I always tell people that if they're confused as to how a novel synopsis should look, simply go to Wikipedia. Search any movie made in the last five years and the first thing on the page is the long "Plot" section, which is essentially a front-to-back synopsis. A lot of them are too long; a lot of them are poorly written; but some are good - and you will start to get a sense of how they work.
Now, while wasting some time on Wikipedia the other day, I came across the page for the 1984 sci-fi movie, Starman. I've heard of the movie, sure, but never seen it. Anyway, upon reading the plot, I was captivated - and wanted to show you an example of an excellent synopsis. Read it below. See how characters are introduced, conflict is introduced, the three-act structure is apparent, and it slows down at the moments where we need to slow down and taste the story.
In 1977, a small vessel of an alien race comes to Earth but is shot down by the U.S. Government. Crashing in Wisconsin, the alien, as a blue ball of energy, finds a lock of hair of the deceased Scott Hayden in a photo album and uses it to clone a new adult body in the likeness of Scott. This “STARMAN” then sends a message to his people that the environment is hostile and requests extraction in three days at “Landing Area One.”
After being awakened by intense light, Scott's young widow, JENNY HAYDEN, first believes her husband has miraculously returned, but soon realizes this creature is not Scott. Meanwhile, the Starman reveals his only possession: seven small spheres that he turns into pure energy to perform miraculous feats. He uses one to create a map in order to compel the dumbstruck Jenny to take him to Arizona.
The trip begins, and Jenny is both hostile and frightened of her new guest. After repeated unsuccessful escape attempts, she finally implores the Starman to kill her and get it over with. The Starman tells her he means her no harm, and that he will die in 3 days if not rescued by his people. As they continue on their journey, the Starman, who has a rough understanding of English syntax, learns to communicate, and Jenny teaches the Starman that humanity is not completely savage. At a truck stop, Jenny witnesses him miraculously resuscitate a deer that had been shot by a hunter. Deeply moved by the action, she resolves to help him at whatever cost.
Along the way, the couple is pursued by the U.S. Army, who detected the crash. The contingent is led by a cold-blooded NSA chief GEORGE FOX, who is reluctantly assisted by a decidedly more humane scientist, MARK SHERMIN. While investigating the Starman’s downed craft, Shermin finds a Voyager II phonographic disk, explaining the Starman’s rough understanding of Earth’s languages, and also revealing that the Starman is here in peace after being invited.
As they make their way to Arizona, the Starman's understanding of humanity (and being human) increases. In turn, Jenny finds the Starman to be a tender, sincere, vulnerable, and loving being. Jenny asks the Starman about his world, and he explains they are one people with one language and one law, and there is no hunger or hurt or war, but they have “lost something”—the vibrancy that comes from diversity, such as can be found on Earth.
Police find and attack Jenny’s car, and she is injured. The Starman, down to his last two silver spheres, uses one to heal her. While hitching a ride on a boxcar, the couple bond and make love. Later that night, the Starman tells Jenny she is pregnant with a son. When Jenny tries to explain she is barren, the Starman tells her to believe him—and that the baby will be not only the son of her dead husband, but also his son, that he will know all that the Starman knows, and when he grows up, he will become a “teacher.” Jenny asks the Starman to show her his star, so she can show the baby where his father came from.
At the end of the journey, the Starman is captured by the government in a cafe. There, the dying Starman tells Shermin that his people are interested in mankind because they are a beautiful species (“You are at you best when things are worst”). Shermin decides to help the Starman and Jenny escape. The couple reach the crater as Army helicopters buzz them. A large reflective sphere appears in the sky. The Starman tells Jenny he will never see her again. Jenny confesses her love and begs him to take her with him, but he says she would die on his world. He then gives her his last silver sphere, telling her the baby will know what to do with it. The ship rises, taking her Starman away forever.
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Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:
- How to Write a Synopsis When You Have Lots of Characters.
- Synopsis Example: "Witness" (literary fiction)
- Synopsis Example: "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (young adult fiction)
- Synopsis Example: "Gladiator" (historical fiction)
- Does Our Author Appearance Matter?
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.