How to Write an Upside-Down Logline
Loglines are difficult to write by nature. We’re tasked with taking an entire story and summing it up in just a sentence or two, not only capturing the essence of the plot, but also attempting to entice the reader. Blake Snyder noted that two major components of a good logline are irony and a compelling mental image. However, trying to incorporate these elements can be tough, and we often find ourselves at a roadblock as we try to think of the perfect way to encapsulate our story.
One way I’ve learned to combat this and keep the creativity flowing is by not trying to initially write the perfect logline; I try writing what I like to call “upside-down loglines.” I first came across this concept while reading about a summary for The Wizard of Oz that was written for TCM by writer Rick Polito in 1998. Perhaps you’ve seen it:
Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.
Funny? Of course. True? Well… in a technical sense, it is, although we all know it’s an upside-down interpretation of the story. Yet, it’s this type of lateral thinking that can help us to engage the part of our brain that wants to be challenged creatively. Since discovering this The Wizard of Oz listing, I’ve encouraged writers to take a different, unique look at the story they’re trying to tell. By twisting the logline around, experimenting with word choice and details, your whole line of thinking might begin to branch down a different path. By saying what the story is not, you can come closer to succinctly summarizing what it is.
Take, for example, this upside-down logline:
When a visitor who is not of this world comes to Earth, he performs miraculous feats and heals the dying; after his death, he comes back to life before ascending to the heavens.
Sound familiar? No, it’s not the Christ story… it’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.
Take a look at these examples, and see if you can guess which film they’re describing. The answers are provided at the end.
1. On the verge of a midlife crisis, a man yearning for the good old days leads a secret life, one that threatens the lives of his wife and children.
2. Two lifelong friends searching for love and purpose set out on a trip across the country as they search for “the one that got away.”
3. When the owner of an automobile parts factory unexpectedly dies, the livelihood of a small town faces economic ruin unless the owner’s inept son can learn to grow up and run the family business.
4. Seeking solace, a man takes his family to a mountain resort in order to focus on writing his novel, only to discover that it’s next to impossible to concentrate while surrounded by silence.
5. An orphan devotes himself to learning powerful new skills while seeking out his parents’ murderer.
6. Alone, a child must face his fears and risk his life to save the home of the family that carelessly abandoned him.
7. Raised far from civilization, a man-child travels to New York to search for the father he never knew.
8. During peak vacation season, a small town’s summer revenue is in jeopardy when the beach risks being closed down unless the sheriff can locate the murderer of some unsuspecting tourists.
9. When a rare piece of jewelry is discovered, a group of companions must take it back to its original owner.
10. Witnessing the sudden abduction of his only son, a father stops at nothing as he travels halfway across the world to save him.
11. In order to save the one she loves, a lowly maid must infiltrate the government facility where she works without being caught by her boss.
12. A boy who has visions of a homicidal maniac learns of his mother’s dark secret, forcing him to decide whether to turn her in or join in the lie.
Of course, the examples above twist the facts a bit, but they require our brains to access our creative center to do so. When you’re crafting your logline, try thinking of explaining your story in a unique way. By writing an upside-down logline, you just might find yourself looking at it right-side up.
Answers: 1) The Incredibles, 2) Dumb and Dumber, 3) Tommy Boy, 4) The Shining, 5) Harry Potter, 6) Home Alone, 7) Elf, 8) Jaws, 9) The Lord of the Rings, 10) Finding Nemo, 11) The Shape of Water, 12) Jojo Rabbit.
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