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Arts & Entertainment

How to Write a Movie Synopsis to Sell Your Screenplay

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: May 21, 2020 • 3 min read

After finishing a screenplay, condensing it down to a short synopsis may seem superfluous. But a screenplay synopsis is an essential marketing tool you’ll use to sell your screenplay. Agents, producers, and studio execs need to know if they’re intrigued by a screenplay’s subject matter before taking the time to read the full script. Writing an effective one-page synopsis is a way to convince these gatekeepers that your screenplay is worth their valuable time.

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What Is a Movie Synopsis?

In screenwriting, a movie synopsis is a brief summary of a completed screenplay's core concept, major plot points, and main character arcs. A screenwriter primarily writes a script synopsis as a selling tool to convince film industry higher-ups to read the full screenplay. A film synopsis is also called a "one-pager" because it's ideally a single page long.

Why Should You Write a Movie Synopsis?

Agents, managers, producers, and studio executives read movie synopses to decide if a screenplay is worth reading. An established writer with produced credits may get their script read without a synopsis, but entry-level screenwriters emailing out query letters typically must include a synopsis to pique the interest of the recipient. Writing your own script synopsis also gives you control over how your script is perceived. Your movie synopsis is your first chance to convey the central idea of your story and showcase your writing ability.

How to Write a Movie Synopsis

Before diving into the content of your synopsis, it's helpful to get familiar with the general synopsis formatting guidelines.

  • Write a header. At the top of the synopsis, include your script's title, your name, and your contact information. This is so the recipient can reach you in the event that they receive the synopsis from someone else.
  • Write a logline. Include your logline before your first paragraph to give the reader a sense of where the story is going.
  • Summarize your screenplay. Write in the third person in present tense (e.g., "Sarah jumps out of the plane”). If your screenplay follows the traditional three-act structure, splitting your synopsis into three paragraphs—one for each act—is an easy way to summarize your story. This isn't a steadfast rule, so if one paragraph is significantly longer than the rest, feel free to split it up.
  • Keep it short. A one-page synopsis is standard for an average-length screenplay. One page only takes a few minutes to read and is enough for the reader to tell if the material speaks to them.
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5 Tips for Writing an Effective Movie Synopsis

Follow these synopsis-writing tips to effectively summarize your screenplay.

  1. Stick to the main plot points and main characters. One page is limited real estate, so focus only on what's necessary to tell your story. This means you should omit smaller subplots and secondary characters that aren't essential to your script's A-story.
  2. Write in the style of the movie's genre. Use language that elicits feelings associated with the tone of your screenplay's genre. For example, a comedy movie synopsis should convey how funny the script is, an action movie synopsis how exciting the script is, a horror movie synopsis how terrifying the script is, etc.
  3. Create narrative propulsion. Each beat in your synopsis should be the cause of the next beat or the effect of the previous beat. This ensures that every beat has a narrative purpose and launches into the subsequent beat.
  4. Emphasize character development. It's easy to be so focused on hitting your plot points that you forget to pay attention to your character arcs. Make sure your protagonist’s motivations are clear and that you point out their emotional turning points throughout the synopsis. Additionally, every main character should have one or more distinctive characteristics to make them stand out from the other characters.
  5. Spoil the ending. This isn't the time to end on a cliffhanger. Your synopsis should include spoilers for all your screenplay's main plot points, including the ending. Give your synopsis a satisfying conclusion and tie up all the loose ends that you introduced.

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The Difference Between a Synopsis, Logline, and Treatment

Loglines and treatments are easy to confuse with film synopses. While these are all similar terms, a synopsis is a one-page script summary, a logline is a one-sentence script summary, and a treatment is a longer scene-by-scene breakdown of a film’s story that screenwriters use to pitch a movie idea before writing the full screenplay.

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