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 www.rmfw.org/contest. Good luck, everyone.