Blurbs and Loglines and Synopses… Oh My!

By:

One of the most dreaded tasks of screenwriting is writing about your work. You’ve just spent months or even years crafting your screenplay. You’ve whittled it down to a lean mean one hundred and two pages and now you’re asked to cut it down to a one or two-page synopsis, or a single paragraph blurb or, worst of all, a single sentence logline.

If you’re at all like me, part of you is thinking, ‘How do I do that? If I could have told the story in two pages, I would have.’ But, being able to write these shorter forms is not only something you have to do, it’s something you have to do well. So, here are some things to be thinking about.

LOGLINE

This is a single sentence (very occasionally two) about your movie that is very much like what you’d read in the newspaper or in a TV Guide. It is sometimes called an elevator pitch—in other words, what you would say if you were in an elevator with the head of a studio for ten seconds. Like your script, it should have a beginning, middle and an end. Three acts. At the point where your story breaks into the second act, there should be a compelling verb like has to, needs to, or must.

Here’s an old logline of mine from a comedy I wrote called Party Boy.

“A socially challenged young man meets the woman of his dreams at the first party of the Christmas season when he fails to get her name he must then go to as many parties as he can to find her again.”

Notice that the largest amount of space is dedicated to the first act, or the setup. “A socially challenged young man meets the woman of his dreams at the first party of the Christmas season…” That’s pretty much always going to be the case with your loglines because the set up is when you tell the audience what your story is about. It’s not disproportionately larger in your script, but it will be in a logline because you have to convey what the story is about—which is what the setup does in your script.

The second act in a logline is usually shorter than the first. In this case, “…when he fails to get her name he must go to as many parties as he can find…” Notice how this suggests a scene – the first party – and then several scenes – his attending many parties. And then the third act is only a few words, “to find her again.” See, you don’t have to spell out the end. A logline’s purpose is to get the reader to request the script—not tell them the whole story.

BLURB

A blurb is simply a longer version of your logline. The annoying thing with blurbs is that when one is required each agent/manager/ producer will often ask for a blurb of a different size. You’re going to have to rewrite them in different sizes—so hold on to each one. The blurb I’m including here is from a script I wrote called Good Faith. It’s on the short end of blurbs.

“What if someone offered you everything you’ve ever dreamed of and all you have to do to get it…is die? When Billy Colson gets involved with an ambitious real estate agent’s scheme to collect millions in insurance payments, he finds himself in an ever-deepening web of lies, deceit and violence. Sooner or later he’s gonna have to hold up his end of the bargain.”

When you do your blurb you can add names—particularly of the main character—though, not too many. You can also be a bit more descriptive and add sub-plots. You can also be a bit more creative. You’ll notice that my blurb is posed as a question. One of the reasons I did that is that the script is a noir thriller and, as with many noir stories, the script itself poses a ‘what if’ question. I also don’t want to give away the ending. As with the logline, it’s divided into beginning middle and end. This time the sentences delineate the structure.

SYNOPSIS

Like blurbs, depending on who you’re submitting to, the size of the synopsis requested can be anywhere from one to three pages. And, for that reason, I’m not including an example.

Of the three, a synopsis is the least marketing oriented—though it is still a sales document. You do need to tell the entire story, including the end. If you’ve done a beat sheet for your script that would be a great place to start, and if you haven’t done a beat sheet why haven’t you? (When you write a beat sheet you go through your story and write a few lines on each beat or story point of your script) Basically in your synopsis you tell the story in economical prose.

So, here are some things common to loglines, blurbs and synopses. You have to remember to include your selling points without making them seem obvious. Selling points usually have to do with genre and which stars might be interested. Now, I didn’t use genre in either of my examples. I feel that the genre of each came across so it’s redundant to mention it. On the other hand, some scripts need the genre called out. For instance, if you’ve written a raucous comedy about a cancer patient you’ll need to actually say it’s a comedy. And, you don’t really want to name the stars your story might attract while at the same time making it completely clear. So if you say, “Shelly, a spunky Southern girl in her late thirties, literally trips over the man of her dreams…” Most of your readers are going to think Reese Witherspoon. But since you haven’t mentioned her, if they prefer another actress they might think about her instead.

One final tip: don’t wait until you finish to write your blurb. Doing it partway through a project can help you see what you’re trying to do and figure out if you’re actually doing it.

author-avatar

Marshall Thornton has an MFA from UCLA in screenwriting. He spent ten years writing spec scripts and has been a semi-finalist or better in the Nicholl, Samuel Goldwyn, American Accolades, One-In-Ten and Austin Film Festival contests. As a novelist, he writes the Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mysteries. The eight book series follows the cases of a gay detective in turbulent 1980s Chicago. Marshall has also been known to write the occasional romantic comedy. You can find him online at marshallthorntonauthor.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @mrshllthornton

14 Replies to "Blurbs and Loglines and Synopses… Oh My!"

  • comment-avatar
    Joe Toplyn April 11, 2017 (2:08 pm)

    Thanks for your article, but I don’t agree that a screenplay synopsis should include the end of the story.

    Spoiling the ending in the synopsis does not help to compel a reader to read the script, it makes it easier for the reader not to read the script. And doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a synopsis?

    For more on this topic, read my article: http://joetoplyn.com/should-you-include-the-end-in-a-movie-synopsis/

    • comment-avatar
      Marshall Thornton April 11, 2017 (4:14 pm)

      In my experience, when a full synopsis is asked for they do want the end and usually specifically say so. And, yes, that’s so they don’t have to read the whole script. Which is why you need a good synopsis.

      • comment-avatar
        Joe Toplyn April 11, 2017 (4:54 pm)

        I’m sure plenty of producers want the writer to include the end in the synopsis, but that doesn’t mean including the ending is good for the writer.

