How to Write a Screenplay Synopsis: 7 Tips for Screenwriters

a script on a table

Key Takeaways:

  1. Start with a strong hook to interest readers right away.
  2. Introduce the main characters and the setting.
  3. Give a brief overview of the plot (but don’t give away the ending!).
  4. Touch on the movie’s main conflict.
  5. Give the reader a feel for the theme(s) of the film.
  6. Use active language and verbs throughout.
  7. Keep it short (one page if possible, two at most!).

Screenwriters, do you want to know how to write a screenplay synopsis but don’t know where to start?

I know how you feel. The first time a producer asked me to provide a synopsis to go with the script he asked for, I honestly wasn’t sure what to write. So, I cobbled together a basic breakdown of the story beats and sent it off in a hurry.

It was passable, but it was far from good. Luckily, I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve written dozens of synopses, not only for myself but for satisfied clients, and my biggest takeaway has been that the synopsis is as important – sometimes, maybe even more so – as the script itself. Here’s a quick summary of the most important points for writing a synopsis:

A synopsis is the document that sells the story, and it’s your one chance to make the right impression before the reader reads a single page of your script.

This guide will teach you how to write an excellent story synopsis that sells your script and intrigues potential buyers and industry professionals! Let’s get started!

What is a Movie Synopsis?

A movie synopsis (also called a “one-page” or “single-page”) is a summary of the film’s major plot points and character arcs. It should give the reader an idea of the film and what to expect, but not give away everything!

A synopsis should not give away any major spoilers or twists but should instead provide a general overview of the entire script.

A well-written movie synopsis will also briefly mention the film’s key characters (especially the protagonist and antagonist) and setting. In addition, a synopsis should try to capture the film’s tone and overall theme.

For example, a synopsis of The Shawshank Redemption would outline key story elements, such as that it is a period piece prison drama about two men – one wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife, and the other a long-term prisoner – who form a bond through their 20 years together under terrible conditions.

It would then describe some of the critical moments in the script, such as Andy’s brutal treatment by guards and prisoners alike, his adaptation to become accepted by both groups, his inclusion into the Warden’s inner circle, and finally, his eventual chance at freedom. In addition, it might mention that it is a film about hope, friendship, and redemption.

infographic giving the definition of a synopsis for a screenplay or film

In short, a synopsis should give the reader a good idea of what the film is about without giving away too much.

Why Write a Synopsis?

If you want to sell your screenplay, you need a synopsis. Why?

Because that’s what producers want to see when they’re considering whether or not to option your script!

Think about it: studios are inundated with scripts every single day, and the executives simply don’t have time to read every single script.

However, they might find time to read a single page that outlines your story – and then decide if they want to take the time to read the entire script based on that synopsis.

A synopsis is typically a one-page script summary from beginning to end. It should include all the major beats of the plot, as well as introduce the main characters and their character arcs. Most importantly, it should be exciting and make the reader want to read the script.

If you’re wondering why your screenplay needs a synopsis, the answer is simple: because that’s what the people in charge of the money want to see!

How To Write a Film Synopsis: 8 Steps

infographic on how to write an engaging script synopsis

The synopsis is vital when you’re trying to get someone interested in your screenplay. An excellent movie synopsis will give the reader an engaging overview of your story without giving too much away.

A well-written short synopsis can be an invaluable tool for marketing your screenplay or movie idea to agents, producers, and other industry professionals.

However, simply summarizing the plot in a generic way is not enough – your synopsis must also be well-written and engaging.

Here are a few movie synopsis writing tips for your next project, along with examples from the synopsis for my screenplay, Spin The Wheel. Thanks to the synopsis, this script was able to find funding and was made into a feature film (coming soon to a streaming platform near you!).

Spin the Wheel synopsis

Start with a Strong Hook

The first paragraph of your synopsis should grab the reader’s attention and give them a taste of what’s to come.

For example, in my synopsis for Spin The Wheel, the first sentence acts as a ‘hook’ for the whole document. It mentions the title, the genre, the central cast, and the stakes.

Spin the Wheel is an edge-of-your-seat apocalyptic thriller about a group of strangers in a dive bar whose faith and resolve are tested past their breaking points as the world ends around them.

Introduce Your Main Character(s)

The first part of your synopsis should introduce your main character and emphasize character development.

What does he or she want? What’s standing in the way? This is your protagonist’s goal (and the obstacles and/or conflicts they might face), which should be clear to the reader from the start!

