Unless you’re already a freelance writer, “synopsis writing” probably doesn’t seem like a vital skill for furthering your career. Yet being able to write a concise and effective synopsis is easily one of the most versatile and useful abilities for any freelancer to have — regardless of how much (or how little) you write in your field.
After all, let’s be honest — whatever you decide to freelance in, you’re going to have to write cover letters and great emails to secure clients and get a job. And once you start working for a client, you’ll have to formulate good pitches for future projects.
Guess what? Every single one of these tasks can benefit from a good synopsis and lead you to better jobs with higher pay.
Intrigued? Then let’s take a closer look at what synopsis writing is and how you can use it to enhance your freelance career.
At its core, “synopsis writing” is simply the art of taking a story and boiling it down to its essentials — allowing you to tell that entire story in just a few phrases.
Good synopsis writers can tell that story in one page. Great synopsis writers can tell a whole story in a single sentence or paragraph — and somehow convey all of that story’s excitement, drama, and intrigue in just a few words.
If you think this sounds like something used in entertainment, then you’re right. All TV shows, movies, and podcasts need an intriguing synopsis to bring in an audience. And if you’re trying to sell a novel, you won’t get very far without a well-written synopsis of your plot to share with an agent or publisher.
But synopsis writing is used for far more than writing summaries of fictional stories. If you’ve ever had to write a job proposal or send a cold email to a potential client, odds are you’ve had to call on your own synopsis writing skills — you just didn’t know it.
Being able to take a giant novel, screenplay, or study and condense it down to a couple sentences takes skill — and some freelance writers get paid very well for that skill. A look at Upwork’s content writer page reveals that some of the top synopsis writers are earning anywhere from $50 to $150 an hour crafting good synopses for their clients.
But take a closer look. These writers don’t just specialize in the entertainment field or creative writing. They write for legal teams, blogs, travel websites, and more.
Why? Well, at the end of the day, all of these well-paying fields need someone to tell their story. And having the professional skills to turn anything from a legal brief to a travel journal entry into an exciting and accessible one-paragraph story is something any business can benefit from.
There’s more. Think of the last time you wrote a cold email explaining why a client should hire you. You weren’t just listing your skill set. You were telling the story of how your expertise would help solve your client’s problems. And you had to do all of this in just a few sentences — maybe less.
Or, think about the last time you wrote a proposal for a project or pitched an idea for an article you wanted to work on. If boiling that complex project down to its essentials felt extremely difficult, wouldn’t learning how to identify its main components and express it in a single sentence be helpful for your freelancing business?
You bet it would — and fortunately, learning the basics of good synopsis writing is a simple task that can be taught (appropriately enough) in just a few paragraphs.
Stories may seem like complicated, intricate things, but in reality, they can all be described with just this one sentence:
A story is a character trying to solve a problem.
That’s it. Sure, the problem might be complex and if you’re dealing with an ensemble cast, you’re following multiple characters, but essentially, every story follows this basic pattern and deals with only two components — a character (the hero) and a problem.
Once you realize this, you know what to look for when identifying the main components in any story — including the real ones from your life. From there, it’s just a matter of placing those two elements in a concise sentence or paragraph. And since you aren’t dealing with a ton of information, that’s very manageable.
As an example, let’s build a synopsis detailing the life of a famous fictional freelancer — the bounty hunter “Mando” from the Disney+ Star Wars show “The Mandalorian.” In the show, Mando travels the galaxy capturing criminals for money — until he’s tasked with capturing an adorable “Baby Yoda” alien for an evil syndicate that wants to experiment on the little guy. Unwilling to let his employers get their hands on Baby Yoda, Mando goes on the run and becomes a hunted man himself.
So, a one-sentence synopsis for the show might read something like this:
“An expert bounty hunter [the character] must use his deadly skills to protect an alien child when they’re both targeted by an evil syndicate. [the problem].”
Simple, right? Granted, every episode in the show has its own plot — but that one sentence still conveys what the overall series is about.
Now, let’s apply this practice to something a bit closer to home — your freelancing services.
Ultimately, all freelancers are in business to solve problems for their clients. So, finding the story your client wants to hear is simple — just identify their main problem and explain how you (their hero) can solve it.
Let’s say you’re a web designer who specializes in building websites for different companies. Your basic job synopsis might read something like this:
“I’m a freelance web designer [character] who’s built hundreds of easily navigable websites that attract leads and convert them into clients for mid-size and large companies. [how you’ll solve your client’s problem of converting leads].”
Now, that might be a good synopsis to use on the home page of your website or social media profile, but you can still play around with this basic story when you retool it for a cover letter. One great technique to use is to spotlight a specific problem your client has and then show how your skill set and work experience qualifies you to address it. For instance, if you’re contacting a law firm interested in expanding their clientele, you might tell your story this way:
“Having spent years building websites for The Zoldan Law Group and Blythe Grace PLLC, I know how to create a fast-loading and SEO-friendly site that’s easy to find online. My web design is compatible with all the latest mobile technologies, allowing new clients to look you up on their smart phones and set up an appointment.”
The great thing about this technique is that your potential client isn’t just getting the story of your past accomplishments. They’re also encouraged to build a story in their mind of how your services can fit into their future plans.
You can use this same technique when you’re writing a job proposal for a group project. Just think of your group as an ensemble cast with all the abilities needed to solve your client’s problem. Likewise, most articles cast you as the hero with the know-how for solving the reader’s problem.
Storytelling isn’t just the world’s oldest profession. It’s a basic skill every entrepreneur and freelancer should learn for approaching a client — or for telling your client’s story to their potential buyers or investors. Whether you’re crafting marketing materials for your own website or building a job proposal for your employer, being able to identify the main components of your story and effectively communicate it to an audience will always come in handy.
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