Many screenwriters create a longline that summarizes the basics of the story in one or two sentences. This longline can be used to pitch an idea to others to get their interest.
For example, “Star Wars” was pitched as a a space opera like Flash Gordon. “Under Siege” was pitched as “Die Hard” on a battleship. “Alien” was pitched as “Jaws in space.”
Typically a logline focuses on the physical aspects of the story such as “Back to the Future” being about a teenager who goes back in time and has to get his parents back together again so he can be born.
In addition to create a longline that describes the physical action, create a second longline that tracks the emotional change of the hero. This emotional longline won’t be used to pitch a story but it’s crucial to know the emotional change in your story to make your story worthwhile.
In “Happy Death Day,” the physical longline might be “A girl is trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again until she can find the person who keeps killing her.” That’s an interesting premise for a horror story. However, the emotional logline is much different.
The emotional story behind “Happy Death Day” could be “A girl must learn to re-evaluate her life and become a better person by understanding her mistakes and fixing them.”
The emotional logline might be vague but without an emotional story, no physical story can last beyond special effects and explosions.
The four-part structure of an emotional logline can be like this:
- Act I — The hero is stuck in a dead end world of his or her own making.
- Act IIa — The hero learns a new way of life from a mentor.
- Act IIb — The hero teaches an ally how to change and finally admits his or her flaws that caused the problems in the hero’s life.
- Act III — The hero learns to change into a better person and resolve the physical goal at the same time.
Your hero must change emotionally and that emotional change is the foundation of your physical story defined by the logline. Make a logline that defines your physical story but also make a second logline that defines your emotional story.
Ultimately, your physical story is what will sell a screenplay but your emotional story is what will make it worth watching in the first place.