More Loglines from the 2014 Edition of The Black List

Eight Loglines from The Black List

Last time, I walked you through the process of refining and critiquing seven loglines from The Black List 2014. Today, I have eight more instructive loglines to show you, along with my thoughts on how they could be improved.

Once again, remember that most of the time when I recommend changes to a logline, I am guessing at story details the author has left out. Because I’m not working with the writer on these loglines, I often can’t create a final version. However, I can make the first round of suggestions that would then go back to the writer for further rewrites.

Manchester-by-the-Sea: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

There are so many things to do to this one, but they all come back to details. First, it’s pretty humdrum because we have no idea where the story is going after the uncle takes in the boy. Or the story could be about the uncle making the decision to take in the boy, but we don’t know that because the logline isn’t written to tell us so.

Next, we have no idea what either the uncle or the boy is like as a character, since there are no adjectives describing them. Just adding those small details would flesh this logline out enough to make it more compelling, even without the further story details.

TAU: A woman held captive in the futuristic smart house of a serial kidnapper realizes that her only hope of escape lies in turning the house’s sentient computer against its creator.

This is a clever concept and a decent logline that is hurt by an unmemorable title. What does “TAU” have to do with anything? Remember that good loglines should be paired with good titles.

Wonka: A dark, reimagining of the Willy Wonka story beginning in World War II and culminating with his takeover of the chocolate factory.

This is a tough logline to pull off in the first place because you’re riffing off of a well-known character. Since Wonka is the draw, it’s okay to mention his name, but it’s not okay to leave him without an adjective when you’re changing who he is. And it would also be great if this logline told us who Wonka’s taking the chocolate factory from. Is this story going to end with an epic battle in the factory, with Wonka leading an army of Oompa-Loompas? Or does he rise in the ranks of the factory management to become the owner? Putting a clue toward the outcome in the logline would help set audience expectations for what this story will be.

Even though I don’t have the exact details, I’ll try a rewrite to show you how this could work:

“During the German bombings of World War II, hotheaded teenager Willy Wonka fights on the home front to oust the Nazi-sympathizing owner of a chocolate factory.”

The Search: An expert tracker battles his demons while on a journey to rescue his estranged older brother who has vanished in the uncharted wilderness of the Northwest.

This logline is so close to greatness. It has good stakes, clear characters, and even an idea of where the story is going. The problem is that we’re told the tracker has “demons.” What are these “demons”? Clarifying the “demons” will make this logline even more interesting because we will get an idea of what questions the story will explore.

Merc: When a disgraced former soldier finds success by working for a private security company, the illegal tactics the company employs challenges his worldview.

The problem here is that the writer has opted to put the moral of the story into the logline. Notice that it’s not a blatant statement of the “lesson” that will be learned by the soldier, but it is implied that he will learn a lesson. Now we’re looking for the message and getting ourselves ready to watch a lame preachy movie.

It would be better to merely hint at the conflict and let the audience come up with its own conclusions. We could rewrite the logline like this:

“When a disgraced former soldier finds success by working for a private security company, he must decide if confronting the illegal tactics of the company is worth risking his job.”

See how I’ve redirected the question from whether or not he can reconcile things with his worldview to whether or not he’ll risk his job? The worldview question is implicit in a situation where the character is considering risking his job, but the audience fills that detail in without us waving it in their faces. Then the audience feels smart for figuring it out and settles in for the story, ready to see how this will turn out.

Morgan: A corporate risk management consultant is summoned to a remote research lab to determine whether or not to terminate an at-risk artificial being.

This is almost a perfect logline. There are little things that could be tweaked, such as coming up with a way to explain how the artificial being is at risk. I would also add an adjective for the consultant so we know what kind of person he is. Other than those two things, I’d say this one is ready to pitch.

Black Winter: On the eve of a US-Soviet disarmament treaty, a British scientist and a NATO medical investigator discover a secret Soviet plot to unleash a terrifying biological weapon.

Now this is a cool story idea. I love historical war dramas, so I feel very compelled by this one. However, the logline is still missing the “what happens next?” part. Unless this is a logline for one of those two-part movies that end with the great big plot twist, this pitch won’t cut it. What do the scientist and the investigator do?

Money Monster: After a man loses all his money in the stock market by following the advice of a Wall Street TV host, he takes the money adviser hostage on live television.

This one is so very close to perfection. I would only change two things. First, I’d rewrite it slightly to streamline:

“After a man follows the advice of a Wall Street TV host and loses all his money in the stock market, he takes the money adviser hostage on live television.”

And then if there was an adjective for the man, that would be icing on the cake. However, due to the way the story is presented in the logline, we already have a fairly good idea what kind of man this is, so the adjective could be skipped. I’d add one because it helps round things out, but it’s decent without.

I hope looking at these loglines has helped you spot ways to improve your own. For more loglines, check out my book Finding the Core of Your Story for a complete how-to guide to writing a great pitch. Or read the free sample on my website, which will give you the entire quick-start chapter that gets you off and running in about fifteen minutes.

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