Writing a one-page script synopsis is one of the more important skills that a screenwriter can possess. It can be one of the determining factors whether your script gets read by that important executive or producer.
But a screenplay needs a blueprint, too. The blueprint for a screenplay is the one-page synopsis so it is incredibly valuable even before putting pen to page. Summarizing a story to only 500 words may sound easy, but it can have its challenges if you do not have the right tools.
Luckily, this article will guide you through the steps on how to write a one-page synopsis.
What is a one-page synopsis?
Writing a synopsis is telling a coherent and exciting story in the form of prose, which is generally less than 500 words. Screenwriters write a film synopsis to plan out the story before writing the script. They can also use it as a marketing tool after writing the script.
In many movies, there is the main plot, known as the core A-story, along with one subplot, known as Subplot 1 or core B-story. The subplot in a movie runs parallel to the main plot or intersects with the main plot. The screenplay synopsis should focus on the core A-story of the film.
This synopsis is called the “one-page synopsis” because it should fit onto one page. In order for the screenplay synopsis to be effective, you should focus on the core A-story from start to finish.
Before you start writing
Before you start writing your synopsis, it is a good idea to write down everything into an outline. An outline helps you organize and plan out your story into three acts, from introduction to climax to conclusion. The outline will also help you see how your protagonist changes over the course of the movie.
The two main things you should pick out of your outline and focus on when writing an effective one page synopsis would be the A-story line and the character arc.
Defining The “A-story” Line
The main story line, otherwise known as the A-story line, is the major spine of the movie.
It is usually divided into five major plot points:
- Inciting incident
- Break into act 2
- Break into act 3
The two end points of the movie are the introduction and the conclusion.
What do all these major plot points have in common? They help you determine how your main protagonist goes through a change in character, how he or she achieves his or her story goal, and the main conflict. What makes a movie exciting and memorable for the audience is how the main protagonist struggles with achieving his or her story goals.
A good way to include conflict in the A-story is by focusing on the protagonist’s wounds. What does he or she want? What gets in the way? Other examples of conflict within the A-story could be that the protagonist has a bad relationship with the antagonist or there are friendship problems with supporting characters.
The character arc in your movie should focus on your main protagonist. Start off with a character introduction or a colorful or dramatic opening image. The introduction or opening scene should grab the viewer’s eye; you have to make your character sound interesting. That is what makes your movie sound more exciting.
The A-story doesn’t focus just on what happens in the movie. It focuses on how the plot events cause the main protagonist to change. For example, your protagonist may start off as rude and disrespectful to others, but eventually learns the values of kindness and respect. Since your protagonist is the character that the audience is going to be rooting for, you can show how the protagonist learns from his or her mistakes.
Take Cady Heron as an example from Mean Girls. Cady Heron starts the movie as the “new girl” at North Shore High School. She gets accepted into the popular girl group “The Plastics”. Over the course of the film, she eventually acts like the rest of “The Plastics”, becoming “queen bee”. This example shows character transformation.
Summarizing the Action
Think of summarizing the action as connecting the major plot points together. You don’t want to write a synopsis that has no direction of character transformation. Otherwise, it becomes unclear or boring to people reading your synopsis.
Write in the present tense using third-person point of view. To convey the genre of your movie, use the same voice and tone as your script. Focus on what the viewers can see on the screen.
The best way to learn how to write a professional grade film synopsis is to read examples of those that have come before you.
Below we have included several examples of famous film synopses for you to read and get inspired by.
American Beauty One Page Synopsis
Forrest Gump One Page Synopsis
Life Is Beautiful One Page Synopsis
Writing a Synopsis for TV Series Pilot
Writing a one-page synopsis doesn’t apply to just movies; this technique is also required for writing TV episodes, especially the pilot episode of a new TV series. Writing a synopsis for a TV pilot episode is different than writing one for a movie.
A TV pilot episode should focus on your A-story line, but there are some changes that occur along the way. For one, most TV episodes are between 30-45 minutes long, with some special episodes being 45-90 minutes long. In addition, a TV episode can be split into two acts or three acts, depending on how long the episode is.
If you’re writing a synopsis for an animated TV series, keep in mind that an animated TV episode is only 15-20 minutes long. Your synopsis should be short, but engaging and powerful enough to attract the viewers’ attention.
Your A-story should revolve around the genre and theme of your whole TV series, especially when writing the pilot episode.
Again, introduce the main protagonist in the pilot; your protagonist should have a short, but colorful and dramatic, introduction. The genre and theme should be well illustrated within characters’ dialogue.
Unlike a movie, where the conflict is resolved and the character achieves his or her goals at the conclusion, a TV series should show the change in the main protagonist over time. Many episodes show more than one conflict. There should be a conflict that connects the pilot episode to the second episode. Sometimes, there is a conflict that connects the first season to the second season of the TV series.
Writing a synopsis for a movie or TV series pilot can be challenging at first, but with time and practice, it becomes second nature to you. Keep in mind that writing a synopsis is not the same as writing prose; a synopsis has to be powerful and engaging to your audience. Always have your reader in mind to capture interest and intrigue them further.