Tuesday, November 01, 2005

It’s Done! Now What?: The Importance of the Log Line

Yes! The Great Two-Month Screenwriting Challenge is over! Both Paul and I met our deadline! Yay! Confetti-flinging, street dancing and “Bale-man” watching ensued.

I owe a huge “thank-you” to my wonderful husband who kept an eye on our two year-old daughter so I could have some free time to work on the thing. He never once mentioned the obvious, which was that this was a self-imposed deadline – an arbitrary challenge easily gotten out of by simply biting the bullet and coughing up the requisite “loser’s payment” of fifty bucks. The man is a saint.

(And a pox on every friend who chided me for stressing out over the afore-mentioned deadline, and advising me to just send Paul the $50 and be done with it. Pah! I say.)

To all of you who joined in the challenge back in August, I hope you made it, too. If you didn’t finish your project, take heart. You’re further ahead now than you were two months ago. Keep working on it!

Now that the script is – for all intents and purposes -- finished, however, a new concern arises: Finding a way to tell someone about it. [Insert scary, foreboding theme track here.]

If I want to do anything with it, other than marvel that it’s finished, I’m going to have to let someone it exists. When I do, what I say has to be short enough to keep the person’s attention. It has to tell enough of the story that the person knows what the script is about (and whether or not it might be worth acquiring). It has to be interesting and intriguing. It has to make whoever hears it want to learn more.

In other words, I need a great log line. That’s a tall order for a sentence or two.

The log line – for those of you unfamiliar with the term – is one or two sentences describing a work. Think of it as the short synopses in the TV guide. The perfect log line makes the hearer want to read the book / see the movie / watch the TV show that is being described.

The log line isn’t the single “hook” sentence that shows up on the movie poster. That’s the tag. The tag may be what gets you to go see the movie. But the log is what generated enough interest for someone to ask to see the script in the first place.

Some Log Line Attributes:

• Logs are written in present tense.
• Logs utilize active verbs.
• Logs let you know into what genre the work falls.
• Logs tell you enough of the story to pique your interest.
• Logs hide enough that they don’t give the whole story away.
• A good log makes you want to see the story it describes.

As far as I’m concerned, coming up with a log line for a project, remembering it, and being able to deliver it convincingly, well, and at a moment’s notice is the most difficult part of any writing endeavor.

Log lines are generally someone’s first opportunity to form an opinion about a work. They are the literary first impression. When someone asks, “So, what’s your project about?” you only get one chance to make that person desperate to read what you wrote.

I have a screenwriter / playwright friend who comes up with brilliant log lines and project pitches. In a few sentences, she tells you enough of the story for you to love it, and want to hear more.

I wish I had half her talent for such things. Now that the screenplay challenge is finished, I’ve got to boil the essence of my new script down into a sentence or two. I know from past experience that the process will take me days.

If you have a project that is complete and fully edited, but is languishing in your computer or in your files, perhaps a new log line could describe it better, more completely, or make it sound more interesting. Why not spend some time coming up with two sentence synopses of the project, and run them by someone familiar with it? Ask which ones sound the most interesting. Then hone them – polish and practice them – until you can deliver them any time, anywhere.

This all sounds so useful. I’m now off to take my own advice and start pounding a log together for my brand new screenplay. Because the sad truth is, without a good log line, the screenplay will never go anywhere.