FAIRFIELD WRITERS GROUP – WRITING EXERCISE
9th of April 2011
LOG LINES EXERCISE
1. Anthology members to write up a log line for their short story (as per the attachment from Lorraine-see below)
2. Non-anthology members to write a love poem, short story, recipe or film synopsis to a max of 120 characters (as per the BPay competition http://www.bpayshortandsweet.com.au/)
WRITING LOG LINES
If you wanted to build a house, you would start – hopefully – with a plan.
Imagine if you just called the concrete supplier and said “Pour some concrete here please”, without first planning the layout of the house, pegging it out, and placing retainers to hold the concrete in the right form. The cement would run all over the place and make a big mess.
After drawing the plan, you need to think about structure. How far apart should studs be? Where will you need steel beams to take the weight of the roof?
In the same way, you should have a plan for your story, and then a structure, otherwise it will ramble all over the place and probably make no sense. Certainly it will lose the reader’s interest.
A story plan and structure begins with a premise.
A premise is the unspoken underlying purpose of your story.
Think about a debate. You argue a premise with the purpose of convincing the audience that your
premise—and not the opposite premise argued by the other side— is true. A story should also argue
a case. It needs a central lesson or moral, and whatever premise you choose, you must either believe
in it passionately, or be prepared to argue it as though you believe in it passionately.
Your job, as storyteller, is to convince the reader that your premise is true. The premise should
never be overtly stated, but by the end of the story the reader should understand and believe it.
EXAMPLES OF PREMISES:
• Pride comes before a fall.
• Hard work ultimately yields rewards.
• That which is acquired without effort is not worth having.
• Women’s liberation didn’t liberate women.
Next, you need a theme. Actually, some experts say stories can have multiple themes, but every story should have at least one.
A theme is an underlying lesson that your character must learn through the story. It contains guidance for the audience on how to live.
A theme should be able to be expressed in a short sentence. Unlike the premise, it can sometimes
be overtly stated, though often you will find the story teaches more effectively if the message is more subtle. Your theme and your premise are tightly interwoven, and between them, they provide the structure of your story.
It is vitally important that you stick with your theme throughout the story. Don’t be tempted to wander off on a tangent and introduce unrelated information. Every sentence in your story should relate directly to your theme and drive the reader toward acceptance of your premise.
Now, once you have decided on a premise and theme for your story, the next step is to compose the logline.
A logline is a brief summation of your story. In just a few lines, it should tell the reader exactly what the story is about, and it should SELL it to the reader.
Loglines are vitally important because they are the sales pitch to publishers and agents. If the reader isn’t excited by the logline, the story won’t sell. Period! And if you can’t write a logline that excites,don’t bother trying to write the story, because I guarantee you it won’t excite either.
A very productive exercise for would‐be writers is to write loglines for books and stories you have read recently and movies you have seen. Practice creating accurate loglines that sum up the story, and excite readers to want more. Show the loglines to friends. Do they want to read the book or see the movie?
When you set out to write a story or novel, you should write the logline before beginning the story.
That will give it structure – a plan and a form to follow so that your argument stays highly focused and you ultimately convince the reader that your premise is true.
Think of your logline as the seed of your story. The strength of that seed determines whether or not you can grow the story to something worth reading.
WRITING A LOGLINE:
First, write a sentence that describes the story you want to tell. For example:
A plane crashes in the mountains.
So what? No interest here!
Why did it crash? Who was on it? Where were they going? What happened to them?
You are now following the ‘what if’ method of creating a story. So, decide which questions your story
will answer, and how. You need to expand your logline to create interest and give you material for a story.
A plane crashes in a remote mountain location and the hungry survivors, after exhausting the meager food supplies they brought with them, end up eating the bodies of those killed in the crash.
Okay, a bit macabre, and perhaps it will turn off as many readers as it turns on, but hopefully you get the drift.
Its good discipline to bring your entire story down to one sentence, because it helps you dismiss ideas that don’t work, and it ensures you have the ability to communicate your ideas in a simple manner that is easy for the reader to understand.
The golden rule is:
If you can’t tell the story in one short sentence, it’s too complicated to tell in a short story or novel and you need to rethink it.
Don’t make the mistake of making the logline too simplistic though. It needs to say enough to create interest.
A man is trapped on a plane that is hijacked and must kill the hijackers if he is to rescue his family.
Okay. Not bad. But would it add interest if we told the reader something about the man? How about:
A gentle man with little self confidence is trapped on a plane that is hijacked and must kill the hijackers if he is to rescue his family.
Better. Now what if we tell the reader a bit about the hijackers?
A gentle man with little self confidence is trapped on a plane that is hijacked by ruthless terrorists, and he must kill the hijackers if he is to rescue his family.
Now it’s getting interesting!
The rule, therefore, is:
Tell the reader what happens. Tell the reader a little about the central characters so that they understand how the characters will react to what happens, or how their personality further complicates the plot. Don’t go into too much detail. Keep it short.
Here are some example loglines for stories you might be familiar with:
ET: A boy discovers a friendly alien and has to help him return home before he is captured by
Jurassic Park: A scientist has recreated dinosaurs and put them in a theme park, but they escape
and try to devour his family
The Dirty Dozen: A group of convicts are released from jail and given the task ofkilling a group of
Nazi generals behind enemy lines, in a mission with no possibility of escape.
Loglines can change as your story evolves, but start with a firm idea so that you have somewhere to go.
Once you have the premise, theme, and logline, you have a measuring stick to test the relevance of each scene in your story. Does this scene fit with the logline, help teach the theme, and drive the argument stated in the premise? No? Then delete it – right now! Yes, I know you particularly liked this scene. There’s some great description and clever wording, but it’s not relevant, so it doesn’t belong.
A great story – a story that will sell and readers everywhere will love – starts with a fabulous logline,then stays true to the theme throughout and convinces the reader absolutely that t premise is true.
Written by Lorraine Cobcroft. March 2011.
The author acknowledges the work of Michael Domeyko Rowland whose Screen Story Writers’
Course has been used to provide source material for his article under the ‘fair use’ principles.