From Idea to Logline: Developing the Premise

I am a plotter, so before I begin writing, I want a solid story map to follow. Going from a nebulous idea to a fully planned story is a HUGE leap. There are many steps on the journey.

Have you heard of the Snowflake Method? I don't use it, but my early steps are similar. Heck, maybe even more than my early steps. I don't know! I learned my method from my screenwriting mentor, who learned it as a working TV writer. You can find more on the Snowflake Method here:

What is a logline?

I start by creating a logline, or one-sentence pitch. This logline may not be the one I use when I query down the road; I may tinker with the exact wording. But this initial logline needs to capture very clearly some basic, critical information about my story.

The best (starting) formula for a logline I’ve seen is “When [INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS], a [SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST] must [OBJECTIVE], or else [STAKES].”

This formula appears widely on the web. I’m not certain who originated it, but the earliest only mention I found was on Noam Kroll’s screenwriting site.

To write your logline, you need to know:

  • Protagonist
  • Inciting incident
  • Objective
  • Stakes
  • Antagonist

Antagonist isn’t in the logline, per se, but knowing the antagonist helps pull everything else together.

Why start with a log line?

A log line is the simplest description of a story. It tell you who and why and what’s at stake. Those elements are CRITICAL to a good story.

I’ll go so far as to say, without those elements you don’t have a commercial story. Many a new writer has gotten to the end of his first novel and discovered the story lacked a clear, active protagonist or defined stakes.

For me, a logline gives me a solid starting point. It’s one sentence from which I can build a complex story.

My process

My process is murky in the beginning. I can spend months (years) mulling a particular idea.

I take notes. I research. I go down rabbit holes.

My new WIP had a lot of rabbit holes. Although several were interesting, I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I stopped and went back to the beginning, to the idea that had grabbed hold of me. Did it still grab me? Yes.

So I focused on that.

I asked myself questions:

  • Whose story was I telling? Who had the most to lose? Whose choices would drive the story? This was my protagonist.
  • What event kicked off the story events? What changed? What would it take to resolve this event?
  • What did my protagonist want? What did he need? Why? How would his wants and needs change during the story?
  • What terrible, horrible thing would happen if my protagonist failed at his objective? What were his personal stakes? Who else would be affected?
  • Who or what is presenting the obstacles keeping my protagonist from achieving his goal? Why?

Answering the questions forced me to make decisions that took my idea from premise to story. I played first with the formula, then tweaked it to make it work. I tried different twists of phrase to try to capture the tone I wanted.

To be honest, I don’t think this will be the logline I will use to query this story (if I don’t have an agent by them), but I crafted a solid starting point for myself:

In 1965, a heroin-addicted reporter in a downward spiral must debunk a Pentecostal faith healer in order to stop a zealot intent on murder.


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