If you’ve ever tried your hand at writing for film and TV, you’ve probably come across the term “logline” before. Industry professionals often say it’s the most important part of a sales pitch, and can be the deciding factor in whether or not your script makes it to the screen.

Learning a great logline formula can be helpful for writers in other mediums, too. Let’s look at what this term means, and how to write a logline of your own that stands out from the crowd.

What is a logline?

A logline is a concise one-sentence summary of a film, stageplay, or novel. It’s used to quickly show audiences who and what the story will be about. A logline introduces the protagonist and their goal throughout the story, and the stakes which power that goal. When done well, a good logline will make the audience want to know more.

You can think of a logline as the “calling card” of a potential book, movie, or TV series. It gives decision makers in the industry—such as agents, publishers, and producers—an idea of what to expect and how well your work will sell. A compelling logline should be brief, but with enough information to encompass the broad premise.

Although loglines began as a tool for the film industry, they can also be useful techniques for other long-form narrative mediums like traditional novels, plays, or graphic novels. You’ll sometimes see this being called a “hook.” A compelling logline is essential when pitching a novel to a literary agent or publisher; and, they can help you structure your initial idea earlier in the writing process.

For example, the logline for To Kill a Mockingbird could be: “When an innocent black man is accused of raping a white girl in a depression-era south, an idealist lawyer must defend him against a society certain of his guilt.”

What’s the difference between a logline and a tagline?

The difference between a logline and a tagline is who they’re primarily targeted at. A logline is a “behind the scenes” tool targeted at industry professionals, while a tagline is targeted at potential viewers and readers. Loglines have more information and encompass the broader story, while taglines are short, snappy teasers of the theme or mood.

A logline is a short description of your overall story; a tagline is a witty slogan that catches audience’s attention.

For example, the logline of The Shawshank Redemption is “Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.” The tagline is “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”

The logline is just a summary of what the movie is about. The tagline gives you a hint of what to expect from watching it.

Some taglines, like the example above, are thematic and inspiring. Others are meant to hold the audience in suspense, or make them laugh. “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative” is the tagline from the film Greedy, about a money-hungry family fighting over a deceased relative’s will.

How to write a compelling logline

A logline should be a single sentence long and use the present-tense, active voice. Each will include or allude to four cornerstones of the story’s plot: character, inciting event, goals, and conflicts.

Let’s take a closer look at these four key elements that every traditional logline needs.

Define your main character

The first thing a logline does is introduces the main character or characters. This should be a generalization, rather than character names. For instance: an aspiring dancer, a brilliant neuroscientist, a jaded pensioner, etc.

The exception? You can use a character’s name if the main character already exists in the public consciousness: Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Cinderella, and so forth. But if the audience doesn’t yet know who they are, stick to a descriptor.

If you can create strong protagonists that sound interesting to follow, you’re already halfway there.

Introduce the inciting incident

This is the key event that sets the story in motion. This might be a disastrous catastrophe (a power outage releases all the caged dinosaurs) or a catastrophe disguised as an opportunity (the protagonist starts a new dream job at a megalith tech company).

Or, it could be an event that happens because of a distinct moment in time: on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, his high school graduation, their best friend’s wedding.

Allude to your character’s objective

Next, the logline gives a quick tl;dr of the protagonist’s goal. This is the primary objective that drives the story. For example: must win his local talent show, must convince their town to evacuate, searches for the lost treasure of Malakuk, tries to reconnect with her daughter, etc.

This will often be an extension of the inciting incident, or the event that gets the story moving. It won’t reveal what happens as the story progresses.

Highlight the central conflict and/or stakes

Finally, the logline hints at what’s standing in the protagonist’s way, or what’s at risk if they fail.

Be specific—it’s tempting to just write “against impossible odds,” or “before it’s too late,” but that doesn’t really tell us very much. Instead: before the spell becomes permanent, choosing his career or his morals in the process, in a world where talking has been outlawed, etc. This is the part that shows why your story is unique.

Here’s how these four pieces look when assembled together:

A teenager (the protagonist) is transported to the past (the inciting incident), where he must reunite his parents (the objective) before he and his future cease to exist (the stakes).

This is the logline for Back to the Future!

When writing a logline, remember to hint at the driving conflict.

How long should a logline be?

A logline should be short, sweet, and snappy. It should bypass revealing too much about subplots and character arcs and focus on conveying the core concept of the film. Loglines can be as short as 15 words and as long as about 40, but 20—30 words is the ideal range for a standard logline.

Here are a few examples in the perfect logline range:

A 17-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic. (Titanic): 20 words

A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims. (Silence of the Lambs): 27 words

After a tragic accident, two stage magicians engage in a battle to create the ultimate illusion while sacrificing everything they have to outwit each other. (The Prestige): 25 words

Successful logline examples

Let’s look at a few famous logline examples to see how the experts crafted the perfect elevator pitch.

The Godfather

The ageing patriarch of an organized crime dynasty in postwar New York City transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant youngest son.

The logline for one of the most famous films of all time, this short summary introduces a potential audience to the two main characters and the central conflict between them: an “ageing patriarch” and a “reluctant” young man who want different things. The engaging setting and the intergenerational elements of this film’s logline grab the reader’s interest.

Rear Window

A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

This classic psychological thriller introduces two conflicts: the suspicion of murder, and the protagonist’s debilitating handicap. Notice how the logline chooses to use the words “becomes convinced”, rather than “witnesses”. This tells the audience that much of the film’s suspense will come from the unreliable narrator’s emotional state.

The best loglines convey a whole world in a small space.


A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.

This film introduces the protagonist and the setting, and hints at the story’s conflicts through its language. “Cut-throat” and “stop at nothing” imply an escalation of interpersonal conflict along the road to success. At 30 words long, this logline runs on a little bit, but the initial idea is still compelling. When writing your own logline, try not to go much higher than 30 words.

A great logline opens doors

In the publishing industry, an attention-grabbing logline is one of the most important parts of the writing journey. It can be the difference between a manuscript that languishes in the back of a drawer for decades and a Hollywood hit.

Loglines help producers and networks decide whether or not to take a chance on your story—so make it count!