Logline Cliches to Avoid
When you read logline after logline, patterns emerge.
These patterns are sometimes exact copies of each other, clichés based on expressions that are hammered into our heads in taglines we’ve seen on movie or show posters, or in voiceovers we heard in trailers by the late, great Don LaFontaine.
Here are clichés to avoid in loglines and how you can overcome them. Keep in mind that using these can scream “novice writer” to a reader.
In most cases, the solution to these is to simply be more specific as to what you are really trying to say when you use them.
1. The hunter must become the hunted
This is a clichéd tagline that appears in loglines. If the premise involves the hunter becoming the prey, then your logline should illustrate how.
Example: A corrupt cop discovers the man he helped put behind bars twenty years ago is released and angry. Now, the hunter becomes the hunted.
This is better: A corrupt cop learns the wrongly-convicted genius he helped put behind bars twenty years ago is released. Now, his paranoia increases as he sees evidence he may be stalking him despite moving across the country to a farm.
2. Must face his fears/Must face her nightmares
Which fears? Be specific. How does this particular fear tie into the story? Often, the fear is a universal fear or it is a fear unique to the character that makes his/her encounters that much more nightmarish.
Example: A magician must face his biggest fears when he confronts a killer clown.
This is better: A traveling-circus magician who had a traumatic childhood incident involving clowns is targeted by a killer clown who hates magicians.
See a pattern on these movie posters? Trust no clichéd loglines. Taglines often influence loglines in the wrong way.
3. Blood is thicker than water
This is another clichéd tagline that appears in loglines. Again, your logline should illustrate how the family dynamics play into the conflict.
Example: When a rogue DEA agent tries to hunt down a narcotics dealer, he must go through the kingpin’s family first, only to find out blood is thicker than water.
This is better: When a rogue DEA agent plans on destroying a narcotics dealer’s empire, he must first battle the drug lord’s vicious family members across Texas, one by one.
4. Hijinks ensue/hilarity ensues/sparks fly
Be creative! If your script’s premise is funny or interesting or romantic, then you don’t need to say “hilarity ensues,” “sparks fly” or “love is in the air.”
Example: Two Pilates instructors become rivals and lovers. Sparks fly.
Example 2: A Pilates instructor finds out a successful rival is setting up shop across street. It would be easier to want to take him down if she didn’t see in him everything she wanted in a man.
5. Discovers something that will change him forever
More specifically, this refers to when the protagonist is mentioned as having discovered something crazy about his/her life without mentioning what it actually is. This is frequently found in dramas.
I understand the desire to not spoil your a-ha moment too early. But more often than not, when a protagonist discovers that thing, it’s usually not even near the end of the script. Especially if this “revelation” occurs in the first or second act (it’s an inciting incident or plot point to keep the story moving), it’s ok to include it in your logline. If it’s your final twist ending, then I’m sure there are other revelations that would be better suited in your logline, such as your inciting incident.
But making this epiphany or life-changing moment sound vague will not inspire intrigue in the reader. Why? Because many other writers say the same thing, using the exact same words (something that will change his life or something that will change him forever).
Instead of producing an intense curiosity, the logline will inspire yawns.
Example: When an out-of-work, middle-aged mom dusts off a hidden chest in the attic, she discovers something that will change her forever.
This is better: When an out-of-work, middle-aged mom dusts off a hidden chest in the attic, she discovers numerous jewels and coins originally seized by Nazis, worth millions. Now, she must either sell the treasures and prevent a foreclosure or track down the rightful owners that her Nazi father may have stolen them from.
Spotting Other Clichés
A good way to see if your logline includes clichéd phrases is to take a look at more examples.
So here is a nice list of common clichés in taglines on movie posters that might appear in your loglines.
Instead of using clichés, think about what you are really trying to say. Otherwise, the clichés will come across as lazy writing.
When you are specific and pinpoint what makes your story’s premise, conflict and characters stand out, then you will have an original-sounding logline that a reader will remember.
Know any other clichés in loglines or have any questions? Email me! InkTipStoryPower (at) gmail dot com
Questions? Comments? Write me at InkTipStoryPower (at) gmail dot com
Michael Kim has worked in every department at InkTip. He is now the VP of Product Development & Media. Besides working on music, he loves foreign cinema, ramen and watching NBA clips on YouTube.