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Screenplay Synopsis
Written by: Luc Saber - May 24, 2024

Previously, I talked about the logline, which is a short description of your story comprised of one to three sentences. It encapsulates the theme, premise, central character, and a detail or two about your movie. In other words, you should be able to describe your story concisely and descriptively in three sentences or less and inform the reader what they can expect to watch for two hours. I also covered some essential elements to consider when creating the protagonist, as well as the three-act structure of a screenplay. 


In summary, the last couple of articles were intended to give you an overall picture of the essential elements of writing a screenplay. In future articles, I’ll address the crucial aspects of writing a synopsis, an outline, a treatment if you so wish, act one, act two, and act three. The goal of the series of articles is to give aspiring writers an overall view of what it takes to write a screenplay.


Now, I’d like to move on to the synopsis and what it takes to write a well-rounded summary of your story. The synopsis consists of your story’s beginning, middle, and end. In other words, you’ll do well to describe what happens in Act One, the beginning, Act Two, the middle and Act Three, the end. This description should be no more than one to three paragraphs per act. Be selective with what information you decide to share in the synopsis. Make it general with a few intriguing details sprinkled throughout. 


Introduce the WORLD, introduce the PROTAGONIST and the INCITING INCIDENT. When you introduce the world in which your characters live, you should give a few glimpses of the environment and what happens in it. If it’s a blissful, manicured neighborhood with birds chirping in blooming trees, then show the audience that environment. If the action takes place in a jungle, or the desert, or in an atmosphere of corruption and decay, then you know those images and themes must be shown to the audience at the beginning of your story to set the tone and the mood of the film. The PROTAGONIST will be introduced in ACT ONE as well. A brief description of the character’s personality, physical appearance, and demeanor will help the reader and viewer get an idea of who this person is. Show what the character does in the world in which you placed them.


Show the routine of the character’s daily life and shake up the world with the INCITING INCIDENT. The inciting incident, if you recall, is an irreversible event that takes place in the life of and the world of the character. In a romance, it’s the instant the protagonist meets the love interest. Make the meeting eventful and intriguing. If it’s a horror film, the terrifying event takes place. If it’s an action film, the explosion occurs, or the plan of a crime is set in motion that can’t be stopped once it’s initiated, and so on. These elements should be addressed in the first act, and they should be summarized in your synopsis. 


At the end of act one, describe an event within the story that propels it into act two. You may save the inciting incident for the end of Act One, or you may use it in the beginning, and then you’ll have another turn of events to propel the story into Act Two. Then, jump to summarizing Act Two in the second and third paragraphs. Let’s assume that you’ll manage to gracefully describe the beginning of your story, or act one in one or two paragraphs, then act two, since it’s longer, should be described in two or three paragraphs addressing the milestones reached or the obstacles that stand in the way of the protagonist. In the middle of act two, you should devise a reversal of your protagonist’s journey— which means that if your character is on a particular path, there must be an event or set of events that stand in the way, and the protagonist must now figure out a different route to take to achieve the ultimate goal. At the end of act two, the protagonist will come to a dead end in their pursuit to achieve the goal. All hope is lost, and it seems the protagonist will not be successful. But at the beginning of ACT THREE, there’s a surge of energy, a new plan that gets the character out of the ashes to fight for whatever it is they’re chasing. There will be struggles even in Act Three, but the closer the story gets to a resolution, the more we, the audience, will root for the character to achieve the goal. Finally, there’s a resolution to the story. These are the moments we find out what happens in the end. 


Act three is very important, just as important as Act One, when setting up the story. The payoff in Act Three is crucial to the success of your story. Think of Act Three as the punchline of a joke. If it falls flat, the audience will not respond well. 

Here are some essential takeaways about Act Three. Tell the reader how your character comes to the end of the rope. All hope is lost. In a romance, the girl walks out of his life, or vice versa. In an action film, the hero faces certain death; in a horror film, the evil creature is wining and the hero’s about to get slaughtered. When all hope is lost, the central character comes up with a plan of action that injects hope into the story, stating that they have a fighting chance. In a romance, the central character hops on a bike and rides madly through traffic to get to the airport and stop his love interest from leaving. In an action film, the hero musters up all her strength to bandage the wounds and reload to put up a fight. You get the idea. 


Don’t give away the ending. Leave the reader wanting to know more. What happens to John? Will he make it to the airport in time after he gets hit by a car and flies over the hood? Will he get up and start on foot after his bike’s dismantled? Will Mike be able to load his shotgun with one hand as the other one is broken? Will he be able to skip along with a dislocated shoulder before the antagonist shreds him to pieces? Pay close attention to films in the genre in which you’re writing, and dissect and analyze the style in which they’re written. See if any of the writing techniques apply to your story. 


In summary, start the synopsis by introducing the world, the central character, and the inciting incident that changes the protagonist’s life forever. Create an intriguing act-two reversal and a brilliant all-hope-is-lost event at the end. If you can execute these essential elements well, you have written a great synopsis. 


I’ll end it here for now, but I hope this information on writing a synopsis helped. Have a creative writing day. Look for the next article in the series on writing the outline.

Luciano “Luc” Saber



Luciano is a filmmaker (screenwriter, director & producer), a guest speaker and has a background in teaching screenwriting at the university level. 

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