The Importance of a Logline
by Wulf Moon
Screenwriters call it a logline. Writers call it an elevator pitch. Tomato, tomahto. Well, almost. I'll explain.
A logline is a one or two sentence summary of a television show or movie used to describe what the story is about. Screenwriters also use them as a tool to focus their scripts on the heart of their stories before they write them. Writers call it an elevator pitch, because they practice summing up their stories in one or two sentences to pitch them to agents and editors.
Why is an elevator involved? The thought is if you're at a convention and an editor is riding on an elevator with you and asks you what you're working on, you've only got a sentence or two to capture their interest before the elevator reaches their floor. A fast hook is critical, whether the pitch happens in the opening of a pitch session, in a hallway, at a banquet dinner, at bar con, or yes, riding up an elevator to your room. A well-planned pitch can pique the curiosity of an editor and move them to ask for more details, and hopefully, to give you their card.
I like the term logline because screenwriters use it the way I encourage my masterclass attendees to use it: to provide focus to their stories and novels before they write them. An effective logline can keep a writer on track, aiding them to remember why they decided to write the story in the first place. Focused stories are powerful. They don't wander all over the map because the logline acts like a pin in the map that marks the destination. When you know where you're going, it's less likely you'll get lost.
Elements of a Logline
In several of my masterclasses, I have attendees take their story idea and interesting main character and do a brief stream-of-consciousness session, putting words down on anything that comes to mind. This provides raw material to build their story from. Next, I ask them to sift through that material and create a sentence or two about who and what that story is about. Their logline must include the name of their character and some idea of who they are, where the story is set, what's their Heart's Desire, and who or what is trying to keep it from them. Boom. That's a logline.
Now, I don't expect them to go hop on the nearest elevator and pop it on the next editor heading to their suite. I expect them to craft a logline that will tell the writer what their story is about. If they can figure out how to sum up their story and the conflict in one or two sentences, they've got their pin in the map. They now know who their story is about, what their name is, where they are at, what they care about dearly, and who or what that's trying to take their Heart's Desire from them.
Pantsers--those writers who like to write by the seat of their pants--will say, "Wait just a minute, Moon! I write by discovery. These things only appear to me after I wander around the map at my leisure until I find the story. Don't tell me I have to plan something. I'm not one of those."
I have no problem pantsing--I do a lot of it myself. But not before I know who my story is about, what my story is about, and where it's supposed to go. Otherwise, that's exactly what my story will do--wander all over the map until it finds itself. And when a story wanders, it's boring. It frustrates readers because they too are wondering where is this story going? Are we lost?
A good logline fixes all of that. If you can lock down a character, in a setting, with a Heart's Desire, and the opposing force putting it at risk, all in one or two sentences, it's unlikely you'll forget that as you write. Especially if you jot it on a sticky note and fix it to your monitor. Your story now has a purpose in your mind, and that purpose is going to keep your story on track.
Here's my logline for my story in Writers of the Future, Vol. 35. "Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler is a story about Dixie, a twelve-year-old disabled girl that lives on the moon, and her life support robodog that comes into great danger trying to protect her."
One sentence, right? Note that in that sentence, I named my main character: Dixie. I got in her age: she's twelve years old. I established her condition: she's disabled. I listed that which is most dear to her: her life-support robodog. And I stated that the thing most dear to her will face opposition when it tries to protect her. I could have named who in the story would cause that opposition, but in this case, I don't want to give that away. It's enough that you know Dixie's dear companion that keeps her alive is going to face great danger. A girl on the moon with a life-support robodog? And there's danger involved in this story? Yes, please! Count me in.
That's a hook. Not just for an editor that the writer may one day pitch the novel to, but to hook the writer into the purpose of their story so that while they're writing it, they keep their plot on track.
I've watched many writers try to describe their novel or story idea in a sentence or two. They can't. You ask them to give you a brief description of their novel, and they'll list every warring faction in their kingdom and start citing off their main character's begats all the way back to the Flood. You've watched the Battle of Wits in The Princess Bride where the Man in Black faces off with the Sicilian? I want to say to them, "Truly, you have a dizzying intellect." But I'm afraid they might say back, "Wait till I get going!"
I'll give them this: they certainly know their world. What they don't know is where their story is going, because they can't describe it to me in a few simple sentences. And if they don't have that fixed firmly in mind, their mind can't put it on the page. They haven't forced it to hunker down and figure it out. And until they do, they won't have a story. All they've got is an encyclopedia of their world.
Want to know a great place to study smart loglines? Pick up your TV remote and push Guide. Or go to your streaming networks and read those brief descriptions they give you of their movies. Better yet, practice writing a few loglines of your favorite movies, and then go to the streaming channel it's on and read what the pros came up with. See if you can do better. Learning to create strong loglines will help you boil shows down to their essence.
If you can learn to do that with the movies you love, you can learn to do that with the story you're about to write. And then you can go galivanting across the map on your pantsing steed.
But at least you'll know where you're going.
(The above article was published in chapter 15 of Wulf Moon’s bestselling book How to Write a Howling Good Story, Copyright 2023 by Wulf Moon Enterprises)
Moon teaches the award-winning Super Secrets of Writing Workshops and is the author
of The Illustrated Super Secrets of Writing and the runaway bestseller, How To Write a
Howling Good Story. He invites you to join his free Wulf Pack Club at


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