In my synopsis, I keep it brief and to the point:

Eve is a tightly wound business professional whose job is her life. Though strained by personal loss, she’s looking for a reason to keep going and loses herself in her work. 

So when she – and everyone else – finds out that the world is about to end in a matter of hours, there’s nothing better to do but go for a stiff drink.

Give An Overview of the Plot

Give a brief overview of the major plot points, but don’t give away the ending! You want to leave the reader wanting more and give them a reason to read the whole script.

Remember, the point of a synopsis is to make the people who can help you actually make your movie (i.e., invest money, act in the film, help with editing or camerawork, etc) interested enough in it to read the screenplay.

In my synopsis, the main plot points are covered in these sections:

What starts off as a simple drink soon degenerates into a wager of life and death.

Drawn in by the mysterious Lou, a study in contradiction claiming to be the Devil himself, Eve and the others are presented with a unique challenge – play Russian Roulette with the fate of the world on the line. 

The ground rules are simple – no one quits, no one leaves, and they have to finish the game before it all goes up in flames. 

Touch on the Movie’s Main Conflict

Highlight the conflict and stakes. What happens if your protagonist doesn’t achieve his or her goal? Raising the stakes will make your story more interesting.

In my synopsis, the conflict is clear and concise:

If any one of them outlasts Lou, Armageddon will be avoided, but if he outlasts them, the world ends as scheduled, and their souls are forfeit. Some agree, clinging to hope this might be for real, while others see it as a lark or a personal challenge. 

Reveal the Theme(s) of the Film

infographic showing how theme relates to storytelling

Highlight the themes of your story. What are you trying to say with your script? Make sure that your synopsis conveys the central messages of your narrative.

Common themes in movies include love, revenge, redemption, justice, coming of age, and family. To learn more, you can read my full article on themes.

In my synopsis, the themes are spread out throughout the document. They include themes of loneliness, community, friendship, and redemption.

Should You Give Away The Ending?

There are two schools of thought here. One is that executives want to know exactly how your script ends – so they get a feel for the resources and money they will need to film the climax of the movie.

On the other hand, if you give away your ending, what incentive does that executive have to read the whole script?

In my synopsis, I’ve set up the final conflict/climax of the script – but, I don’t give away the ending! This is because I want to entice the reader to want to read the full script.

With a ticking clock and nowhere to run, Eve grows to understand there are still some things worth living for. 

Deciding to stand her ground at last, Eve faces Lou in a final all-or-nothing round, determined to save the world even if she can’t save herself.

NOTE: it may benefit you to have two versions of your synopsis – one with the complete ending and one without. It all depends on the person you are sending it to and their preferences.

Use Active Language

Use strong verbs and active language. Write in the present tense, and make sure your synopsis is easy to read.

Screenplays should always be written in the present tense and never in a passive voice, like you might see in a novel.

So, for example, you would say, “Jane runs to the bus stop” instead of “Jane ran to the bus stop” or “Jane is running to the bus stop”.

Keep It To About a Page in Length

Keep it brief. A synopsis should be no more than one or two pages. Any longer, and you risk losing the reader’s attention (and looking like you don’t know what you are doing!).

Take a look at this great video that I found from Script Reader Pro, which summarizes how to write your film’s synopsis!

How to Use a Synopsis to Sell Your Screenplay

Producers often request a movie synopsis before they decide to read a complete screenplay, as it gives them a quick overview of the story and helps them to determine whether it is something they are interested in funding or making.

A well-written and convincing synopsis can be the difference between a producer taking an interest in a screenplay and passing it over!

A good synopsis should be no more than one or two pages long and should provide enough detail of a film’s storyline to give the reader a clear understanding of the plot and characters without giving away too much. Remember, film professionals prefer brevity, so always aim for a one-page synopsis!

When writing your film synopsis, you’ll want to focus on the key elements of the story and avoid including unnecessary details or subplots. Remember, the goal is to give the reader a flavor of the screenplay without spoiling the ending.


The Differences Between a Synopsis, a Logline, and a Treatment

In the film industry, three main types of outlines are used to describe a story or screenplay: the synopsis, the logline, and the treatment. Although they all serve the same essential function — to give an overview of the entire screenplay — each one has its own unique format and purpose.

infographic describing a screenplay logline vs synopsis vs treatment

A movie synopsis is a one-page script summary of the entire story, including character development, plot twists, and setting details. A synopsis is usually written after the script is finished and is used as a selling tool to entice industry professionals to read the screenplay and convince producers to invest in the project.

