How to write a film synopsis

Written by christina hamlett
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How to write a film synopsis
A solid synopsis is one step toward landing a deal for your screenplay. (consultancy image by Andrey Kiselev from Fotolia.com)

The ability to write a compelling summary of your completed screenplay can make the difference in whether a prospective agent, director or producer will invite you to submit your entire manuscript for consideration. Technology allows scripts to be submitted electronically from anywhere in the world, but queries can be deleted in a nanosecond if the reader isn't hooked on the premise from the beginning.

Skill level:
Easy

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Type your name, complete contact information (address, phone and e-mail), the title of the project, the genre and the target market in the upper left-hand corner. Identify your genre or subgenre with only one tag (for example, drama, romantic comedy, science fiction or animation). Likewise, be as specific as possible in identifying your target audience--for example, teens, family or WWII veterans.

  2. 2

    Summarise the premise of your film in one sentence that contains 25 words or fewer; this is known as a "logline." It can be something as simple as "An extraterrestrial gets left behind by his peers and must fend for himself in suburbia," or something clever that marries the elements of two prior films (for example, "Forrest Gump Meets The Terminator"). Write it as "Logline: An extraterrestrial gets left behind by his peers and must fend for himself in suburbia."

  3. 3

    Identify the main character and the core conflict that will drive the story. Act 1 will be the first paragraph beneath the logline and will divulge the major plot points that transpire in the first act of your film. Your first paragraph also should include any necessary foreshadowing of what's to come.

  4. 4

    Type the names of major characters, when first introduced in the plot, in upper case.

  5. 5

    Escalate the suspense and risks in your second paragraph, which represents Act 2. List only the key scenes and turning points that influence the lead character's actions.

  6. 6

    Escalate the suspense and risks again in your third paragraph, which represents Act 3. Act 3 should not only resolve all the problems introduced in Acts 1 and 2, but it also should flirt with that bit of foreshadowing in Act 1. It is critical that you divulge the ending of your script in this third paragraph.

  7. 7

    Mention any notable contest awards or additional information you think might sell the merits of the screenplay in a fourth paragraph. If your screenplay is adapted from an existing work, such as a stage play or novel, include that here, along with verification that you have acquired the legal rights to adapt it to a different medium. If you have a specialised background or unique experience that led you to write this work, include that here as well. If you do not have any of these elements to add, there is no need for a fourth paragraph.

Tips and warnings

  • Write your synopsis in the present tense.
  • A synopsis does not include any excerpted lines of dialogue. If one of the characters has a signature phrase, however, this can be included. Examples: "Make my day" or "Show me the money."
  • If you are new to writing screenplay synopses, the easiest way to identify the contents of each act is to evenly divide your full script into thirds. Focus only on major plot points in each act.
  • Do not query an agent or production company about a script that you have not yet completed.
  • Don't include cutesy comments, such as, "If you want to find out what Farmer McGregor did to the bunnies after they stole his vegetables, you will have to read it yourself." An agent or production company wants to know that you know how to finish the story and that it is a satisfying one that ties up all of the loose ends.
  • Do not invent your own genres.
  • Register your work with Writers Guild of America or the U.S. Copyright Office before you send out any inquiries to prospective buyers. Do not, however, put this registration anywhere in your inquiry letter or on your script unless you are entering a screenplay competition or submitting via a standardised form and this information is specifically requested.

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