A synopsis is a brief summary of a work, including literature, films, plays, television shows, articles, academic papers, and more. Typically, novelists need to craft synopses before submitting their finished work to editors. But, there may also come a time when a college student or professional may need to craft a brief summary of a work. Let's go over a few synopsis examples and then review some tips for writing great synopses on your own.
How many times have we flipped a book over to read the summary on the jacket? That's akin to a synopsis. These summaries come in all shapes and sizes. Here are some examples:
Romeo and Juliet: Two teenagers meet and fall in love. Unfortunately, they're from warring families and are torn apart at every turn. In the end, when it seems like their desire to be together is going to be permanently thwarted, they each engage in an act of suicide.
Les Miserables: After Jean Valjean spends 20 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread, he gets out and remakes himself as a new man - the mayor. A police detective named Javert can't believe that he's a changed man and haunts him. But, when they encounter each other during the French Revolution, everything changes.
The Hunger Games: Futuristic cities, or districts, select two teenagers to defend their honor in a duel to the death. Katniss, one of the randomly chosen teenagers, feels torn between her loyalties to her hunting partner and her foe. She's the perfect representative for her city and her sense of common humanity just might change the Hunger Games forever.
How many times have we read the little blurb on Netflix before diving into a major bingefest? Along with the brief trailer, it's helpful to have an enticing synopsis for potential viewers to scan. Here are some examples:
The Sopranos: Hailed as one of television's essential dramas, The Sopranos follows James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano: husband, father and mob boss whose professional and private strains land him in the office of his therapist.
Seinfeld: The continuing misadventures of neurotic New York City stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his equally neurotic New York City friends.
Friends: One of television's top-ranked series, Friends is a smart, sophisticated comedy that looks into the hearts and minds of a group of friends living in New York.
Consider that movie man's voice as he narrates the trailer for the next great American film. In a way, he's sharing an elongated synopsis. If we had to write a synopsis for some of our favorite films, this is what we'd write:
The Sound of Music: Maria von Trapp leaves a convent to be a nanny for a family with a single father and seven children. She falls in love with the father and leaves the country with them to escape the Nazis.
The Lion King: Baby lion cub Simba is born to be the next king of the Pride Lands, but his cruel uncle kills his father and sends the cub away. Simba, now fully grown, returns to fight his uncle and take his rightful place.
Cinderella: A woman is saddled with two cruel stepsisters and a cruel stepmother after her father remarried. One night, a fairy godmother dresses her up so she can attend a royal ball. There, the prince falls in love with her, inciting a world of jealousy and rage from her evil stepsisters.
The Little Mermaid: Ariel the mermaid falls in love with Prince Eric and tries desperately to become human so the man will fall in love with her as well. After giving her voice to a sea witch, the mermaid is eventually able to triumph and become human so she can live happily ever after with the man she loves.
Sometimes, academic papers require synopses, or abstracts. An abstract is an overview of the paper. Like other synopses, they provide a summary of the main points with a "what's to come" frame of mind. Here's a synopsis sample:
This essay analyzes the dramatic increase in opioid abuse among young adults. It analyzes the phenomenon itself and examines specific statistics, based on age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. A case study was conducted at New York University, where freshmen and seniors with friends who have dealt with addiction describe the abrupt downward spiral their lives took. Corollaries are made between the struggle for young adults to find steady employment, the increase in broken homes, and social media bullying. The general consensus in the community of recovery is that, the more we know, the more we can battle back against this epidemic.
For more on this, take a look at these Helpful Tips for Writing an Abstract.
There are quite a few ways to summarize a piece of work. If you're pitching a script to a network, you might write a logline. This is a one-sentence description of your story. Yes, you read that correctly: a one-sentence description. Imagine summing up pages and pages of creativity with one sentence? It's not only possible, but pleasing to "the powers that be."
You may also hear about a plot summary. Plot summaries live in the opposite end of the spectrum from log lines. These tend to be a tad longer than synopses, and dive deeper into the characters and plot twists.
A synopsis lives right in the middle. It's certainly more than one sentence, but not several paragraphs long either. Of course, the format for a synopsis varies drastically. Whether you're dealing with a piece of fiction or nonfiction, your goal will shift. While the length and format may change, the premise remains the same. Here are some tips to help you excel:
Hopefully, if this is an academic paper, you've created an outline. Use it as a guide to make sure you cover all the pivotal points in your synopsis. You may want to mention the main points of each of the paragraphs in the body of your essay.
If this is for a book, play, TV show, or movie, be sure to mention the main characters only. Too many supporting characters or non-essential plot points will confuse the reader and, ultimately, detract from the focus of your tale.
This ties into a careful review of your outline, and also relates to both fiction and non-fiction writing. In your research for your essay, which angle was the most impressive or original? Was there some eye-opening statistic or unique piece of data? If this is for a book, film, or television, what's the most unique component of your work?
The TV show Modern Family explores the dynamic of a unique family where stepmothers are the same age as their stepdaughters, and grandchildren are the same age as their aunts and uncles. Intrigue continues to abound when viewers also meet a gay couple who adopt a child of a different race. With all the comedy that's dashed in, it surely has one of the most unique angles on television.
Synopses vary in length. A synopsis for one publishing house will be different from another. In fact, book synopses can vary anywhere from two paragraphs to 12 pages! A synopsis for LIT 101 might be different from your synopsis (or abstract) for COM 200. Be sure you know your expected word count before you start writing.
In academic essays, it's best to avoid personal pronouns. The same goes for synopses. Even if you're writing the synopsis for an autobiography, you'll still want to craft your summary free from pronouns like "I" or "me."
Summarizing your own work can be tricky. You understand the subject matter very well. Ask someone who hasn't read your work to review your synopsis. They'll tell you if something doesn't make sense or they can't follow along. Aside from that, they might also pick up on a small grammatical error, such as the wrong use of "they're, there, or their."
It's always a good idea to include a hook in the introduction. We need to give people a reason to want to continue reading our work. A powerful synopsis can make all the difference between someone reading your screenplay or passing you by.
Whether this is for a personal or professional pursuit, take the extra time and care to create a synopsis that'll answer the question, "Why should I want to read more?" On that score, here's the skinny on How to Write a Hook. This article will help you reel people in, one intriguing word at a time.