How to Write a Synopsis for a TV Show Pilot

by Dave Stanley
A good pilot episode on TV may lead to years of success.

A good pilot episode on TV may lead to years of success.

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Writing a synopsis for a TV pilot is unique in that you have no frame of reference. No other seasons are available for comparison when it comes to plot and character development, for instance. Of course, the new series may have well-known stars. Remember, however, that you're writing a synopsis; editorializing is generally frowned upon. A synopsis is not a review where you can opine on the stars' careers. A few quick methods make writing a synopsis easy.

Step 1

Watch the show. This step may seem obvious, but it's an important one, as you may be tempted simply to get the essence of the show by going on hearsay. If possible, watch the pilot multiple times to absorb the gist fully. Pilot episodes are new for everyone, the actors included. That said, characters aren't fully developed yet, and you may have to pay extra attention to understand what the actors and writers are going for, as the show is a work in progress.

Step 2

Take notes. Don't bury yourself in the notebook, however, as you may miss key nuances and plot points. Watching the pilot multiple times can help as you are taking notes. The key is to jot down major twists and turns without being too wordy. For example, you could write the following: "First five minutes, we learn why old friend has moved back in." Keep your notes in chronological order, however, as that is the form in which you will be writing the synopsis itself.

Step 3

Write a blow-by-blow account of how the plot unfolds. Remember, you're not writing a review, so stay away from offering your opinion of the quality of the show. Don't worry at this point about clarity or flow; simply get all the points of action on paper. Think of this step as the middle ground between your scratch paper notes and the glossy final copy.

Step 4

Review the synopsis and keep space limits in mind. If you write for a publication, then chances are you already have a set amount of words and column inches to meet. However, if you're writing the synopsis for fun on a blog or are trying to shop your wares to an editor, keep in mind that about 400-650 words is good. The synopsis should be descriptive, yet concise. It's not a press release, so you're not trying to sell the pilot, but it should make for an interesting read.

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