Successfully Write a Synopsis for Film, Video, or a Series. That’s How It Works!

Writing synopsis: Author at work
How to: Writing a synopsis | © Photo: FreePik

How to: Do you have an idea that you want to turn into a movie or a series? You want to know what your vision is worth? Then it’s time to write the synopsis. Here you will find everything you need to know about it.

An exposé for film and television is the first step on the way to the later film.

It sketches in rough lines what will later become a script. At the same time, the exposé is also a reality check. With it you find out if and who is interested in your film or series idea. Here you will find an example of a synopsis and everything you need to know about it.

How much money do I get for an exposé?

In most cases, as an author, you write a synopsis at your own risk. For the first time, you won’t get any money for it. Exceptions prove the rule.

If your idea is convincing as a short concept, you will only be paid for the next work steps. So the creation of a treatment and based on it the script.

For once, someone may pay you.

This is usually the case when you can already count yourself among the established film authors. Or when it comes to vetting someone else’s idea for a film adaptation. Be it an adaptation of a successful novel. Or if the production company or the producer has an idea that he is not able to put into film form himself.

In rare cases it is also conceivable that you sell the rights to your exposé. This is conceivable if your idea is more convincing than your writing.

From writing the synopsis to the treatment to the screenplay | © Kinovision / YouTube

Successfully write a synopsis for a film, video or series. This is how it works!

The most important tasks of the exposé

A synopsis has 4 important tasks:

1 Arouse interest and convince

First, your synopsis must ultimately convince a producer, film production company, financier or TV station of your idea. Because that’s the only way you’re going to get paid for the next steps. This distinguishes it from writing an essay for a research paper and writing a bachelor’s thesis.

2 Communicate security by writing an exposé

Secondly, the synopsis conveys certainty to the expert reader: the film expert can tell if you think cinematically. He can use it to gauge whether you can lift a script.

This is important because a synopsis is only a few pages. A screenplay contains between 90 and 120pages. It is easy to lose the overview. Or being too enthusiastic about yourself and your idea.

expose writing feature film series
What you write is more important than how you write it | © Photo: freepik

At the same time, and crucially, the synopsis is the first time your idea manifests itself in narrative form. This is where you find out if your story is any good. At the end of the day, whether or not that’s the case is up to the entity that’s going to fund the film or series.

Because while everyone else is getting paid for their work, the producer is taking a risk. He has to see that he gets back the money he invested in the end. This also applies to government-subsidized films. No film can be financed 100% with subsidies.

3 Thinking the whole story through

Third, a synopsis forces you to think your idea further. The written form forces you to put your vision into words in a way that sparks a third person. This is detached from your person. You may be a charismatic storyteller in a face-to-face conversation, a smart cookie who amazes your counterpart – when you’re writing a synopsis, it’s what’s on paper that counts.

4 Legal protection of the author

Fourthly, let us not forget: In European copyright law, ideas are not protected. Anyone can take your idea.

But, therein lies the small subtle difference, the formulation of an idea is protected. And it’s automatic. From the moment you put it down on paper. That’s another reason you want to write a synopsis.

How is an exposé structured?

There is no obligatory form for a synopsis. Theoretically, you can write your movie concept however you see fit. You’ll be outing yourself as a layman very quickly. In the film industry, some unwritten rules have been established on how to write a synopsis.

The structure, although only to be understood as a preliminary outline, follows three stages:

  1. On the first page, the cover page, write the title of your story and, of course, your name. Often on the same sheet there is a so-called tagline (subtitle – it describes the plot or the central conflict in a headline-like sentence) and a short summary of the story (a few sentences!).
  2. Page 2 introduces your characters. Here too, less is more. Describe in a differentiated, concise and original way.
  3. On the third page, outline the plot. You show the reader the action steps your characters go through in the story.

The tagline, the headline below the title of your synopsis, is the entire plot summarized in one sentence. To achieve this is a great challenge. Because here you’re making a promise that you’ll have to keep later.

If you write a summary on the title page, which I recommend you do, you have no more than five sentences for it. Getting your plot to the point in this brevity is not only a challenge, but also a perfect exercise.

The same is true when you have to introduce your main characters in just three to five sentences on the second page. In doing so, of course, you want to highlight what qualities these characters have in the context of the plot.

Secondary characters do not belong on the second page of the synopsis. They are only mentioned in the storyline.

