June 20, 2012

You want me to do what in 25 words or less?

Screenwriter and author, Cindy Carroll is our guest today for our WIP Wednesday...please help me in giving her a warm welcome!

You want me to do what in 25 words or less?

I love TV and movies. So much so that my cousin kept telling me I should probably write scripts for a living. The idea stuck in my head. I wrote two teleplays (scripts for TV) for my favourite show.  Then I found a lead for screenwriting but you had to submit a logline along with the script. Trouble was I’d written the script first and coming up with the logline was hard, really hard. Because I already knew everything about the story.

Then I took a screenwriting course. Devoured screenwriting books. And then I knew the secret. Write the logline before writing the script. Or, in my case now, the script or the book. It helps you stay focused as you write. If you keep the logline in mind you can quickly pull back from tangents and get back to the main story again.

What did I learn in those classes?  From those books? I learned what a logline is, what it isn’t and what should it have.

First, what is it? A logline is a short (25 words or less) description of what your book (or movie) is about. It should include the main character, what they want, why they can’t have it and the consequences if they can’t get what they want. It should allow the person reading it (or hearing it) to immediately envision what the book is about. It should be the premise, not the plot. It should generate story questions, but not story confusion. It should get the person on the receiving end excited about the story.

There are a few structures you can use:


 To stop A, character B must do C, but D happens.

When A happens, character B must take some action (C), but D happens.

Character B does something, then when A happens they must do C, but D happens.


This logline for one of my WIPs is twenty-three words.

When an informant turns up dead, a by-the-book undercover cop models men's underwear to uncover the killer and stop a DVD pirating ring.

Notice that I didn’t say:  When an informant turns up dead, undercover cop Mitch Pearson ends up modeling Cassidy’s men’s underwear collection to uncover the killer and stop a DVD pirating ring. So the consequences here aren’t spelled out. They’re implied. A killer will get away possibly to kill again. And DVDs will continue to be pirated. The best loglines spell out the consequences.

Notice what all of these have in common - there are no names in loglines.  Unless it’s about someone famous and that’s the hook.  It should be generic.  An adjective to describe the noun.  Of course there are always editors or agents who don’t mind a logline with names.  But in general I would leave them out.  Do include the genre.  If your story is a romance there should be a hero and a heroine in your logline.  If it’s science fiction the listener/reader should get that from the logline.  If it’s comedy that should show through in the logline.

A logline is not a tag line.  A tag line is that catchy movie poster phrase. A possible logline for Jaws: A sheriff struggles to protect his beach community after a grisly shark attack but greed rules the chamber of commerce.  One of the tag lines for the movie was:  Don’t go in the water.  Another example for a possible logline for the movie Alien: After responding to a distress signal a space crew is forced to confront a deadly alien who stows aboard their ship, leaving one member to fend for herself. But the tag line for the movie was:  In space no one can hear you scream.

See how the logline tells you what the story will be about?  The tag line is what movie goers will be quoting after the movie is over. Ever said to someone going to the beach, “Don’t go in the water!”

Coming up with a logline after you write the story is much harder than coming up with the logline first.  This is why I like to come up with a logline first and then write the story.  I keep referring to the logline as I write.  It forces me to stay on track.  Since I learned to write loglines I haven’t started a story without having the logline down pat first. I’ll think about the story and the characters. What they want, what gets in their way. What the consequences will be if they don’t get what they want.  But I don’t start writing until I know that logline, the essence of the story. And in every loglines class I’ve taught I’ve had students say how hard it is to come up with the logline after the story is written. Most say they’ll come up with the logline first for future books.

So how about it, anyone want to give it a try? What’s your book about in 25 words or less?



Cindy Carroll is a member of RWA and a graduate of Hal Croasmun's screenwriting ProSeries. She started out writing novels but turned to scripts when an idea for one of her favourite television shows wouldn't leave her alone. That first attempt, and her second teleplay for the same show, garnered her honourable mention in the Writer's Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition in the screenplay category. Her interviews with writers of CSI and  Flashpoint appeared in The Rewrit, the Scriptscene newsletter, the screenwriting Chapter of RWA. She writes screenplays, thrillers, and paranormals, occasionally exploring an erotic twist. Currently working on her third feature, Cindy is also developing two new television pilots. When she's not writing you can usually find her on Twitter.

5 comments:

  1. This is fabulous. Thank you for explaining it so fully.

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  2. Very educational -- I think it's a challenge to sum up an idea in 25 words or less -- but it will also reveal just how well a person understands that idea. ^_^

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  3. Not being an author, I never gave this much thought, but I can see how writing one before the book is finished can help because there's so much you'd want to put in at the end. The only problem I see is if the book substantially changes course from the original idea.

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  4. Great tips on how to write a log line - I'm not an author but I'm always looking for ways to describe things without giving away a lot of info or writing too much

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  5. Fine examples of an author painting word pictures.

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