Writing a synopsis for The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel that tells the story of an old man who attempts to catch a large marlin in the hopes of being admired and honored. If you have read the book, then you know that the novel contains much more details than this. In a synopsis, you need to convey only the essence of the novel. The synopsis does not require an analysis of the material. However, you need to have understood and analyzed it before writing a synopsis.old man and the sea

The synopsis defined

A synopsis is a brief outline or summary of a written work. It gives the reader a general overview of what they will encounter in the essay or book. For unpublished works, the synopsis could also serve as a book proposal. As such, the synopsis is short but comprehensive. It contains a nebula of information and ideas in a short paragraph.

Students may be asked to write a synopsis of a novel or story they have read for class as a writing exercise or simply to see how well they understood it. More often than not, however, the synopsis is needed for a literary analysis. A short synopsis is a good way to give a background on the novel without taking up too much space. Original works, such as dissertations, research papers, and novels also need to be accompanied by a synopsis when submitted to a publisher and when published. The synopsis lets the editors and publishers know what the paper or the novel is about. The same goes for potential readers—researchers rely on the synopsis when deciding on the relevance of the paper to their study.

what is a synopsis

Components of a synopsis

  • When writing a synopsis for a novel like The Old Man and the Sea, the most important component is the main theme. The main theme is the essence of any story. It dictates the light in which the narrative, the conflict, and the characters are presented, and consequently, understood. Mentioning the main theme in the synopsis gives the readers an idea of what to expect from the novel.

    Thus, we can write:

    The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel by Ernest Hemingway. He explores ideas about honor and defeat as the novel tells the story of an old man’s endeavor to catch a large fish. 


  • The synopsis is a little similar to the summary in that it also conveys the main narrative arc of the novel. This means that the main conflict as well as its resolution has to be mentioned. Again, the purpose of this is to give the reader an idea of what will transpire in the novel.

    Note, however, that this should only give a general overview of the narrative, not the entire plot. Specific details like plot twists should be left out as that will spoil the story for the reader. Thus, for example:

    The novel follows the old man, Santiago, as he goes out to sea to find the large Marlin, which he believes will bring him honor.  He encounters numerous near-death experiences during and after catching the marlin. After catching the marlin, Santiago fends off shark attacks and other scavengers trying to eat it. He fails to protect his catch, but inadvertently wins the admiration of people. 


Do’s and don’ts in writing a synopsis

  1. Stay focused. Novels like The Old Man and the Sea contain all the elements of a story, and all of them are relevant. However, not all of them need to appear in the synopsis. For instance, although there are other characters in the novel, there is no need to mention them all.
  2. Don’t include too much detail. Novels contain elaborate plots and plot twists, and these don’t need to be revealed in the synopsis. A balance between revealing and not revealing needs to be achieved for a synopsis to be effective. This extends to explanations of events, characters, or even the theme. The complete insight is better left revealed by the novel, not the synopsis.
  3. Write in active voice, preferably. Writing in the active voice helps keep the synopsis concise and easy to read. 
  4. Write clearly. The synopsis needs to be concise. This is a challenge in itself. Often, writers cram multiple ideas and details in one sentence in an attempt to be concise. This only leads to long, unclear sentences. Sometimes, writing in longer sentences is counter-productive. Check your sentences as you write: make sure they are focused and not too wordy.
  5. Edit and proofread. You might think that since the synopsis is a short piece of writing, it doesn’t need to be edited. On the contrary, short pieces require more attention in the editing process. As mentioned earlier, a synopsis is more prone to verbose, unclear sentences. Thus, attentive editing needs to be done to weed out such sentences and make sure there are no grammatical errors that could undermine its clarity.


Synopsis of The Old Man and the Sea:

The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel by Ernest Hemingway. He explores ideas about honor and defeat as the novel tells the story of an old man’s endeavor to catch a large fish. The novel follows the old man, Santiago, as he goes out to sea to find the large Marlin, which he believes will bring him honor.  He encounters near-death experiences during and after catching the marlin. After catching the marlin, Santiago fends off shark attacks and other scavengers trying to eat it. He fails to protect his catch, but inadvertently wins the admiration of people. Nevertheless, Santiago is content with the knowledge that he was able to catch the marlin and reach the shore without being eaten by the sharks.