Even More Loglines from The Black List

Back by popular demand, here’s part three of a series breaking down (and often fixing) loglines from The Black List. For ten more loglines, check out part 1 and part 2.

Story of Your Life: Based on the short story by Ted Chiang. When alien crafts land around the world, a linguistics expert is recruited by the military to determine whether they come in peace or are a threat. As she learns to communicate with the aliens, she begins experiencing vivid flashbacks that become the key to unlocking the greater mystery about the true purpose of their visit.

Those who have read my previous logline breakdown posts or who have had my help with loglines before will know right off the bat what I’m going to say here: A logline is one sentence, not three. Other than that, though, the bones of a good logline are here. Let’s make it follow the rules.

“When aliens land and she is recruited to communicate with them, a linguistics expert begins experiencing vivid flashbacks that hold the key to learning the purpose of the extraterrestrial visit.”

The most obvious change here is that I’ve done away with the accreditation of the short story’s author. Perhaps the credit is there due to stipulations in the option agreement the screenwriter made with the author, but it doesn’t belong in the logline.

I’ve opted to use extraterrestrial to replace the final pronoun their. Also, I’ve taken the two story sentences and merged them with the use of a setup clause (“When aliens land…”). You’ll find everything I used in my logline in the original three sentences.

As usual, adding an adjective for the linguistics expert would help, but the above isn’t too terrible as-is. I don’t have enough information from the original paragraph to give her one, so I’ll leave it. If I was working on this with the author, we’d brainstorm some adjectives together.

Glimmer: When three friends go missing on a camping trip in a forest rumored to be haunted, the two left behind discover clues that lead them to a safe deposit box containing video tapes… showing exactly what happened to their friends.

The biggest issue here is that this isn’t very clear. How many people are there? Did they all go camping?

For the sake of this example, I’ll assume the characters are teenagers and they all went camping. That gives me this:

“When five teens go on a camping trip in a haunted forest and three disappear, the two who remain follow the clues to find out what happened to their friends.”

Actually, even with a better logline, this is a pretty ho-hum premise. A really good logline would tell us what’s different about this story. No, the safe deposit box with the video tapes doesn’t count. There are plenty of stories involving left-behind video tapes that show the creepy way people disappeared.

Sweet Virginia: A former rodeo star unknowingly starts a rapport with a young man who is responsible for all of the violence that has suddenly gripped his small town.

Here’s another one with a ho-hum premise. Without much to go on, I can really only trim down some of the unnecessary words to get this:

“A former rodeo star unknowingly starts a rapport with a young man who is responsible for the violence that has suddenly gripped his small town.”

What would help here would be something to explain why it’s important that the main character is a former rodeo star, as well as (say it with me) a good adjective for the young man. It’s also unclear whose small town it is, the rodeo star’s or the young man’s. Watch those pronouns!

Untitled Cops Script: Following a costume party where they dressed as cops, two best friends are mistaken for actual police officers and find themselves on the run, after being forced to bring a dangerous criminal back to the station.

This one is very close. I have only two things to fix.

First, the second comma is unnecessary. Good grammar is important, especially in a logline. This is your first impression. Don’t cast a shadow on your work with a bad pitch.

Second, there’s no excuse for calling this Untitled Cops Script. There are plenty of working titles you could put on this. I read that logline and came up with We Are Not Cops almost immediately, though even calling it Cops would work in a pinch. Neither of those may be the best title, but both are far better than telling the world you couldn’t think of a title.

Out of State: While driving his regular interstate bus route, an emotionally fractured ex-convict finds himself acting as a father figure to a forsaken young boy from the Philadelphia ghetto, even though he knows that the boy is smuggling drugs.

I’ll leave you with this one, which I don’t think I could do much to improve. It’s pretty good as it is. I can see the situation, the conflict, and some potential endings just from that single, excellent sentence.

By now, you should be noticing the patterns of the usual culprits when it comes to logline problems. Missing adjectives are especially frequent offenders, followed closely by not enough information about the story. But now you’ll have your eye out for it, so you can go forth and write amazing loglines! If you need more logline help, see below.

Finding the Core of Your StoryWant to learn more about writing your own logline? Get your copy of Finding the Core of Your Story and learn to use simple, powerful techniques to strengthen and sell your story with a single sentence.

2 thoughts on “Even More Loglines from The Black List

  1. I’ve really enjoyed this series of posts and this one is another great round up of examples!

    I find the first example a little hard to read at a glance because of the order of the phrases. What do you think of tightening it up a little more—perhaps something like this?

    “A linguistics expert recruited to communicate with aliens begins experiencing vivid flashbacks that hold the key to learning the purpose of an extraterrestrial visit.”

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