiction,” for example.

In your logline, you may or may not have an explicit mention of a genre. You could describe something as a “thriller,” or you could say “a spine-tingling game of cat and mouse.” Neither is inherently superior, but your intended genre(s) should come through one way or another.

Genre by Crowd

How do you talk about visual novels to others?

The terminology used to refer to ideas can change a lot between different mediums and even just different crowds working in the same medium. For example: what do you say when your game has romance between two women?

  • gay (catch-all, vague, some people prefer this to refer to men)
  • lgbt+ (and other variations of this acronym. Catch-all, vague, and can carry content expectations about the work itself and/or the other characters.)
  • queer (catch-all, vague, is still a slur and not everyone likes this description. Means many different things to many different people, and for some this implies content assumptions about the nature of the work)
  • gxg (girl x girl, harder to understand for people outside the EVN scene, “girl” can imply a younger or less mature pairing than “women”)
  • f/f (female/female, common in books/comics, but less so in EVN circles I’ve personally seen. If you google f/f games, you get some interesting results.)
  • lesbian (specific, but it’s more common to see this define people, not media, and can also have assumptions of a particular “culture”)
  • yuri (a VERY specific genre with its own content, mood, and theme expectations)

…And there are still other terms you could use! Which ones you go for could depend on who you’re talking to. gxg has fewer assumptions than yuri, and both are easier to understand by people familiar with VNs. Using them can make it seem like you’re aware of common terminology. However, if you were talking to, say, people who read novels or are more “VN adjacent” in their media habits, f/f might be a good way to go.

If your work meets the common expectations of yuri, that may be more accurate and tells yuri fans that your work is for them! Keep in mind that different crowds are familiar with different genre terms.

This is one example, but you could go through this idea with otome, boy’s love, nukige…I’m not here to try and define these for you, but encourage you to think about how each of these genres work, how VN players talk about them, and how you might vary your language based on who you’re talking to.

It’s important to research your genres of interest!

Irony and Contrast

Even outside of pitches, these are powerful tools to add interest to your concepts. Irony can be thought of as a meaningful gap between expectation and reality. Irony is another extra-fuzzy term, so another word I use for this is Contrast™. It’s not always new or unique—tsundere characters act like they don’t care about someone while secretly they do care—but it can suggest that your concept has another layer to it. Whether a -dere character qualifies as a meaningful gap between expectation and reality is an exercise left to the reader.

You expect X, but you get Y. Whether applied to a person, place, or event, it can add interest. This contrast by itself won’t solve your problems, but it helps to present people with things that invite curiosity. Contradictions often make people curious.

A few examples of ironic concepts nicked from Matt Bird’s The Secrets of Story:

  • Silence of the Lambs: The only way to catch a serial killer is to work with another serial killer.
  • Groundhog Day: A man who just wants to get his least favorite day over with has to live it again and again.
  • Iron Man: An arms dealer is attacked with his own weapons and then declares war on arms dealing.

Character

A flashy concept can draw people in, but they tend to stay for the characters. “What makes a good character?” is a much larger topic, so the question for this is: how do you present your characters?

Questions About Characters

Surface, personality, profession

  • Surface: What is obvious just by looking at them? This could be something about their appearance, mannerisms, or anything else you can see at a glance.
  • Personality: What is their temperament like? Are they known for acting a certain way?
  • Profession: What is their job? If they don’t work, do they have a notable interest or hobby? These are useful descriptions to use in a logline because people often make assumptions about someone based on their profession.

When summarizing, it’s useful to pick two and leave it at that. Surface + profession, personality + profession, surface + personality.

An ironic combination of a personality trait and profession is a GREAT way to add interest. A loose-cannon janitor has a much different vibe than a loose-cannon cop.

Conflict

Like with characters, “what makes a good conflict?” is a different question than “how can you summarize conflict?”

Conflict usually asks your characters to do things that are hard to do, and hard to want to do. If a character doesn’t want to do something, but has to anyways because of reasons, that tends to generate Drama and Interest. This is great to highlight in a summary.

People tend to care about other people. Even if your conflict is primarily external, hinting at internal conflicts or conflicts between specific people draws attention. Adding a personal angle to a general problem makes it specific and oftentimes more interesting. For example: being hunted down is bad, but being hunted down by a family member is bad with a personal angle.

Questions About Conflict

  • Is the conflict important enough to worry about, for both the characters and your audience?
    • There is room in this world for small-scale, personal stories. Your summary doesn’t need life-or-death stakes, but it should sound like it matters to your characters, and if it’s something your audience sympathizes with and/or relates to, that’s even better.
  • Why does this specific character have this specific problem?
    • Vague conflicts that could happen to anyone tend to be less interesting than problems that directly involve your main character(s). The descriptions used for your characters (especially profession) can suggest natural links between character and problem. If you have a firefighter (or an arsonist, or both), chances are there will be a fire.
  • What is a specific event that introduces this conflict?
    • Often known as the inciting incident. This tends to be a great thing to mention in a summary.