A logline, on the other hand, is a one-sentence script summary. Its purpose is not to summarize the entire story but simply to give a brief overview of the plot. A logline is typically used early on in the development process when writers are still working on refining the idea for their story.

Finally, there’s the film treatment, which is the longest and most complex in detail. A film treatment is a scene-by-scene breakdown that describes the key elements of a proposed film or video project. This includes the plot, characters, setting, and other essential details.

A script treatment is typically used to pitch a project to potential investors or partners. It can also be used as a roadmap for the project’s development. Treatments vary in length but are usually between 5 and 20 pages.

How to Format a Synopsis

A few essential elements must be included in a movie synopsis, such as the title, genre, and logline.

The title should be in 16-point font and centered at the top of the page.

Directly underneath, insert contact info (name, address, phone, email). Your Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) registration number is optional.

The genre should be listed next, followed by the logline.

The body of the synopsis should describe the plot but avoid giving away too much information:

  • The first part (Act 1 or Hook) should introduce the main characters and setting, as well as the inciting incident that leads to the main conflict and antagonist.
  • The second part (Act 2 or Body) should focus on the central conflict, obstacles, and essential details.
  • The third part (Act 3 or Conclusion) should detail the climax or final challenge for your heroes without giving away the ending (resolution). Be brief and leave the reader wanting more.

Overall, stick to the main plot points and main characters. Leave the subplots and supporting characters for the treatment. Remember to write in the present tense and third person.

Also, remember to proofread your synopsis before submitting it to any agents, producers, or screenwriting competitions! Check their submission guidelines to make sure you are following their conventions.

typing on computer

You can also use professional screenwriting software programs to help ensure that your synopsis is appropriately formatted. This will help you to be taken seriously in the film industry.

screenplay synopsis

Final Thoughts

Whether you are a first-time screenwriter or an experienced pro, it is important to know how to write a great plot synopsis. This document can make or break your chances of getting your script read and considered by producers, agents, and other industry professionals.

By following the tips we’ve outlined in this article – and using examples from some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters – you can create a synopsis that sells your story while still staying true to your original vision.

Common Questions (FAQs)

What is a script synopsis?

A script synopsis is a summary of a script, typically one to two pages in length. It provides potential buyers or investors an overview of the story, characters, and conflict. A synopsis should not give away too much detail, as it should only briefly introduce the project. However, it should be enough to give the reader a good sense of what the script is about and what kind of tone it will have.

How long should a script synopsis be?

A script synopsis should be around one to two pages long (ideally one page). This is because a synopsis is meant to be a brief overview of the story, not a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown. The purpose of a synopsis is to give the reader a general sense of the plot and characters without getting bogged down in too much detail.

What are the three parts of a synopsis?

A film synopsis typically has three parts: the hook, the body, and the conclusion. The hook is the first part of the synopsis and grabs the reader’s attention. It should be engaging and concise and give a brief overview of the film’s premise. The body is the second part of the synopsis and contains a more detailed description of the film’s plot. The conclusion is the third and final part of the synopsis and includes a brief summary of the film’s resolution.

Should I give away my ending in the synopsis?

The vote is split on this question when it comes to industry professionals. Some want to see how the story ends before they invest the time to read the script, but others feel that knowing the ending ahead of time spoils the script. In other words, they say, “If I know the ending, why should I bother reading it?” In the end, it depends on the recipient of the synopsis. If it is a producer or investor, they may insist on the ending to have an idea of the budget before they read a single page of the script. On the other hand, if it is an agent, actor, or director, then not knowing the ending may entice them to read the screenplay, if only to find out.

How do you write a short film synopsis?

A short film synopsis is a summary of a short film that tells the story in a concise and straightforward way. It should include the film’s main characters, conflict, and resolution. The synopsis should be no more than one page long and written in the present tense. Keep in mind the purpose of the synopsis: to give readers an overview of the film so they can decide whether or not they want to watch it. As such, the synopsis should not give away too much detail or spoil the film’s ending.

Do you want to write a great screenplay? Check out these other helpful articles!

Logline Examples from Movies [15 Well-Written Loglines]

How to Write Dialogue in a Script: Tips for Screenwriters

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