A synopsis is a concise summary of your screenplay, typically several sentences or paragraphs. First, let’s explore what it is not.
A synopsis is not a tagline. A tagline is a one-line. movie poster slogan like, “In Space, no-one can hear you scream,” which is from the movie Alien. It is not a logline either. A logline is a one or two sentence summary of your screenplay that conveys the premise but also adds an emotional aspect that hooks the reader. It includes the main character, set-up, and central conflict in a concise, enticing way. It is used to pitch your script to a potentially interested party without giving further details. Usually a logline will accompany a synopsis or treatment.
And, of course, a synopsis is not a treatment. A treatment is a detailed summary of a film or television show. It should communicate all of the essential scenes, themes, and tone of the project to entice or pitch to buyers and producers into reading, developing, or even purchasing your idea. Treatments can be several pages but are always at least a few pages because of the detail it should offer. The key elements of a treatment include a title, your name and contact information, a logline, the key characters and a detailed summary of the story.
So now that we established what a synopsis is not, let’s breakdown what it is. A synopsis serves as an introduction to your story, providing an overview of the plot, characters, themes, and tone. Writing a solid synopsis is crucial for pitching your screenplay to producers, agents, or potential investors. Not everyone is willing to invest the time in reading the full script or even the treatment but they’re usually willing to read a synopsis to decide if the concept intrigues them. A logline can also be used at this point to entice them but it doesn’t offer enough detail for the prospective party to decide if they are interested in the project. This is the role of the synopsis and why it needs to be as solid as possible. It may be your one chance to impress.
Here are some tips to help you write a perfect synopsis:
Start with a strong hook
Your synopsis should start with a hook that grabs the reader’s attention and entices them to keep reading. This could be a powerful opening line or a provocative statement that summarizes the essence of your story.
Keep it concise
A synopsis should be brief and to the point. Stick to the essential plot points and avoid unnecessary details. Ideally, your synopsis should be no more than two pages long.
Focus on the main characters
Your synopsis should introduce the main characters and give a sense of their motivations, conflicts, and arcs. Avoid including too many secondary characters or plotlines, as this can make your synopsis feel cluttered and confusing.
Highlight the major plot points
Your synopsis should summarize the major plot points of your screenplay, including the inciting incident, the midpoint, the climax, and the resolution. Make sure to convey the emotional stakes of each plot point and how they affect the characters.
Convey the tone and style of your screenplay
Your synopsis should give the reader a sense of the tone and style of your screenplay. Is it a comedy, drama, or thriller? Is it fast-paced or slow-burning? Make sure to convey the mood and atmosphere of your story.
Use active voice
Choosing the right words in the right order can have a massive impact on the overall meaning of a sentence. One of the ways a writer can organize and maximize their words is through active vs passive voice. Active voice is the direct way in which you can distinguish who is performing what action.
Active voice can shorten your sentences and keep your writing efficient. If you are writing a screenplay, for example, the goal is to have a good black-to-white balance on your page. It also helps to avoid wordy sentences that detract from the the important elements in the scene. Write your synopsis in the active voice, using strong verbs and vivid language. This will help convey the energy and urgency of your story.
Proofread and edit
Finally, make sure to proofread and edit your synopsis carefully. Check for typos, grammatical errors, sentence structure and inconsistencies. Make sure your synopsis is clear, concise, and compelling.
Example of a Well-written Synopsis
Title: The Last Stand
Logline: A retired soldier is forced to take up arms again when a group of terrorists take over a small town in the American heartland.
John Smith is a retired Army Ranger living a quiet life in a small town in Kansas. But when a group of heavily armed terrorists take over the town and hold its inhabitants hostage, John finds himself forced to take up arms again.
As the terrorists tighten their grip on the town, John teams up with a group of local residents to mount a counter-attack. With the help of his military training and his innate sense of duty, John leads the charge against the terrorists, risking everything to save his community.
But as the violence escalates and the body count rises, John begins to question whether he can truly make a difference. Will he be able to overcome his own demons and save the town from destruction, or will he be forced to confront the limits of his own heroism?