There’s a curious dilemma in Hollywood. If you come up with a compelling log line for your story, chances are good studios will want to see the screenplay. In many cases, they’ll fall in love with the idea and hire someone else to write the actual script.
The problem with this approach is that what makes a great log line doesn’t necessarily make a great story. A great log line captures your attention but doesn’t tell a complete story. The log line to “Jaws” might be “A great white shark terrorizes a beach community.”
This log line tells you the basics of the story but doesn’t tell you what that story is about. Take that same log line and you could create a great movie like “Jaws.” Or you could take that same log line, write an inferior screenplay, and wind up with “Jaws 4: The Revenge.”
So the problem with coming up with a great log line is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll also come up with a great story. That means a great log line is important for getting your feet in the door but once inside, you still need to deliver a compelling story written in screenplay format.
Unfortunately, if you can’t come up with a great log line, few people will want to read your screenplay. That means you could come up with the best screenplay possible, but you still need to come up with a compelling log line. Otherwise nobody will have a reason to read your screenplay.
Practice creating intriguing log lines. Focus on the goal of the hero or villain, and the consequences. A story about a shark isn’t interesting. A story about a shark terrorizing a beach community is far more interesting so make sure you emphasize the consequences.
The better you get at writing log lines, the clearer the conflict of your story will get. Once you have a great log lines, now’s the time to switch to writing a great screenplay.
Far too many people write a screenplay and by the time they finish, they have no idea why anyone would want to read it. Make a great log line and the use that to help you define how to write your screenplay. The screenplay is ultimately more important than your log line, but without the log line, nobody will care about your screenplay so you need both.
Just make sure if you come up with a great log line, you also need to back it up with an equally great screenplay. The reason why you see so many bad movies is because they had great log lines but the writers couldn’t back up their idea with a great script.
Don’t make this mistake with your story. Think of the log line as the great idea but the screenplay is the great execution of that idea. Do both and you’ll go a long way towards achieving your dream of selling a screenplay one day.