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An Easy Way to Write a One-Page Synopsis for Your Screenplay

WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT GET NOTICED AND OPEN DOORS

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There’s one thing that seems to inspire as much fear in screenwriters as loglines, and that is: the one-page synopsis.

And that makes sense, right? In either case you’re trying to distill a whole screenplay down into a much shorter format. It can be a daunting task.

But when a producer or manager or fellowship application asks for a “one-pager”, you want to be able to get over your fear and deliver. So today I’m sharing my simple method for writing a one-page synopsis.

What is a one-page synopsis?

Also known as a “one-pager,” the one-page synopsis is a summary of the story that your screenplay tells. Although it’s called a “one-pager” it’s pretty common for the document to run 1-2 pages. (Unless you’re working with an official word count limit, like for an application.)

But, like with a logline, you’re aiming to be as concise as possible. And 1+ pages is still pretty short. That means the synopsis really only has room to include what’s essential to the central storyline.

This short synopsis is also meant to convey a sense of the movie the screenplay could become. So it’s not just an inventory of the plot beats. Instead, it’ll often be more thoughtful about tone and voice, to give the experience of reading the synopsis a hint of the feeling of the movie.

Start by identifying the A-story spine

Since the one-pager will focus on the central storyline, a good place to start is by identifying the spine of that story. That’s the 40,000-foot view of the whole storyline created by the major plot points.

For example, if we look at the movie Taken, the major plot points are:

  • Inciting incident: Bryan’s daughter wants to go to Paris, unchaperoned.
  • Break into Act Two: In Paris, Bryan’s daughter is kidnapped and he leaps into action to save her.
  • Midpoint: Bryan infiltrates a brothel and rescues a trafficked girl – not his daughter, but one who might have information on her whereabouts.
  • Break into Act Three: Bryan gets a new lead: a rich guy named Patrice who auctions women.
  • Climax: Bryan races to the final location and kills the man holding her captive. Bryan’s thankful daughter collapses into his arms.

The major turning points should show the essential foundation of the A-story: the protagonist, what he does to achieve the story goal, the main conflict, and what’s at stake.

Don’t forget the character arc

With your major turning points in hand you’re off to a great start. Now you’ll simply start with a colorful or dramatic opening image and/or character introduction, and then summarize the action in between the turning points.

Since you’re sticking to the A-story, you probably won’t have room to get into any subplots or many supporting characters. But the A-story isn’t just plot events, either.

Part of the A-story is how the plot events cause the character to change. You won’t have a tremendous amount of room to discuss the protagonist’s transformation, but you can and should indicate the arc through a few select moments.

Write toward the turning points

So what does it mean, to “summarize the action”? Think of it as bridging from one turning point to the next. Concisely but vividly move us from major plot point to major plot point. You’ll focus on broad strokes, but evocative language where possible. In that way you’re giving the reader a high-level view, but a specific feel.

You’ll have to use your judgment a bit. In the example below, you’ll see I allowed for more of the “debate section” than I typically might. Because so much of the rest of the story is action action action, I wanted to give the protagonist and his stakes a little love up top.

Write in the present tense, third person. Tell the story in the same tone and voice as the script in order to convey the entertainment/genre appeal of your script. Rely on your well-honed screenwriting skills and focus on what we can see on screen.

A sample one-page synopsis you can use as a template

When my clients ask me to write one-pagers for them (which I don’t do 😄) I give them this sample one-page synopsis. To make it easy, I’ve noted in red the points mentioned above. And while the language I’ve used could probably stand more thought (this is only meant as a template, not as an example of the best writing) the document should give you an idea of how to tackle your next one-pager.**

**Also, it totally runs over onto page 2, and that’s okay.

The one-pager is something that’s requested pretty frequently in the industry. If you haven’t been asked for one yet, it’s only a matter of time.

Whether you’re working with a producer and need a one-pager as part of your investor package, or you’re trying to persuade a manager or exec to read your entire script, or any of a million other scenarios… being able to write a clear and compelling one-page synopsis is a skill that will serve you well.

Stick to the A-story, write toward the turning points, and bridge the gaps with evocative broad strokes. You’ll have a one-pager that does what you need it to do: showcase your movie idea and entice the reader to ask for more.

WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT GET NOTICED AND OPEN DOORS

Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.

Subscribe