Loglines and Thoughtlines

You can condense every movie into a logline, which summarizes what the story is about. However, you might also want to capture a thoughtline to summarize what lesson the movie explores about life.

In the beginning of every screenplay, there’s always the question of “What’s the story about?” While it’s tempting to start writing and hope that you’ll figure things out as you go along, chances are good you’ll just wind up writing yourself into a dead-end and not know how to get yourself out of there.

Before you write, decide what your story is about. You can create an outline, but in the beginning, it’s much easier just to create a simple logline instead.

A logline basically condenses a story into a single sentence. “Rocky” is about a down and out boxer given a chance to fight for the championship. “The Day After Tomorrow” is about a father trying to reunite with his son after a catastrophic climate change. “Finding Nemo” is about a father trying to rescue his son after a scuba diver takes him away. “The Sting” is about con artists trying to scam a mob boss.

Look in the TV Guide for a condensed version of upcoming movies. By creating a logline, you can summarize your story and decide what story you want to tell before wasting time writing an actual script.

Now here’s the difference between a good movie and a mediocre one. A good movie is more than just a well-crafted story, but it often touches on a universal feeling. “Titanic” wasn’t just about a sinking ship but about a woman learning that she can reclaim her life. “Rocky” wasn’t just a boxing story but about a man proving to himself that he’s not a loser. ”Pulp Fiction” wasn’t just mindless violence but a story about honor and redemption.

Of course, everyone can look at the same movie and reach different conclusions, but the point is that good movies are more than just a story summarized in a logline. A good movie includes a theme. So in addition to creating a logline for your movie, how about creating a thoughtline as well?

A logline for “Thelma and Louise” might be “Two women going on a crime spree” but a thoughtline for that same movie might be “Two women battle society’s limitations for women and find freedom at last.”

A logline for “Star Wars” might be “A young man must rescue a princess to save the galaxy” while a thoughtline for “Star Wars” might be “A young man learns of a Force that can teach him to be far greater than he thought he could be.

A logline simply tells what happens in the story. A thoughtline tells what theme or lesson the story can teach us.

Look at your favorite movies and chances are good that it has both a strong plot (logline) and theme (thoughtline). If you know your thoughtline and your logline, you’ll be way ahead in organizing your screenplay before you’ve even written a single word.

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