The Synopsis

You established the protagonist and antagonist, and now you understand their goals. The next step is to describe the basics of the film. It’s time to write a synopsis/summary. Writing a screenplay synopsis will directly affect the quality of your screenplay.

The synopsis is the story – the movie from beginning to end. A good synopsis will eventually be a one-page, three-paragraph description of the complete narrative, around 450 to 1,000 words. When it is time to pitch the film to a producer or director, the synopsis serves as that vehicle, along with the logline. Therefore, it is important to note every major event, as well as the conclusion. Never leave the end in doubt when writing the synopsis, especially when pitching the idea. A producer or director should never have to ask how the movie would end.

As with the logline, redefine and rewrite the synopsis. Constantly return to it as the treatment/outline takes shape to reshape it into the image of the final version of the film. Eventually, you will want to have a nice, tight synopsis to use in pitching the project. However, the initial purpose of the synopsis is to provide the framework for the treatment. So, write out the story in the three- paragraph form using the three goals of the protagonist and the goal of the antagonist as though imagining the movie on the page. The first few drafts of the synopsis will easily exceed one page. Let the ideas flow, and worry about editing later. Include details and ideas that may or may not be a part of the final story or the finished synopsis. You thought that you had a great idea. Now it’s time to see how well you plotted your story idea.

As I always tell my clients, it’s a lot easier to rewrite and plot a treatment and summary than it is an entire screenplay. Rather than writing page after page of scenes that are not structurally sound, make sure you have the entire screenplay plotted and planned in advance. In screenwriting, following the three-act structure and proper sequencing is crucial. To write a good screenplay, spend a bit more time during the planning phase to save a lot of time and frustration writing the screenplay.

As the story takes shape, the goals of the protagonist can be refined, or even changed, if they do not work. Most writers know the beginning and the end of the story, act one and act three, the first and third paragraphs. So, compose them first. And do not become hung-up on inconsequential like the names of the characters, unless you already know them or they are important to the overall story. Use simple terms for the characters without names – the Protag, the Antag, the Biker Girl, The Underestimated, The Wild Card, etc. as needed. Using simple character titles for now instead of names allows you to put the entire idea on paper without distractions. Allow yourself to ramble; “free- writing,” it is called. If you have two directions a story could take, write them both. Unsure where a character is going? Fine. Write that you do not know and keep going. You can come back later and fill in the blanks.

Not surprisingly, the first and third acts are the easiest to write. Expect the second act to go slower and provide the most frustration. The hardest part of the process is to get to the second act and discover that the story completely fails as an idea. The choice is then to abandon the concept and move on to another or make corrections. But these difficulties are the reason this process exists.

After you have all three acts on paper, refine the synopsis. You are still not worried about the length, even though your eventual goal is a one-page document. The entire story is on paper. You do not think that there are any gaps. Now is an excellent time to receive feedback. Now that you have summarized and planned the story, read it to a friend, tell it to a group, or pay for professional screenplay coverage services for feedback. Pitch the synopsis and seek an honest response to it. The chances are that others will have different takes on every aspect of the story; note them. But, if you are confident with the initial story, different ideas on where to go with the story should be cast aside. The importance of pitching the synopsis to friends is that someone else may spot holes and gaps that you missed. There are also amateur screenwriting groups across the country. Find one near you where you can pitch your synopsis and have it critiqued.

Once again, this is a very good place to make the necessary adjustments before getting too far into constructing the story-writing process. Using the feedback, revise the synopsis, but it is still not time to hone it into a one-page document. Any and all details are necessary for the treatment/outline step.