Just wanted to give a quick follow-up to Tuesday’s episode of the Script Notes Pitch Workshop… and an answer to a question asked by Scott, the author of Tuesday’s Pitch Workshop entries. Scott writes:
“Wow, thank you so much for all your help. You are completely right, I know what the story is about but I have not explained that. I think i just found it so hard to distill my ideas into one or two sentences that I end up just writing generic lines.
Should I expand them a bit beyond two sentences? Or should I focus more on keeping it short but packing more information in? I could write a paragraph which would be a lot simpler and easier to read, but I dont want to write too much.”
Scott… I’m so glad you asked, because I get this question a lot: some version of “I can’t distill my story idea into just one sentence,” or “My story is too complicated to be condensed into a single line.”
It’s a common challenge… every writer goes through it… but here’s my answer… (and I’m gonna sound like an asshole when I say this, so I’m just gonna say it)…
If you can’t distill your story into a single sentence, you don’t yet know what your story IS.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Of course, I know what my story is… it’s my story… how would you know if I know it or not?!” But bare with me…
There’s not a story in the world that can’t be boiled down to one sentence. The Iliad, Citizen Kane, A Rose For Emily, The Office, Freddy Vs. Jason, Dragnet… every tale in the history of the world can be told in a single line. Take a look…
• Kim, a twentysomething recovering drug addict, must confront the ghosts of her family’s past when she returns home from rehab the week of her sister’s wedding. (Rachel Getting Married)
• Liz, a thirtysomething TV writer, attempts to maintain her artistic integrity, vision, and sense of self as she produces a sketch show under the aegis of a massive commercial corporation. (30 Rock)
• When terrorists kidnap the president and take over the White House, Mitch Rapp—a level-headed, tough-as-nails secret agent—must single-handedly do what the ineffectual U.S. government can not: infiltrate the White House, rescue the president, and defeat the terrorists. (Transfer of Power)
Now, these loglines aren’t necessarily perfect, but I do think they sift out each story’s essence: the story’s main character, what that character wants, obstacles in her path, and a sense of how the story works emotionally.
So being able to write a logline isn’t just developing a sales tool, a succinct blip to quickly communicate your story… it’s an exercise to help YOU understand the basic nut of your story, it’s primary narrative and emotional engine.
THIS is the most important purpose of the logline… to laser-focus you on the core of your story. Which is why I say: if you can’t tell your story in a single logline, you don’t yet know what that core is.
Perhaps you’re trying to tell too many stories at once… perhaps you don’t fully understand your main character… but until you can articulate your story in one tight sentence, you still have some developing and pre-writing to do.
Anyway, Scott… I hope this helps (without sound too asshole-y)… and please keep reading and posting! Coming up in the next few days, we have more Pitch Workshop entries, new movie reviews, some great new websites, and more!