Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Dreaded Synopsis by Terry Wright

With the Colorado Gold Writing Contest open and in full swing, I thought I’d talk about the synopsis. The most common question I get is: why does it have to be eight pages when editors and agents prefer shorter, some as short as two pages double spaced.

The answer is simple.

Eight pages allows plenty of room to lay out the story from beginning to end with the major players’ character arcs clearly drawn out. This synopsis isn’t about selling to an agent or editor. It’s about showing the judges that the writer has a clear understanding of story structure, the character’s journey, and the payoff for the reader.

The synopsis can be shorter than eight pages, but beware. I’ve seen four and five page synopses that didn’t do the story justice.

In a perfect world, the synopsis should come before the story is written. These questions should have been answered first:

#1: What is the protagonist’s normal world?(Introduction)

#2: What changes or threatens to change that world? (Inciting Incident)

#3: What is the character going to do about the call to action? (Hopefully turn it down until something personal propels the character on the journey)

#4: What does the character want? (Goal)

#5: Why does the character want it? (Motivation)

#6: Why can’t the character have it? (Obstacle – usually the antagonist or vise versa)

#7: What does the character have to do to get it? (Plot – rising action – turning points – black moment – climax - resolution)

#8: What happens if the character succeeds or fails? (Stakes – personal and world)

And ditto for the antagonist.

If a writer doesn’t know these answers and writes a story, say by the seat of the pants, and then is suddenly asked to write the synopsis, it may be difficult to extract these elements as an afterthought. Thus the synopsis becomes so dreadful. If something is missing here then there’s a good chance the story itself has a problem that needs attention.

The eight-page Colorado Gold synopsis is an opportunity to show the judges that the story is solid and the writer is a storyteller worthy of making the final round. Be sure to check the “Synopsis Tips” on the RMFW contest Web page at Good luck, everyone.


Giles Hash said...

Somehow, I managed to get all of that stuff into a book I wrote a few years ago. It wasn't strong stuff, but the elements were there. I'm writing a new book with the same characters, and I'm outlining the CRAP out of it! I'm intentionally adding all of those elements before I write the outline, too.

irishoma said...

Thanks for the great advice. I love the way you've broken down writing a synopsis by answering the eight questions. Very helpful!
Donna v.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Since I spent most of this week whipping my synopsis into shape for agent submissions, these excellent reminders are perfectly timed. Mine needs to be shorter than the contest synopsis, so I write long and then put my red pen to work for other versions. And then I have my critique group review it...and start over. :D

Daven Anderson said...

If you ever get frustrated with writing a synopsis, spend some time trying to create a synopsis for "Forrest Gump".

Afterward, you'll never complain about writing your synopsis.