        Here’s a show business analogy. The purpose of any movie trailer is to compel the public to spend time and money to see the movie. That makes a movie trailer the visual equivalent of a script synopsis.

        Does a movie trailer ever include the ending of the movie? Never!

        A trailer that spoiled the end would give people a reason not to spend time and money to see the movie. And a marketing executive who recommended that a movie trailer reveal the ending would be laughed at.

        That’s why I recommend that a writer write a terrific synopsis but omit the ending.

        As successful screenwriter William Martell says about writing a synopsis: “It’s designed to make the reader want to grab my script and start reading, NOT to give them all of the story beats so they can ‘pass’ without reading it.”

        • comment-avatar
          Marshall Thornton April 11, 2017 (6:52 pm)

          I understand what you’re saying, but if the ending is requested in the synopsis and you don’t provide it you pretty much guarantee they’ll pass.

      • comment-avatar
        Andrew M.A. Spear April 12, 2017 (6:05 am)

        Marshall, I agree with you. In a lot of cases the ending is the main selling point for the script. It can be the WOW moment. Why wouldn’t you want to show it off?

        • comment-avatar
          Marshall Thornton April 12, 2017 (6:20 am)

          Thanks for commenting. I feel like I should clarify something. These are things you write for professionals rather than the general public. When you’re asked for a logline or a blurb, you’re really being asked for something that shows them what the marketing will be like. You want them to read the logline or blurb and say “Okay, this sounds like something we could sell.” When they ask for a full synopsis, they’re looking at how produce-able your script is. The cost to make your film has to be in line with the kind of film it is. A family drama set in the 1940s usually shouldn’t cost fifty million. So if the third act requires that you recreate the attack on Pearl Harbor you might have a problem, or that might be the thing that gets you bought, either way they need to know. Which is why they sometimes ask for a complete synopsis.

          • comment-avatar
            Joe Toplyn April 12, 2017 (8:20 am)

            Here’s how I would address your concerns. If a producer is looking for a family drama with a budget under, say, $5 million, I wouldn’t send him/her my script that ends with a recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

            If I send the producer my family drama script anyway and the producer adores it but decides that the last twenty or so pages are too expensive to shoot, that’s what rewrites are for. Rare is the script that gets shot exactly as written. Maybe in the next draft the attack on Pearl Harbor takes place offscreen.

            I might also indicate in my synopsis that the movie ends with the attack on Pearl Harbor without giving away what’s really important about the ending, which is what happens to the characters and stories. If my synopsis makes the producer crave to know those things, he/she will just have to read the script, or have a reader read it. And my ending-less synopsis will have done its job.

          • comment-avatar
            Marshall Thornton April 12, 2017 (9:19 am)

            Joe, I don’t have concerns. I was illustrating my point and my illustration doesn’t need to be “solved.” My advice to anyone starting out is to follow the rules and provide what is expected. If you have an agent or a manager who will submit your work even when you ignore what’s asked for, great, congratulations. But most writers starting out are going to need to navigate a long line of assistants, readers, junior agents, agents, managers, producer’s interns, producer’s assistants, producer’s readers and finally producers. I don’t think ignoring what’s requested is going to get anyone through that gauntlet. You’re welcome to disagree. There aren’t really right or wrong answers here. I’m just trying to give writers information they can use to make their own decisions.

        • comment-avatar
          Joe Toplyn April 12, 2017 (7:44 am)

          Andrew, respectfully, if the main selling point for your script occurs at the end, your script has big problems. The ending should be terrific, but every other element of the script has to be terrific, too. So why not make your synopsis as compelling as possible without the ending?

          Prove to the reader with your few well-crafted paragraphs that your script has an intriguing premise, engaging characters, textbook story structure in the first two acts, rising conflict, stakes that are raised, and all that good screenwriting stuff.

          But omit the ending. Make the reader of your synopsis think: “This writer seems like a total professional and this script sounds amazing. I really want to know how it ends. I guess I’ll just have to read the whole script to find out.“

          • comment-avatar
            Marshall Thornton April 12, 2017 (8:01 am)

            Joe, what I’ve written is advice. And I appreciate you sharing your advice. There really isn’t a right or wrong answer, though. When a screenwriter is faced with having to write a synopsis they will have to make their own choices.

            However, I do want to point out that The Sixth Sense and The Others are two films where the ending is actually a selling point, so Andrew may not have “big problems.” And, “your few well-crafted paragraphs” is a blurb. When a synopsis is requested it is 1 to 3 pages, which is many paragraphs. And, finally, if an agent/manager/producer requests that the ending be included in a synopsis and you ignore that request you’re telling them you don’t have any intention of listening to them and they’re probably won’t request your script for that reason alone. It won’t matter one bit how well you’ve written your synopsis.

  • comment-avatar
    Mary April 11, 2017 (2:15 pm)

    Thanks. I especially appreciate you showing how to delineate the three acts in each format.

  • comment-avatar
    Tom States April 11, 2017 (4:23 pm)

    In his book Save The Cat, the late Blake Snyder makes a compelling case for writing your log line first, then your synopsis, then your script. Perfecting the log line and synopsis before beginning your script helps to point up any holes in your story and allows you to solve them before you’ve got 100 pages written and realize something’s wrong. Once you’ve perfected both of these short-form versions of your story, writing the script becomes easier because all your story holes have already been solved. Now you’re basically just writing dialog and formatting. Genius!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

Join Our Magazine
Get a free subscription to ScreenwritingU Magazine and download over 40 Academy Nominated screenplays.
No Thanks
Thanks for Joining ScreenwritingU Magazine!
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Join today!
×
×