How To Write A Good Synopsis
Seems like an insignificant subject, writing a synopsis. In the construction of a script, few are going to pay attention to that, but writing a good synopsis is as important as having a good start or epic ending to your story. In fact, writing a synopsis, as well as the making of trailers and teasers, has become an art with a lot of people specializing in that area. It’s a language that starts from classic literature, but which has to focus on localizing and optimizing space and time.
There doesn’t exist a perfect and precise formula for this, but we do know that there are unwritten rules and parameters in the industry, which we must respect to create a good synopsis, that has the necessary punch. We also need to differentiate it from the log line. Fermín P. Pina talks about it in his article here.
The synopsis is a summary of our film. There are two types of synopsis:
- Brief synopsis:
It tends to have an extension of 5 to 10 lines (100 words approximately), but don’t worry about that. It depends a lot on the length of the script; but for instance, for a 90 page script that would be the average length for its synopsis.
We will use as an example the synopsis from “Alien” (Ridley Scott, 1979).
A chilling adventure takes place on the Nostromo spaceship. Seven astronauts — five men and two women — are at the centre of it. Returning to Earth, after a recognition trip to Space, the onboard computer receives a message of unknown origin which will change their returning route completely.
When having to forcefully land to repair the spaceship, they detect a strange form of life which will manage to get into the ship…the 8th passenger has just boarded.
It is then when a terrible nightmare will start, one impossible to imagine.
- Even though it has a very brief structure, we have to respect the classic pattern: Presentation — Crux of the Story — End. Any story starts out with this structure.
- Start out by outlining the story, characters and main plot: “A chilling adventure will take place on Nostromo spaceship. Seven astronauts — five men and two women — will be at the centre of it.”
- Mention the element that will trigger conflict.This usually coincides with the dramatic turn that corresponds to the end of Act I “a message of unknown origin which will change their returning route completely…”
- The crux or heart of the story would correspond to “…When having to forcefully land to repair the spaceship, they detect a strange form of life which will manage to get into the ship…”
- Use few adjectives, you don’t need to enter into details at this point of the story. You can use some to enhance the idea you want to convey: “chilling”. But too much information will take from the surprise factor.
- If the setting, era or genre is important, mention it. The producer will get an idea of what you’re trying to sell. “Nostromo Spaceship” gives away that it is a sci-fi film set in Space.
- Short sentences. Try not to use complex sentence constructions. Write always in the present tense. The synopsis can be and will be read by all types of people and audience, take that into account.
- It’s always good to mention the goals of the story, as well as the antagonist, only if you don’t give away the end climax. In this example, with “Alien”, we don’t mention directly the actual alien, but it is obvious that the main character’s goal will be to survive and the antagonist’s goal, the 8th passenger, to finish with the lives of the astronauts.
- In some cases, we can introduce the main character (name) and include some differentiating trait (profession, physical characteristic, marital status).This will bring us closer to identify with the main character, whose feelings entail recognizable actions by all of us.
- If you’ve already got your cast locked, it is good to mention the name of the actors if they’re well known within the industry, this will give certain status to your project.
Remember that a brief synopsis is a first look a producer/audience member gives to the story, and it is a very important window to the possible sale of the script. It’s a document that can serve you as a selling tool. Take your time to write and rewrite it.
2. Long Synopsis:
It is a document that can be associated to the treatment. The long synopsis, as it’s name indicates, is the writing of the whole story, with the ending that we’ve developed on the script.
This kind of synopsis is written in the present tense and describes the succession of actions that occur throughout the whole of the story, as well as includes all its characters. The length can be (and usually is) between 15–25 pages, always depending on the length of the actual script.
Here we can be indulgent with ourselves: you can directly cite sentences from the script that you think are of relevance, include an important description of a character, its wardrobe, the setting, era etc. Remember to write as simple as possible; zero flourishes apply here. You must imagine the actions of the characters and the overcoming of obstacles for the attainment of their goals.
This document is important so that you become aware of the different plot lines and the development of the character’s arc in the story. You will probably end up correcting the script as you write your long synopsis.
Then, there’s a type of synopsis which I call “the DVD Synopsis”. It is the synopsis that appears in the back cover of any DVD or Blu-ray box and which most reveal the director’s, producers or cast’s trajectory, mentioning other films of the same stature. These kinds of synopsis are pure marketing and are associated to brief summaries we can find in magazines and specialized blogs that aren’t thought out for the sale of the film on an industry level. An analogue example of it is when we read the synopsis’ of famous books, you’ll see how the way they’re written it is more to catch the reader’s eye. It’s a good line to follow.
Here’s another example of a good synopsis, in this case for “The Apartment” (Billy Wilder, 1960).
C.C Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a modest but ambitious employee at an insurance company in Manhattan. He’s single and lives by himself in a discreet apartment, which he occasionally lends to his superiors for their covert love affairs, in hopes that this service he gives them will favor his position in the firm. But the situation changes when he falls in love with the elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine), who turns out to be the lover of one of the bosses who use his apartment (Fred MacMurray).
In conclusion, the writing of a synopsis is a good training and exercise for possible sales meetings, that’s why you should never look down on the work that lies behind this. From Filmarket Hub we offer you these tools and advise to make your One Page project stand out in the market. Enter the website and take a look at the many examples of projects that with a good synopsis have moved forward.