Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Support Page - Synopsis Writing (Examples)

In this article, I will define what a synopsis is, include (what I believe to be) well-written examples and analyse how good ones engage a potential readership, or audience.

Synopsis - A Definition:

The first synopsis I submitted was for a writing competition. The publisher asked for one a page in length, so my first point is that synopses for publishers will usually be no longer, unless your publisher or agent has special requirements. (That's if one is requested at all).

I was not that familiar with writing them, so I looked online for guides. (There's many helpful ones on the Net). I discovered the fundamental elements of a synopsis are the following:-

1. Include your main characters and their relationship to each other (Eg. friends)
2. Set the scene (Also known as an opener).
3. Describe the main action of opening events in a concise form (Eg. Someone is in trouble).
4. Hint at possible conclusions, but encourage the reader to imagine what these will be.

Here are my examples including reasons for selection.

Star Wars - A New Hope. (Written by George Lucas)

The ubiquitous written openers that appear at the beginning of Star Wars movies are perfect examples of short, engaging synopses. They create suspense, offer essential information about the coming story and provide an epic feel so audiences can use their imaginations.

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle rebel spies manage to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate secret weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armoured battle station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursed by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, the custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy. . ."

This synopsis has a short informative opener "civil war" , then sets up dramatic tension between the two main groups in the story "rebels" and "empire". Interestingly, only two plot elements are mentioned, "plans" that have been stolen and the pursuit of Princess Leia by "agents". Infact, the initial plot centres around two robots that find themselves stranded on a remote desert world. In this case, the synposis writer has only given two introductory plotting details, but this is arguably enough to set the scene.

Also, I find the exclusion of many leading characters in this synposis telling. The writer has resisted the temptation to mention central figures, although again, arguably for the purposes of a synopsis, this was not necessary.

Christine. (Written By Stephen King)

I've included this synopsis because it has a different tone to that of Star Wars. Although its just as engaging, the approach is graphic and driven rather than epic and expansive.

"Christine, blood-red and fat finned, was twenty. Her promise lay in her past. Greedy and big, she was Arnie's obsession, a '58 Plymouth Fury. Broken down but not finished. There was still power in her - a frightening power that leaked like sump oil, staining and corrupting. A malign power that corroded the mind and turned ownership into Possession."

Here, King manages to encapsulate the essense of the story for readers. He mentions the central characters and their relationship (classic rule of synopsis writing) and conveys this in an intimate, driven way (perfect for gripping horror). No plotting details are mentioned at all, although these are infered rather cleverly, leaving readers to imagine what might occur in the coming narrative.


From the selected examples above, three important points to good synopsis writing emerge. The tone of a forthcoming story is important to establish (epic, intense, romantic) as well as describing opening events concisely. Central characters need to be introduced, though one can resist the temptation to mention all of them. The imagination of the reader should be encouraged, though not too many plotting details need to be revealed.