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 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.
Emotionally withdrawn JOEL BARISH is headed to work in New York City one morning when he feels an inexplicable draw to call off from his job and get on a train to Montauk, Long Island. On the train, he strikes up a conversation with CLEMENTINE, a dysfunctional free spirit whose hair changes colors with her mood. Despite radically different personalities, they are attracted to each other and agree to a date. What they do not realize, and what friends soon reveal, is that Joel and Clementine are in fact former lovers, but both had their memories of one another erased following a nasty break-up.
Weeks prior, Joel and Clementine end their two-year relationship on a bad note, and Clementine hires a local firm—Lacuna, Inc.—to erase all her memories of Joel. Upon discovering this, Joel is devastated. He wants the same procedure as Clementine, and meets with Lacuna's top technician, DR. HOWARD, who reassures Joel that the erasure is painless (or "on par with a night of heavy drinking"). As the procedure transpires, Joel begins reliving his memories with Clementine, starting with the most recent (the bad break-up) but he soon sees pleasant earlier times. He regrets his decision to hire Lacuna and wishes to call the procedure off, but cannot (as he is, in fact, asleep), and his moments with Clementine are slowly erased. To buy some time, he hides Clementine in his subconscious and childhood memories, where he hopes Lacuna technicians will not look. While the pair journey through Joel's mind, they also journey through the ups and downs of their relationship.
Meanwhile, the employees of Lacuna are monitoring Joel during his memory erasure when MARY, a young employee, makes a pass at Dr. Howard. The doctor's wife discovers them together, and Howard is forced to reveal to Mary that they actually "have a past"—meaning he and she previously had an affair, but the indiscretion was wiped from her memory at Lacuna. Once Mary learns this, she steals the company's records and sends them to all of its clients.
In Joel's mind, his memories of Clementine continue to be erased right in front of his eyes. Their final time together in his mind is their first meeting at a beach party at Montauk two years back. Despite Joel's efforts, the last glimpses of their relationship are tragically taken away, though Clementine tells Joel to "Meet me in Montauk." Joel wakes up from the procedure, unaware of even having it. He heads to work but feels pulled to take the day off (and thus meet Clementine on the train). Just before their second date of this "new" relationship, Joel and Clementine come upon their Lacuna records sent out by Mary. They react with shock and bewilderment, given that they have no clear memory of each other, let alone electing to have memories of a previous romance erased. Despite knowing their past relationship failed, they decide to try again and hope for the best.