Loglines v. Tag Lines

I read a tweet a little while ago about “high-concept stories” and how they can be distilled into a single sentence. This is, generally speaking, true. But then the example given was… Well, I’m not going to post it, but it was not a high-concept logline. It was more of a tag line. You know, the kind of thing you’d see on a movie poster, or maybe even on the back of a book. It doesn’t tell you the plot. Instead, it’s meant to intrigue the reader into wanting to know more.

For example, “Following the leader just got deadly” is not a logline. It is a tag line.

When trying to come up with a logline, it helps to be old school and think about the write-ups in TV Guide. (Yes, I’m that old.) Often one sentence long, these summed up the plot of a show or episode neatly so viewers knew what to expect and could decide whether to watch. “A small-town detective discovers a hidden temple and must destroy a grass-roots cult before it spreads” is a logline. It leaves no questions about the plot, only, hopefully, the desire to see it play out—which, ultimately, is the goal in getting people to watch the movie or read the book. The tag line for this might be more like: “He must betray life-long friends in order to save them.” (I’m assuming the detective has lived in this town his whole life, so the cult members are old friends… You know, never mind.)

Another way to differentiate a logline from a tag line is that a logline answers the question, “What is your book/movie about?” You wouldn’t answer that with a tag line. At least, you shouldn’t. If an agent or producer is asking, you would seek to give a succinct answer. “It’s about a spy whose lover is accused of treason and he’s forced to choose sides.” Not, “Can he be both loyal to his country and his heart?”

A tag line is open-ended and sometimes posed in the form of a question (see above). Even when it’s not, it’s meant to create a question in the mind of the consumer—ideally, a question the consumer then feels driven to answer by watching or reading. How did following a leader become deadly? Can this detective save his friends and friendships?

In short, the tag line poses a question, either explicitly or implicitly. The logline answers one—specifically, what the story is about. A tag line will often sound a little like a marketing slogan. A logline will sound more like a summary. They’re used in different ways, though each serves the purpose of drawing in an audience.