In my role as Head Mentor for Young Storytellers I lead ten fifth grade students and ten adult mentors through the story writing process. We start by teaching the kids the basics of storytelling. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Stories occur in a certain time and place (setting). They have a protagonist (character) that wants something (goal) and the goal must not easily be achieved; there must be a struggle (conflict). Sometimes the obstacle that gets in the way of achieving the goal is another person called an antagonist. The struggle culminates in the most exciting part of the story (climax) which reveals whether or not the hero gets what he or she wants (resolution). By the end, the characters or the audience should learn something from the story (lesson). This is all Story 101, but I never get tired of teaching it.
One of my favorite exercises is when we have the students create loglines. A logline is a mad-lib style one-sentence summary of a story that the students use as a springboard to writing their scripts. The logline goes like this:
In ________________________ (setting), ____________________ (protagonist) wants ______________________ (goal), but ________________________________ (conflict) stands in their, so they ___________________________________ (resolution), having learned __________________ (lesson).
Here are a few of my current students’ loglines. I can’t help but smile when I read them.
In Pancake land, Jeff the puppy wants to be President but Sembulock stands in his way, so they talk about healthcare learning everyone needs healthcare.
On a planet, Spaceman Guy wants a spaceship but anti-spaceship corp. stands in his way, so he makes anti-anti-spaceship corp. learning that you should be nice.
In a small town called Woodlake, Zach wants to make realistic animation and a cartoon for his little brother, but his brother presses a button that brings animation icons come to life and they take Zach’s computer, so Zach calls his friend to help, learning to always lock his door.
On Milky Mountain, Nimuay wants to reach the Golden Goblet that’s on top of Milky Mountain but Lord of the Chickens stands in the way, so they decide not to fight but to get the golden goblet together learning that you can achieve something even when you could use a little help.
Brilliant, right? I think so. The students are thick in the process of turning these loglines into scripts and I cannot wait to see the end result performed on stage by professional actors in just a few weeks.
The logline exercise isn’t just something you can do when you’re trying to break a story. It is a helpful (and fun) exercise to do when trying to explain a complex situation. For example:
In Hollyland, Nathan wants to be a writer, but The Gatekeepers stand in his way, so he creates a website to share his ideas having learned that you don’t need to wait for someone to tell you “yes” to do what you love to do.
In the land of the free, Donald wants power, but the Electoral College stands in his way, so he travels around the land promising he’ll make everything “Great!” learning that people will vote for you if you are loud and divisive.
In Wrigleyville, the Cubs want to win the big game, but a curse and the lack of talent stand in their way, so they trade away their current players for the very best young talent learning that curses are meant to be broken and sometimes you have to lose before you can start to win.
What’s your logline?
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES