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Synopsis Writing

Synopsis Example: “The Way, Way Back” (Young Adult / Middle Grade)

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Here’s another example of a fiction synopsis. This time it’s THE WAY, WAY BACK (2013), and, yes, the synopsis below has spoilers. If this were a book, it would probably span the bridge between young adult and middle grade. The biggest challenge with this one was cutting down on which characters to give attention to. You’ll notice how the chatty neighbor is not mentioned, nor is Steve Carell’s daughter, and the neighbor friends are barely mentioned. A synopsis is not designed to introduce everyone; it’s designed to show the main characters and the story’s three acts. Read more

Synopsis Example: The IDES OF MARCH (Political / Thriller)

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Here’s another example of a fiction synopsis. This time it’s The Ides of March (2011). It’s a thriller, sure, but a character-driven one.The biggest challenge with this one was cutting down on which characters to mention. You’ll notice how Jeffrey Wright’s and Paul Giamatti’s characters are glanced over. This is on purpose. I just barely got this under the necessary word count. Remember: Keep your synopses moving — cut, cut, cut. Read more

Synopsis Example: “Robocop” (Science Fiction / Cyberpunk)

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Here’s another example of a fiction synopsis. This time it’s Robocop (1987). I took a crack at this one because my synopsis examples were light on cyberpunk and science fiction stories. Notice how a lot of the action is stripped from this, and the character of Bob Morton is not even mentioned. You have to keep a synopsis moving. But as quickly as it moves, we must see the main character’s arc, and you can see Murphy’s within this text below. Read more

Synopsis Example: “Ransom” (Thriller)

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Here’s another example of a fiction synopsis. This time it’s Ransom (1996). One thing to notice here is that, in the movie itself, the five kidnappers all have their own personalities. But here I had to cut all that and just focus on the leader. Tom is the main character here, and we need to see his journey over the three acts. Read more

Synopsis Example: “The Fly” (Horror / Sci-Fi)

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Here’s another example of a fiction synopsis. This time it’s The Fly (1986).

I took a crack at this one because my synopsis examples were light on horror stories. The main thing with this synopsis was to streamline Seth’s transformation process (and I left a lot of details on the cutting room floor) so that it could be whittled it down to the proper length. Read more

Synopsis Example: “Courage Under Fire” (Thriller / Mystery)

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This time it’s Courage Under Fire (1996).

This story seems like a thriller to me because of its action sequences, but it’s also a mystery at heart, with a “detective” (Denzel) investigating a case. Notice how I leave out several secondary characters to keep the story moving. Read more

Synopsis Example: ”A History of Violence” (Thriller)

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This time it’s A History of Violence (2005).

This story is most likely a thriller. The synopsis below is short because the main hook of this story is easy to convey. Nothing needs to be over-explained. Get in, get out, move on. Read more

Synopsis Example: “House of Games” (Noir / Mainstream)

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This time it’s House of Games (1987). This story is not quite crime fiction nor literary fiction so I call it mainstream, but it definitely has plenty of noir in it. Notice how this synopsis moves fast, but we still see important things: who the main character is, what they want, how they change, the inciting incident, the break into Act II, the denouement, etc. Read more

How to Write a Synopsis When You Have Lots of Characters in Your Story

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So after the synopsis webinar, I decided to try my hand at such a synopsis. I decided on TRAFFIC, which is a film I love that has multiple storylines and tons of characters. I got the synopsis down to about 540 words, which I thought was a success. Below read the synopsis and see my analysis in italics as you read. Read more

Get Your Synopsis Critiqued at My January 6 Webinar

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Ah, the pesky synopsis. If you write adult fiction, kids fiction or memoir, you know what I’m talking about. The synopsis is a strange animal, and a unique writing challenge of its own. That’s why I’m teaching a webinar on Jan. 6, 2011 called “Critique Series: Novel Synopses.” If you’re stuck on your novel/memoir synopsis and you’re submitting to agents/editors who request one, this session can help move you forward. Read more

Synopsis Example: “Matchstick Men” (Mainstream Fiction)

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This time it’s Matchstick Men (2003). This story is not quite crime fiction nor literary fiction so I call it mainstream. Notice how, as usual, the most important things to show in a synopsis are the bones of the three acts and the arc of the main character. Read more

Synopsis Example (Crime/Noir): “The Big Easy”

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This time it’s The Big Easy (1987), a crime/noir story. There’s a lot of New Orleans flavor in this story that I had to nix here, as a synopsis is not designed to show the spice, but rather the three acts. It was important to show Remy’s arc, more than explain the small, interesting elements of the story, such as Voodoo or Zydeco music. Read more

