Back in 2001, I read SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder, mostly because I’d read so much about it and how important it would be for me as a writer, even if I never intended to write a screenplay. The subtitle is The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need.
I’ve been writing for 17 more years. I’m sure I got something out of it the first time I read it, but I’m reading it again, having just found another copy in a library book sale.
What I’ve learned in these past 10 years of mostly editing works written by others, is that writing that is not powerful, tight, well-paced, and interesting is not going to sell to anyone other than friends and family members who don’t want to hurt our feelings. If there is anything that earmarks a good screenplay, it’s powerful, tight, well-paced and interesting scenes. The correlation is unmistakable to me now, even if it was vague in earlier years. (Like so many things, actually.)
One of the first things I’ve learned to ask my authors to do is to write their LOGLINE. Why? Well, for a few reasons. First of all, I know it’s going to take them a while. And they are going to struggle with it. And both of those things are good. One thing we need in this business, in large quantities, is patience.
Making it memorable instead of forgettable
“So, Jim, what have you been doing? Ever get that book written?”
“Sure did! Going to be published, too.”
“That’s great. What’s it about?”
“Well, it’s sort of about a guy and he’s like been selling cars and he hates it, but because his father abandoned him, he decides to get a dog, and then ….”
At that point, Jim’s friend’s eyes glaze over and he’s mentally gone to Tahiti. If Jim had developed his logline, he’d have hooked the friend – and that friend would be sharing with other friends. Instead, Jim’s story sounds awful and the friend won’t remember a thing about the book – except maybe that Jim wrote it and that it sounded lame.
Reason # 2 –
Provides focus. Is the story powerful enough to hold up for a compelling novel? Is the topic broad – or narrow – enough to be a dynamic offering to that readership? If not, you may not have the right logline. But more importantly, you may not have the right story. Be great to realize that before putting in a year of your time writing, yes?
Reason #3 –
Confidence builder. When we are confident about things, we are excited to share them. Once you have that logline done and you know in your DNA that it says what the story is, clearly and concisely, you will not fear that question that so many dread: “What is it about?”
So, what’s a good logline need to have? Brevity for one thing. This is ONE LINE. And not a thirty-seven-word line, either.
Irony is the most important element of a great logline, according to Snyder. And isn’t that true? We are intrigued by the ironies. They keep us thinking about things.
- “A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend.” (Pretty Woman)
- “A cop comes from LA to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists.” (Die Hard)
It has to create a strong visual – and your word choices will be really important here. Screenwriters think in terms of visualizing the movie from the logline and don’t readers want the same thing? They want to be captivated and taken away. In fiction, this could include your timeline, too – is it one night, one week, one month? The shorter the timeline, the faster the pacing – works for all the genres.
Who is the audience? Again, your word choices and placement must be readership appropriate. The horror genre doesn’t expect a funny logline, right? A humor reader doesn’t expect to read a gory or terrifying hook. Irony is one thing but the wrong audience is another case altogether.
You need a killer title. Can the title lend to the irony? The genre? The visual effect? Often it can. Work at it. Hey, all of this is going to take work. Sometimes it takes me longer to come up with a logline than it does to do the outline and sometimes it comes from doing my outline.
Don’t take the easy way out, here. You have already invested – or you are going to invest – many months and maybe years of your time and energy to write a book. Nailing down your LOGLINE really is a power tool! It’s the difference between nailing 200 deck boards by hand or having a pneumatic nailer.
Get it right. Make sure that the focus of your book is right before you write for months and years, and you’ll be well on your way to training yourself to be a productive writer.
Keep reading and writing, my friends. See you next week. NQ