Loglines . . . or How The Professionals Do It To It
Loglines, am I right? Those pesky one-sentence summations of your entire story you use to entice publishers into buying your manuscript or wow producers into buying your screenplay, readers into reading your novel or audiences into watching your movie. But what makes a good logline, and how do you craft yours?
Loglines are a necessary evil because they prove that you, the writer, have a firm grasp on what your story is really all about at its core after everything else of lesser value and consequence is stripped away. I know it’s hard, but if you cannot summarize your entire story into one simple sentence then you, my friend, have some work to do.
A rule of thumb is that a good logline consists of three primary ingredients: 1. the Protagonist; 2. the Goal of the protagonist; and 3. the Obstacle preventing the protagonist from achieving their goal.
I could list numerous examples of logline formulas, but Google exists and I believe it’s best to lead by example. And because what will probably become the highest grossing movie in present history has just released (Avengers: Endgame) I figured why not list the loglines of all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to present date. Read them over, dismantle them, and see what makes them work (and more importantly what doesn’t).
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008): Bruce Banner, a scientist on the run from the U.S. Government, must find a cure for the monster he turns into whenever he loses his temper.
IRON MAN (2008): After being held captive in an Afghan cave, billionaire engineer Tony Stark creates a unique weaponized suit of armor to fight evil.
IRON MAN 2 (2010): With the world now aware of his identity as Iron Man, Tony Stark must contend with both his declining health and a vengeful mad man with ties to his father’s legacy.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011): Steve Rogers, a rejected military soldier, transforms into Captain America after taking a dose of a “Super-Soldier serum,” but being Captain America comes at a price as he attempts to take down a war monger and a terrorist organization.
THOR (2011): The powerful but arrogant god Thor is cast out of Asgard to live amongst humans in Midgard (Earth), where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.
THE AVENGERS (2012): Earth’s mightiest heroes must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are going to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity.
IRON MAN 3 (2013): When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013): When Dr. Jane Foster gets cursed with a powerful entity known as the Aether, Thor is heralded of the cosmic event known as the Convergence and the genocidal Dark Elves.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014): As Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world, he teams up with a fellow Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Black Widow, to battle a new threat from history: an assassin known as the Winter Soldier.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014): A group of intergalactic criminals must pull together to stop a fanatical warrior with plans to purge the universe.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015): When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it’s up to Earth’s mightiest heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plan of humanity’s extinction.
ANT-MAN (2015): Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016): Political involvement in the Avengers’ affairs causes a rift between Captain America and Iron Man.
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016): While on a journey of physical and spiritual healing, a brilliant neurosurgeon is drawn into the world of the mystic arts to become the Sorcerer Supreme.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017): Peter Parker balances his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens with his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man, and finds himself on the trail of a new menace prowling the skies of New York City.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2: (2017): The Guardians struggle to keep together as a team while dealing with their personal family issues, notably Star-Lord’s encounter with his father the ambitious celestial being Ego.
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017): Thor is imprisoned on the planet Sakaar and must race against time to return to Asgard and stop Ragnarök, the destruction of his world, at the hands of the powerful and ruthless villain Hela.
BLACK PANTHER (2018): T’Challa, heir to the hidden but advanced kingdom of Wakanda, must step forward to lead his people into a new future while confronting a challenger to his throne from his country’s past.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018): The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018): As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.
CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019): Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019): After a grave course of events wipes out half of all life in the universe, the remaining Avengers assemble to take one final stand against the perpetrator: Thanos.
As an end note, some of these loglines are wonderful in their simple details while others are, well, bleh because of their vagueness. When crafting your logline, try to be as concise as possible. KEYWORD: concise. “Fighting evil” is too ambiguous a descriptor for the antagonist as well as the protagonist’s goal. My dog is “evil” every time she gnaws on one of my shoes. Some of these loglines can get away with such vagueness because they belong to billion-dollar blockbusters millions of people have watched and love. Us no-names aren’t so lucky.
Case in point: If I told you my story is about a guy who wants to kill a shark, that could describe any number of movies. But if I told you an aquaphobic sheriff must kill a giant man-eating shark to stop it from terrorizing the local swimmers then you know I’m talking about JAWS.
A boxer fights for the title? Could be a whole slew of boxing movies. But a small-time boxer who gets a once in a lifetime chance to fight the world heavyweight champ in a bout in which he strives to go the distance for his self-respect? Now we’re talking ROCKY.
A boy who fights evil? Could be anyone doing practically anything. But a spirited farm boy who joins the rebel forces to save a princess and the galaxy from the Empire’s planet-destroying Death Star? We’ve got STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE.
And let’s not forget the greatest logline in all of movie history: Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again while trying to find her way back home.
You guessed it . . . THE WIZARD OF OZ.