Love leads to Suicide . . . or Theme, Premise, and Loglines
Many aspiring writers are confused as to what exactly the difference is between a Theme, a Premise, and a Logline . . . especially so the latter two. Here we’ll break them down so you will have a better understanding between the three confusions.
First we’ll start with Theme, because Theme is the easiest of the three to define. So what exactly is Theme and how do you find it? This one is so easy that prostitutes are jealous of it for charging so little. Theme is the one-word emotion motivating your protagonist. Period.
There, that was easy.
Think Love. Or Greed. Or Jealousy. Or any of the plethora of one-word emotions possibly driving your protagonist throughout the events of your story.
Next we’ll deal with Premise, and here’s where the confusion begins. We’ll start with what a Premise is NOT. A Premise is not a one-sentence description of the main events of your overall story, despite what many movie websites tell you. Pick a movie website, any movie website, and more often than not they’ll state a movie’s “premise” as a short one or two sentence description of what the main plot of the movie is about. That is not Premise. They are confusing Premise with a Logline.
Take for example the well-known Premise of Romeo & Juliet: Great love defies even death. Does this describe Romeo and Juliet’s love at first sight? Does this describe their repeated attempts at maintaining said love despite their warring families? Does this describe Romeo’s suicide when he finds Juliet sleeping, instead believing her dead? Does this describe Juliet’s suicide after waking to find her Romeo dead?
What “Great love defies even death” describes is the universal truth proven by the story of Romeo & Juliet. The same Premise can be attached to any number of stories and still be true . . . as long as that particular story proves said Premise. Because whatever truth is being proven in the climax is the story’s thematic Premise.
The basic “formula” for your Premise is thus: “Something leads to Something.” Great love defies even death is just a fancy way of saying, “Forbidden Love leads to Suicide.” And in the case of Romeo & Juliet, Forbidden Love leads to Suicide, or, Great love defies even death, is the proven Premise. Is theirs a great yet forbidden Love? Yes. Does it lead to Suicide? Double Yes.
Let’s move on, shall we?
Now the Logline. Oh how I love loglines. Remember what I said earlier about movie websites ignorantly stating a movie’s “premise”? Well, those in actuality are Loglines. Here’s an example of one of my favorite Loglines: Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the Logline of The Wizard of Oz. You see, a Logline is the exciting one-sentence “elevator pitch” used to intrigue your audience into watching your movie or reading your novel. It’s a short description of your story that touches on the overall plot to hook your potential audience for more.
Want another Logline? Okay, how about Rocky? A small-time boxer gets a supremely rare chance to fight heavy-weight champion Apollo Creed in a bout in which he strives to go the distance for his self-respect.
Now, there is a difference between the two exampled Loglines, and here’s the skinny on that rub. The Logline above for Rocky is the writer’s Logline. The Logline for The Wizard of Oz is the audience Logline.
What’s the difference?
A writer’s Logline reveals more details of the overall story arc so that the writer, you, can keep their story on track while they are writing their story. The audience Logline is the brief, interesting gist of your story to hook your potential audience for wanting more. Want the audience Logline for Rocky? Here it is: A small-time boxer gets the rare chance to fight for the world heavy-weight championship.
See the difference?
You want your audience Logline to be as short and sweet as possible while leaving your potential audience with the questions, “So what happens? And why?” You want your writer’s Logline to include just a bit more description so that, while writing your story, you don’t meander into writing unnecessary scenes that have almost nothing to do with the plot of your story. It’s not necessary for the audience to know why Rocky is fighting the world heavy-weight champion, only that his is. The why is what the movie will show them when they watch it. For the same reason why you don’t tell someone who has never watched The Sixth Sense that (spoiler alert!) Bruce Willis’ character is dead nearly the entire movie.
What’s the Logline of The Sixth Sense? A psychologist struggles to cure a troubled boy who is haunted by a bizarre affliction — he sees dead people. The point of that movie is to reveal the shocking revelation to the audience as they watch it, so that key revelation is not included in its audience Logline.
And that, my friends, is the difference between Theme, Premise, and Loglines.