The storyline builds on the short summary. He lists the plot lines, subplots, challenges, and conflicts. It shows how your characters want to accomplish their goals, how they’re doing, and where the journey is going.

How many pages does a synopsis have to have?

A synopsis usually comprises between three and a maximum of fifteen pages. In exceptional cases, it can also be twenty pages. But be aware: the shorter a synopsis, the greater the chance that it will be read.

Example of an exposé

Here is an example of a film synopsis for a three-part series for a teenage target audience. Note that the scope of this synopsis far exceeds the usual scope because it was commissioned by a TV station.

Example Expose Cat Whisperer

Here you can find an example of a film treatment.

Tips and tricks that work in practice

The following tips and tricks characterize the professional writer:

  • Always write in the present tense
  • Tell the story from beginning to end, but leave out unnecessary scenes
  • Make sure at all times that I, as the reader, know what is driving the main characters forward
  • But try to tell the story in a cinematic way.
  • Dialogues have no place in an exposé (if there is no other way, use a mix of words and indirect speech).
  • Avoid long-winded descriptions
  • Don’t forget the question of genre – a brief reference to it provides clarity and helps the knowledgeable reader draw the right conclusions

Your synopsis must take into account the rules of visual narratives. It is not a novel in which the actors indulge in inner thoughts. Get it through your head what has always set Hollywood success writers apart: Don’t tell me, show me! (In the English original: “Don’t tell me. Show me!”)

Inner conflicts of a character must therefore always and necessarily be clarified by the plot. That’s what’s meant when someone tells you you don’t write cinematically enough.

Why not just write a screenplay?

There are writers who can bang out a script in four to six weeks. It takes the average screenwriter six months to a year and a half. You don’t want to invest that time and effort without getting paid for it. And even if you don’t need to make a living from writing, it makes little sense to spend so much time before it’s clear whether the story or idea will excite a film production or financier.

Every feature film production that is reasonably well known and successful gets offered film ideas on a daily basis. But no one has the time to read an entire script every time. Time is also money in the film business.

If you send a script, the best case scenario is that you get the script sent back to you. Or simply no answer, because your beautiful work has long since become waste paper.

Difference between series and feature films

You write a synopsis either for a feature film or for a single episode of a series. If you want to summarize the content of a series, you create a treatment or a preliminary stage of the so-called series bible – a guide that contains all the important storylines and their development. The other differences in script work for film and series are already apparent at this stage, for example in the writing process and responsibilities.

Before you hit the keys

It burns inside you! You have the perfect, brilliant and unique idea! Still, take a breath first and wait to write an exposé until you can think clearly again. Before you write a single sentence, you need to do your homework as a newbie.

That means talking to other writers. Invite them in for coffee and ask about their experiences.

The right network is everything. That’s the only way you’ll find out later who you’re sending your synopsis to. And who better not.

Every film production and every TV station has a profile, is looking for stories with their very own specifications. If you don’t know them and try to send them in bulk, you’d better throw your synopsis in the trash right away. At least then you’ll know why you’re not succeeding.

The reverse is also true:

A professional exposé in the right hands will open doors to places you wouldn’t dream of. That way you can easily find out if you can sell your <idea.

Conclusion

I wish you all the luck in the world, lots of energy and even more flashes of inspiration, but above all lots and lots of perseverance in writing your synopsis. Because happiness can be earned with perseverance and professionalism!

Good to know

  • A synopsis is one of the precursors to a screenplay. Usually there is no fee for this.
  • Before the synopsis is the film sketch (also called synopsis or film concept). Based on the synopsis, the treatment (or story outline) and later the screenplay are created.
  • Every synopsis has four functions: (1) it conveys your idea and must be convincing, (2) it conveys confidence in your ability as a writer, and (3) it forces you to turn an idea into a viable story, which means (4) the formulation also provides legal protection.
  • Your synopsis can be between three and fifteen pages. In terms of content, it is divided into three parts: Cover page with title, subtitle, author’s name and brief summary, description of main characters and outlined plot.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Gabriela Weingartner
About Gabriela Weingartner 20 Articles
Gabriela Weingartner ist überzeugt, dass der Autor Patrick Süskind recht hat, wenn er sagt «Man muss gescheit sein, um in der dummen Sprache des Films eine Geschichte klug erzählen zu können.»

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