Let Me Critique Your Synopsis: Webinar This Thursday, July 8

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Those pesky synopses for novels and memoirs are very tricky to do. Questions abound. How long should they be? Which characters should you mention? Should you have plenty of detail or just sparse mentions? If these questions are crossing your mind, you’ve come to the right place. Read more

Synopsis Example (Literary/Mainstream): “The Wrestler”

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This time it’s The Wrestler (2008), which would probably be called either literary or mainstream fiction. I had to leave a lot out concerning Pam/Cassidy and Stephanie, because the story really is about Randy and his experiences. Read more

Synopsis Example (Thriller): “Spartan”

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This time it’s Spartan (2004), a tightly-wound thriller. As with thrillers, there are lots of twists and turns, and I had to leave a lot out of the synopsis so it would flow quickly. One thing to notice here is that the character of Bobby Scott, who is by far the biggest character in the movie, is not well defined in this synopsis. That’s because Bobby is kind of an enigma in the film, and he is a man who has put his country first above his life and identity. Read more

The “Fearless” Synopsis

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This time it’s Fearless (1993). I chose this movie for several reasons. A commenter asked me to compose another literary fiction synopsis; Jeff Bridges is the man and discovers his forthcoming Oscar; and I just watched this movie recently. You can see all posted synopsis examples by clicking on the “Synopsis Writing” category on the left-hand side of this page. Read more

“The Rock” Synopsis

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This time it’s The Rock, my second attempt at a thriller. The story is high-concept, but I didn’t want to glance over the three lead characters, as they are all pretty cool. A lot of the story takes place on the island, so I had to do plenty of summarizing there. Read more

Footnotes: 8 Articles on Synopsis Writing

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Footnotes is a recurring series on the GLA blog where I pick a subject and provide several interesting articles on said topic. Writing a good synopsis for your novel or memoir can be one of the hardest and most frustrating things we have to do as writers. Today I’m serving up 8 articles to help de-mystify the process. Read more

The “Punch-Drunk Love” Synopsis

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This time it’s Punch-Drunk Love, my second attempt at a “literary fiction” story. The female lead here, Lena, is somewhat bland, so the synopsis rests on showing the strange-yet-likeable nature of Barry, and explaining his arc, because it is a big one. Read more

The “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Synopsis

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This time it’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, my first real attempt at a “literary fiction” story. A lot of the magic of this story is in the dialogue and character interaction, but those are tough things to show in a synopsis. But don’t be worried—the point of a synopsis is just to show the framework and front-to-back vision of the story. Agents want to see that your Act II isn’t murky, or that your story doesn’t have an ending. Also, I realize that Dr. Howard’s real name is actually Dr. Howard Mierzwiak, but we’re trying to keep things simple here. Read more

The “Gladiator” Synopsis

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This time it’s Gladiator. A story like this is big and bold, so you have to keep it moving. You can’t spend too much time detailing historical locations or anything like that. Garden variety example: Before Maximus meets Commodus in the Colosseum, he is reenacting a specific battle from the past. Does this detail matter? No—at least not when you’re worried about word count. Also notice how the synopsis starts with a short paragraph telling about the hook—this is acceptable. Read more

The “Flight of the Navigator” Synopsis

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This time it’s Flight of the Navigator. In book terms, this would be considered fun middle grade, considering the protagonist is 12. More specifically, it would probably be a science fiction adventure. Concerning this synopsis, I cut all out mentions that Max’s home planet was called Phaelon. I cut all info about how the craft could fly at high speeds. I left in one little moment about the freefall, because I felt it showed David’s arc in taking control of the situation after starting as a guinea pig at NASA. Read more

The “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” Synopsis

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This time it’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In book terms, this would be considered fun YA (maybe even a “boy book”). I’ve tried to break up the synopsis below into the three acts of the movie, with the first two paragraphs being Act I, then the next one Act II, then the next one Act III, and the final one is the resolution (denouement?). We get a few quotes to spice it up and the whole thing moves nice and quick. Remember, synopses are designed to show the three acts of the story, not the skill of your prose. Read more

The “Witness” Synopsis

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This time it’s Witness. Witness is kind of strange category—probably mainstream fiction in book terms. It’s got the Amish elements, a dash of crime stuff at the beginning and end.Look at the synopsis below. I like how it’s pretty short. There could be a lot more said about the culture clash in Philadelphia and then how Book adapts to Amish life on the farm, but just enough is there. Like other synopses posted here, this one has a quote or two —just enough spice to flavor the whole thing. Don’t use quotes often. Read more

The “Dragonslayer” Synopsis

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This time it’s Dragonslayer, a fantasy! I know a lot of people are writing fantasy stories and it’s a category I don’t read as much as I should. Read more

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