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!