Putting It All Together

So you know your audience, you know what they expect from the genres you’re writing in, you know how you want to describe your main character and conflict.

How do you get a logline? It takes many attempts, but here’s some formulas you could try out:

In a (SETTING) a (PROTAGONIST) has a (PROBLEM) (caused by an ANTAGONIST) and (faces CONFLICT) as they try to (achieve a GOAL). (from here)

When [INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS], a [SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST] must [OBJECTIVE], or else [STAKES]. (from here)

When [a major event happens], [the hero], must [do the main action]. (from here)

Sometimes plugging stuff into a formula gets you there. I recommend playing with the structure and reading your logline out loud.

Less detail is often more. Instead of long descriptions or proper names, go with short ones unless that long description or proper name is essential to understand the story. This is why people and places tend to be described in a simple adjective + noun combo.

When you’re working in such cramped quarters, think hard about what is the most important information to include. Just because you take something out of a logline/short pitch doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. You can put it in longer summaries, or more specific summaries (such as character information.)

Evocative language helps when you have minimal space. This does not mean “big, fancy words,” as big, fancy words are more likely to be a distraction. Evocative can be the difference between a scuffle and a struggle, or a crush and a soulmate. These are words that tend to have strong meanings attached to them, or suggest complex ideas in a single word. They evoke very specific emotions and ideas.

Specific + brief = easier to understand, even for complex ideas.

For example, “haunted” suggests ghosts or otherworldly things, but it can also be used in the context of guilt, or some past conflict that’s troubling characters into the present day. It is more evocative than something like “bother,” but the ghost that “pesters” people rather than “haunts” people is evocative in a different way. Learning what is considered “evocative” is quite subjective and it helps to get outside input.

You’ll see exact numbers tossed around as a limit, such as less than 50 words, or a 1 to 2 sentence summary, but give yourself breathing room. You can write something interesting that doesn’t conform to EXACT guidelines, but guidelines exist for a reason!

Ultimately, you want your logline to invite questions like “so what happens next?”

If all this sounds intimidating or like a lot of pressure, remember that your logline/pitch/whatever you want to call it is something you’ll refine over time. Chances are your first attempt won’t be perfect, but this is an excellent thing to ask for feedback on. These are short by design, which makes it quick to share and quick for people to form an opinion on.

You—yes, you, the person reading this—are making something that someone out there wants to see. I may not know what you’re working on, but there’s like-minded folks out there. Finding them can be challenging, but when you do find them, chances are you want your story to sound interesting. If you have an eye-catching description, one that’s brief and easy to show off, you’ll get more people interested in your stuff in general!

So go forth and write interesting things! ( ‘̀-‘́)ง

Articles and Videos

Check these out! They make many great points I don’t cover.

Writing a Killer Logline

Questions used to explain: who, what, where, when, how, and why

  • Who: Protagonist, antagonist
  • What: Problem
  • When, where: Setting
  • How: Conflict
  • Why: Goal

Killogator logline formula:

  • Setting: When and where your story takes place.
  • Protagonist: Who your main character is.
  • Problem: The issue or event that causes your Protagonist to take action.
  • Antagonist: Who or what tries to stop your Protagonist.
  • Conflict: The major obstacle, difficulty, or dilemma your protagonist faces.
  • Goal: What your Protagonist hopes to win, achieve, find, or defeat.

In a (SETTING) a (PROTAGONIST) has a (PROBLEM) (caused by an ANTAGONIST) and (faces CONFLICT) as they try to (achieve a GOAL).

Screenwriting: How To Write Compelling Loglines (video)

A good logline describes:

  • Protagonist
  • Goal/Problem
  • Antagonist or Obstacle
  • Genre

How to Write a Logline (video)

The four logline questions:

  • Who’s your main character?
    • Surface details? (What can you learn just by looking at them?)
    • Personality details?
    • If it’s a group or ensemble, what are the stand-out attributes of the group?
  • What do they want?
  • What’s in their way?
  • How do they overcome it?
    • Think in terms of actions and verbs.
  • Where does it take place?
    • This is optional, but can be useful to include if your setting is notable (like in sci-fi/fantasy stories where oftentimes the setting itself is part of the appeal, or historical fiction where the setting is part of the appeal)

It helps to look at A LOT of logline examples, then think about which ones you like/dislike and why you have that reaction.

logline.it is a website where you can post and rate loglines.

Author: pentagonbuddy


A robust worm. Where did they come from?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.