Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Things Wot I Have Learned About Synopses:

Not that I'm finished or even that what I have is any good--and certainly not that I know how to do this well--but I had a bit of breakthrough today in my quest to write a Synopsis That Doth Not Suck.

La Process:
Go through the behemoth, 25-page, dry-as-dust synopsis I already wrote--the one that details everything. Write out a list of all the turning points .
2) Chop out all the turning points that relate to the subplot.
3) Smooth the list of turning points together to create a coherent synopsis, adding plot points and explanations only where needed.

Ta-da! I now have something that at least isn't hideous and boring.

A turning point, as defined in Robert McKee's excellent book on (screenplay) writing Story, is a point of no return in a scene. This is when something gets said or done that is irreversible.

For example, a couple having an argument is reversible. They can kiss, make up, and go back to the way they were before the fight. However, if one of them blurts out that they're having an affair, that's a turning point. The couple might still find their way to a happy ending, but the relationship will never be the same again. That statement created an irreversible change.

Turning points usually accompany one or more characters getting a shock or surprise. This is why even a dry list of turning points makes a decently readable synopsis.

Robert McKee actually suggested this technique as a way to create a pitch.


Josh said...

But before you reach the final level of mastering the dread synopsis, you must dare to snatch this pebble from my palm...

wait...crap...lost the pebble...hang a second, it's around here somewhere...

jjdebenedictis said...

Behind your left heel, oh grand master. *bows reverently*

No...back a little more...go left...left...just beside the sofa leg...

Conduit said...

I think you touch on a theory of mine when it comes to queries and synopses. I mentioned this once at the Crapometer, but I don't think I explained myself very well. I've just sealed up to query packaged, one with a four page synopsis, and one with a one page - yes, one page - synopsis. I've come to the conclusion that specifics harm the query and/or synopsis. Details of an event, if presented in isolation, tend to lead to more questions. What was he doing there? Why didn't she just do this instead? Why didn't the dragon just eat them?

See what I mean? There's a delicate balance between not enough detail and too much. My approach has become this: I don't describe specific events in detail; I describe their effect. The important thing is not what happened, but what impact it had. For instance, even in my longer synopsis I didn't give any details of my protagonist's actions, just the impact they had on him and the world around him. The turning point, in other words.

Mind you, I could be talking utter rubbish, here. Just my opinion.

jjdebenedictis said...

...and one with a one page - yes, one page - synopsis

Eek! Four pages is my shortest so far. Kudos to you!

[I]n my longer synopsis I didn't give any details of my protagonist's actions, just the impact

Oh, cool! What you describe is almost exactly something else Robert McKee mentions in Story when he's talking about creating a pitch.

He says you write down the subtext - not the text - of the story. In other words, if two characters are having a conversation about jelly sandwiches, but under the surface they're really talking about their love lives, then in your pitch/synopsis, you talk about their love lives.

Or, as you say, you don't talk about the details of the action; you talk about the impact of the action.

See? You're at least as wise as Robert McKee, therefore, you deserve to get your book published too! :-D

Travis Erwin said...

I write my first synopsis when I'm only a few chapters into the creation. That way I do not know all the little details and I can focus on the bigger elements of the plot. Of course I have to change and tweak to fit the actual story later, but it has really helped me to focus on the major points of the story.

Josh said...

When outlining my story, before I even start writing it, I essentially write both a one page, and then a four page synopsis. Admittedly, the final product may not actually follow the original summaries and will need to be redrafted, but it makes going back to that a little easier in the end. For professional submissions, I usually shoot for two pages, give or take.

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