The “Gladiator” Synopsis

Here’s another example of a fiction summary, which can be used as a guide for writing your novel synopsis. (See all my synopsis examples here.) 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.



MAXIMUS, a general in the Roman Army, leads his soldiers to victory against Germanic barbarians in the year 180 AD, thus ending a prolonged war, and earning the esteem of elderly emperor MARCUS AURELIUS. Because Maximus is a respected man of simple morals, the dying Aurelius decides to appoints him as the new leader of Rome, and transition the empire into a true Republic. Maximus first declines the offer (“With all my heart, no”) but agrees to consider it.

The decision to appoint Maximus is not taken lightly by the Emporer’s ambitious son, COMMODUS, who feels passed over and unappreciated. Commodus smothers his father in a bout of jealousy. Maximus refuses to pledge loyalty to Commodus, who has declared himself “the new ruler of Rome.” As punishment, Maximus is set for execution, and told his family in Spain will be killed, as well. Maximus escapes his captors then races across Europe on horse, only to discover his wife and son crucified in the smoldering ruins of his home. After burying them, he succumbs to exhaustion and collapses. Awakening days later, he finds himself in the custody of slave traders en route to North Africa.

Far from his military brethren, Maximus is mistaken as a common deserter, and is purchased by PROXIMO, the head of a gladiator school. Though he initially refuses to fight, Maximus—known only as “The Spaniard”—finally defends himself in the arena, and does so quite well. He soon finds himself on the road back to Rome, as the new emperor Commodus has reopened the gladiatorial games to pay tribute to his dead father.

During the games, Maximus leads the gladiators to a decisive victory. Impressed, Commodus meets with “The Spaniard” on the floor of the Colosseum, and, to his horror, discovers not only is Maximus still alive, but is all-consumed by revenge. The Emperor, unable to kill Maximus because of the crowd’s approval for him, pits him in several weighted battles, but Maximus continues to win—and defy Rome’s new leader. Maximus seeks help from the emperor’s sister, LUCILLA. An escape plan is formed, with the plan for Maximus to reunite with his troops outside Rome. The escape goes awry, however, as Proximo and other gladiators are killed, while Maximus is arrested at the city walls by Praetorian guards.

To unconditionally show his power, Commodus challenges Maximus to a duel in front of a full audience in the Colosseum. Acknowledging that Maximus’s skill exceeds his own, Commodus stabs him before the battle and has the wound concealed. In the arena, the two exchange blows before Commodus is finally slain. The dying Maximus’s last words are instructions to free his fellow gladiators and restore Rome to a Senate-based government (“This was the last wish of a dying man”). Maximus dies, and a coalition of gladiators, soldiers and senators carry his body out of the Colosseum. Maximus arrives in the afterlife, seeing his home in Spain, with his wife and son alive and excited at his safe return.

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2 thoughts on “The “Gladiator” Synopsis

  1. plong

    Good stuff, Chuck. I am faced with writing my first synopsis now ( with a MAX 250 word count!) and am finding all of your articles on the subject extremely helpful. Thanks again.


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