What’s your story? In two sentences or less…

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Peo­ple love sto­ries. And appar­ent­ly, they always have. Neu­ro­sci­en­tists sug­gest our yearn­ing for sto­ries is root­ed deeply in the human brain; sup­pos­ed­ly sto­ries even help us mas­ter all kinds of life tasks, e.g. solv­ing log­ic puz­zles, con­vey­ing facts, and remem­ber­ing stuff. Sto­ries are sec­ond nature to us. Thus it seems safe to say: Peo­ple will always love – and even need – stories.

So, got a sto­ry? Yes? Well, let’s see…

Some­times we think we have a sto­ry when all we have is a vague idea. This hap­pens when we get caught up in the beau­ty of a flashy fan­ta­sy or won­drous world we’ve cre­at­ed with­out con­sid­er­ing an actu­al sto­ry that sets every­thing in motion. And now, after a long intro, let me get to the core of this sto­ry: loglines.

A log­line is a brief sum­ma­ry of a sto­ry that includes

  • the pro­tag­o­nists,
  • their goals,
  • and what­ev­er they must do to achieve those goals.

Brevi­ty is manda­to­ry – two sen­tences are good, one is even bet­ter. A log­line forces you to have an in-the-cold-light-of-day look at the essence, with no frills. That’s why it’s wise to come up with a log­line in the ear­ly stages of the cre­ative process.

But wait, there’s more. Not only does a log­line help to craft and inspect a sto­ry, it’s also a must-have for any­one want­i­ng to pitch their work, be it a nov­el or screen­play to a pub­lish­er or stu­dio, respec­tive­ly. It’s the oh-so-vital first impres­sion, the one shot at gen­er­at­ing inter­est, and (hope­ful­ly) the foot in the door!

Even if your stu­dents haven’t come up with their own sto­ry ideas yet, you can ask them to come up with log­lines for their favorite books, movies, and TV shows, just to learn the ropes. Also, you can come up with – or look up – log­lines for famous books or films, and cre­ate a guess­ing game with your stu­dents. Let’s see if any­one knows the movie behind this logline:

An orphaned farm boy from the edge of stel­lar civ­i­liza­tion has to sharp­en his new­ly dis­cov­ered mys­ti­cal pow­ers to help a nascent rebel­lion free the galaxy from a mur­der­ous Empire that stops at noth­ing to enforce its pow­er.” (For any­one who hasn’t fre­quent­ly trav­eled to the galaxy far, far away: It’s Star Wars.)

Here are some of the most impor­tant things to con­sid­er about loglines:

  • When used for pitch­ing, a log­line is not only a sum­ma­ry, but also your story’s adver­tise­ment. Know the core of your sto­ry, and shine your spot­lights on what makes it spe­cial. Because it’s so short, each word matters.
  • In most cas­es, it’s best not to use char­ac­ter names in your log­line, but to briefly describe the char­ac­ters, ide­al­ly show­ing what makes them inter­est­ing or unique. Dis­tinc­tive adjec­tives are a good way to go (e.g. “a blind super hero,” “an intel­lec­tu­al garbage man,” “a hedo­nis­tic wannabe-author”)
  • If there’s some­thing at stake, no mat­ter how obvi­ous or sub­tle, it’s usu­al­ly good to men­tion it in the logline.
  • Log­lines are sim­ple but not easy. It’s okay if it takes time and sev­er­al rewrites. And despite every­thing writ­ten here: There’s cre­ative lee­way. Break some rules if it suits you and your sto­ry. Some sto­ries require dif­fer­ent kinds of loglines.

The ben­e­fits of think­ing about log­lines may even exceed the realms of cre­ative writ­ing. The abil­i­ty to con­dense infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­cate effec­tive­ly is sure­ly an asset in a time of decreas­ing atten­tion spans – be it in class­rooms, board­rooms, or dur­ing casu­al conversations.

And always remem­ber: Peo­ple love stories!


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