12 October 2013

Writers of a Lost Art

by John M. Floyd

Well, not a lost art. Let's say an unusual art, or a rarely seen art.

What I'm referring to are loglines, and their first cousins, teasers. Neither is associated with all kinds of fiction projects, but sometimes one or the other is necessary for, and requested by, a publisher or an editor. Or, in the case of a film, a producer.

I've written about this subject before, at Criminal Brief--here's a link to the column, called "A Story in a Nutshell," from almost five years ago--so I won't go into a long spiel, here. Let me just mention that a logline is usually a one-sentence, present-tense summary of a story or novel or movie (think of it as a super-brief synopsis), and can ideally be used for the benefit of both the writer and the publisher. Examples: "An archaeologist tries to prevent the Nazis from using an ancient relic to conquer the world," or "A lawyer falls under a spell and loses his ability to lie for twenty-four hours."

Some writers say that if they create a logline before the story is begun it can help them keep the plotline "on track," and some publishers/editors/producers say they like to see such a summary as a part of the treatment or the query letter to help them evaluate (or decide whether to bother to evaluate) the work.

A teaser, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: a short description designed to generate curiosity and interest in the piece. To me, a teaser is to a logline what the inside jacket copy is to a synopsis. The purpose of teasers and jacket copy is to be enticing, period; the purpose of loglines and synopses is to be informative.

Please tease me

Rob Lopresti pointed out, in one of the comments posted to my Criminal Brief column, that a teaser is also known as "high concept," since it provides a short pitch that helps in the marketing of a project. Examples that were used in that CB piece and in the comments following it were the phrase "Die Hard on a battleship" to promote the movie Under Siege, and "High Noon on a space station" to describe the Sean Connery film Outland. If we follow that thread, a teaser for the movie The Last Samurai could probably be "Dances With Wolves in the Far East." Both films involve a guy thrown into an unfamiliar and hostile world, and learning to survive and feel at home there. The same kind of thing happens in Avatar, which is a high-tech, futuristic version of Dances With Wolves. (I've gradually come to believe that there are very few "new" plots--just rehashes of old ones.)

Teasers are even used occasionally in magazines, to introduce short stories. They're usually longer than teasers for films, and appear right after the bylines, and are furnished by either the editor or the writer. I remember that the fiction editor of Futures (later renamed Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine) often asked me to submit teasers along with my story manuscripts, especially if they were "series" mysteries. I've sometimes done that for Mysterical-E as well. Example: "When Sheriff Lucy Valentine leaves for the day, her deputy is in charge. At least until Lucy's mother arrives . . ."

Epics of miniature proportions

Anyhow, what I'd like to do today is present you with a quiz featuring yet another member of the logline/teaser family: taglines.

Taglines are the short and usually witty slogans that appear on movie posters and DVD packaging. Some are just a play on words: "The snobs against the slobs" (Caddyshack), "The coast is toast" (Volcano), "Escape or die frying" (Chicken Run). Others don't really tell you anything but they're funny: "Love is in the hair" (There's Something About Mary), "A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood" (A Fish Called Wanda), "The longer you wait, the harder it gets" (The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Still others are so familiar they've become part of our culture: "An offer you can't refuse," "Love means never having to say you're sorry," "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." The best of them, in my opinion, are the mysterious, puzzling ones that don't summarize or identify the film; they just offer a catchy hint about its content.

Here's what I mean. See if you can remember what movie each of the following fifty taglines refers to. Some are easy, but if you find others difficult, I think you'll still recognize them when you see the answers (which are included later in the column). And no peeking . . .

1. An adventure 65 million years in the making.

2. You don't assign him to murder cases. You just turn him loose.

3. This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about the future.

4. For anyone who has ever wished upon a star.

5. Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.

