The Logline: A Screenwriting Tool for Text Analysis

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In screenwriting (writing for movies and TV), the logline is key to brainstorming story ideas and also selling them or "pitching" them to buyers.  Crafting loglines can help the writer flesh out new plot ideas before writing the entire script.  It's much easier to revise the logline rather than an entire hundred page script!  The logline also serves the role of marketing film ideas and should aim to entice the audience to want to know more about the story without giving the entire story away.  But how does this pertain to teaching English?  The logline concept is a tool that we can use as English teachers as another structure or strategy for summarizing texts while simultaneously tapping into the rhetorical power of ambiguity.

First, let's take a look at some sample loglines, parts of the logline, and rules for writing them.  Then, we can apply the logline concept to summarizing texts in secondary ELA!


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Sample Loglines

Jurassic Park

Scientists reproduce dinosaurs on an island, but a greedy employee releases them, and a group of people try to get off the island alive.

The Wizard of Oz

A young girl finds herself lost in a magical land after she’s hit in the head during a tornado, and she must seek out the only person who can bring her back home while also defeating a wicked witch.

Titanic

A third-class passenger saves a first-class woman, which ignites their forbidden love affair on the fateful voyage of the RMS Titanic.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Three high school seniors skip school for a day and enjoy the sights of Chicago all while trying to avoid being caught by their parents and the high school principal. 


Parts of a Logline

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The Protagonist

  • The main character(s) of the story

  • Don’t mention character names

  • Refer to the character by his/her role in the story (i.e.Thechef,etc.)

 

The Protagonist’s Goal

  • Reveal what the protagonist(s) want to accomplish in the story

The Antagonist

  • Mention who or what stands in the way of the protagonist accomplishing his/her goal

  • The Setting

  • Include the setting if it is important to the plot (i.e.WWII,Titanic,etc.)

How to Craft a Logline:  The Rules

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  1. A LOGLINE is a one or two sentence statement that summarizes the film plot as succinctly as possible while also serving as a teaser for the film.

  2. Use an adjective to give depth to the characters. • Examples: The young girl, A blind superhero, etc.

    • Clearly state the protagonist’s main goal.

    • A quick way to do this is to add the word “wants” after introducing the protagonist.

    • Example: A blind superhero wants to save a city from crime.

  3. Describe the antagonist. How does the antagonist attempt to block the protagonist? This is what creates the actual story.

  4. Include stakes such as a ticking time bomb, if you can. Stakes make a story more dramatic by creating tension.

  5. Include the “rules” of the setting if needed.

    • Sometimes, a world operates by a different set of rules, and the rules of the world need to be explained (briefly).

    • Example: In a world where children are grown in factories

  6. Don't let the problem be solved by magic or fate.

    • Fate, magic, or dumb luck should not magically solve the protagonist’s problem. The protagonist should work to solve the problem, and the resolution should stem from the protagonist’s own actions.

    • Stories with magical endings are often a letdown for the audience.

  7. Don't give away the ending of the story.

    • Don’t reveal the plot twist ending in the logline. Leave it open- ended in order to entice the listener.

  8. Don’t tell the story! Sell the story!


The Logline for Text Summary

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Using a logline as a summative tool can help in assessing the important literary elements of a text such as: setting, protagonist, antagonist, and conflict. It can also help in determining the pivotal events and turning points in the story that create the dramatic interest and tension.  Students can use the logline strategy to summarize texts, and these short, dramatic summary statements can be used to assess student understanding of key concepts in a piece of literature.  The logline provides another creative means to target close reading skills and text analysis in a format that is concise, yet challenging.  Students can take turns sharing their loglines as well as trying to guess the name of the text the logline is describing.  

Example: Romeo and Juliet

In medieval Italy, a young man falls in love with the daughter of his family’s sworn enemy. They elope with tragic consequences, and their families are changed forever.

Example: The Great Gatsby

In the roaring 20s of Long Island and New York City, a self-made millionaire uses his fortune won through bootlegging to win back his long lost love who has married into a family of ‘old money.’

Click here to download a FREE copy of the Logline for Text Summary Handout from Bespoke ELA!

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Comparison Texts as Analysis

Have you ever heard films being compared to other films as part of the screenplay "pitch"?  Comparing new story ideas to familiar story ideas allows for "buyers" and filmmakers to get an overall vision for the story concept. 

Example:  Shaun of the Dead is like Dawn of the Dead Meets Spaceballs.

Example:  Nanny McPhee is like Mary Poppins meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Example:  Harry Potter is like Sherlock Holmes meets The Sword in the Stone.

Students can use this same structure to draw comparisons between texts and then explain the rationale behind their comparisons.  In a way, students are asked to craft a miniature argument in which they make a claim (text comparisons) and then explain their reasoning using examples (evidence) from the texts.  This is a high-interest way to target writing skills in a concise format.  Couple this strategy with the logline, and students can go in depth with their literary analysis in the space of only a few sentences!


Have you ever used screenwriting in your classes to target Common Core skills in a high-interest way?  Leave us a comment below.  We'd love to hear from you!

You might also like:

Screenwriting:  A Creative Approach to the Common Core

Writing is Recursive, NOT Linear:  Free Task Cards Included!

Commentary for Literary Analysis:  Four Square Strategy for Success!

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About the Author

Meredith is the founder and creator of TeachWriting.org and Bespoke ELA.  She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University.  She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas.  Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.

 


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