6. They're here . . .

7. The first casualty of war is innocence.

8. In space no one can hear you scream.

9. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

10. A man went looking for America, and couldn't find it anywhere.

11. His whole life was a million-to-one shot.

12. The true story of a real fake.

13. She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees.

14. Check in. Relax. Take a shower.

15. For Harry and Lloyd, every day is a no-brainer.

16. You'll believe a man can fly.

17. He is afraid. He is alone. He is three million light years from home.

18. Where were you in '62?

19. Collide with destiny.

20. You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.

21. This is the weekend they didn't play golf.

22. The story of a man who was too proud to run.

23. They're young . . . they're in love . . . and they kill people.

24. Houston, we have a problem.

25. Same make. Same model. New mission.

26. He's having the worst day of his life . . . over and over.

27. To enter the mind of a killer, she must challenge the mind of a madman.

28. Work sucks.

29. Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.

30. Protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe!

31. One man's struggle to take it easy.

32. What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew, was the only someone for you?

33. The last man on Earth is not alone.

34. Life is like a box of chocolates . . . you never know what you're gonna get.

35. Handcuffed to the girl who double-crossed him.

36. He's the only kid ever to get in trouble before he was born.

37. A love caught in the fire of revolution.

38. Invisible. Silent. Stolen.

39. Who ya gonna call?

40. There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one.

41. What a glorious feeling.

42. Can two friends sleep together and love each other in the morning?

43. Earth. Take a good look. It could be your last.

44. He had to find her . . . he had to find her.

45. They'll never get caught. They're on a mission from God.

46. For three men the Civil War wasn't hell. It was practice.

47. Nice planet. We'll take it!

48. Before Sam was murdered, he told Molly he'd love and protect her forever.

49. Three decades of life in the mafia.

50. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.


1. Jurassic Park
2. Dirty Harry
3. The Graduate
4. Pinocchio
5. The Big Lebowski
6. Poltergeist
7. Platoon
8. Alien
9. Jaws 2
10. Easy Rider
11. Rocky
12. Catch Me If You Can
13. Erin Brockovich
14. Psycho
15. Dumb and Dumber
16. Superman
17. E.T.
18. American Graffiti
19. Titanic
20. The Social Network
21. Deliverance
22. High Noon
23. Bonnie and Clyde
24. Apollo 13
25. Terminator 2
26. Groundhog Day
27. The Silence of the Lambs
28. Office Space
29. The Shawshank Redemption
30. Men in Black
31. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
32. Sleepless in Seattle
33. I Am Legend
34. Forrest Gump
35. The 39 Steps
36. Back to the Future
37. Doctor Zhivago
38. The Hunt for Red October
39. Ghostbusters
40. Finding Nemo
41. Singin' in the Rain
42. When Harry Met Sally
43. Independence Day
44. The Searchers
45. The Blues Brothers
46. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
47. Mars Attacks!
48. Ghost
49. Goodfellas
50. The Shining

And that's that. I hope you had a perfect score (but if you did I feel a little sorry for you--that means you're as addicted to the pursuit of worthless information as I am). And if you can remember some good taglines that I missed, please let me know. I'm off to the Gulf Coast today for another booksigning--no rest for the weary--but I'll be checking in here late this afternoon to see if there are others who like to read movie posters.

I think you'll be happy to know that in this spot on October 26 we'll be featuring pointers about how to effectively market what we've written, in a guest column by my old friend and prolific short-story author Michael Bracken. But for now, thanks for allowing me to indulge myself.

All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.


  1. Great fun, John. I think I got all the lines of the movies I've actually seen. BTW, loglines may be optional or even rare for short story writers. Not for novelists--the elevator pitch is essential (especially at Bouchercon or Malice when a desirable agent steps into the elevator). The teaser is a must for your e-book's page on Amazon. Here are some of mine:

    Don't drink, go to meetings, and investigate a murder.
    Bruce and his friends take shares in a lethal clean and sober group house in the Hamptons.
    Nashville meets True Blood.
    What really happened when Columbus discovered America.

  2. Liz -- I just got back. Thanks for the tip, on the necessity of loglines for novels. You've come up with some good ones!

  3. Thanks, John, for a great eye-opener. I think I pegged about 20% on the list. LOL Really appreciate the insight!


  4. Dix, I think it speaks well of you that you DIDN'T know them all. I probably waste way too much time watching all these movies--but I suppose it's not the worst vice I could have . . .


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