by Peggy Bechko
“Oh <whine> why would I have to do that? It’s too much trouble. I can’t get it down. Anyway, I have this here fantastical script and/or novel and a great elevator pitch. If I can just get it into the hands of a producer/editor all will be well, fantastic really!”
Um, yes and no. Well, actually more now. You may have a fantastic script/novel but more often than not what gets that script/novel read is the synopsis. In fact there’ve been many times when the synopsis was so good the script got the reading stage, was actually not so ‘fantastical’ and the reader was appalled by how bad the script (I’ll just leave out the novel notation here) was after reading a really great synopsis.
Now, the point is, the script didn’t sell on the basis of synopsis/bad script, but it got attention and that’s where it all begins.
So, yes, you do need a good synopsis (and yes it applies to novels as well as scripts). And that means the writer really does need to have a compelling and excellent synopsis that gets the producer envisioning lines around the block to get into the theater (or in the case of novels, lines of people waiting to buy a book like Harry Potter). Yeah, there were lines.
A synopsis quite simply allows a producer or editor to get through a whole lot more material a whole lot more quickly. And since all of this boils down to a numbers game (how many scripts or manuscripts do I have to read to find that gem?) it behooves the writer to write a synopsis so compelling whoever is reading can’t wait to get to the real thing.
How does the writer do this. Well, practice and an eye to story structure and keeping it very tight while showing off the twists and turns of plot.
Here we go –
1. Somebody wants something and we need a bit on that somebody’s (main character) world.
2. That main character needs a shortcoming or flaw that is stopping him (or her) from getting to where he wants to be.
3. There must be an incident that kick starts it all.
4. Perhaps because of that incident there needs to be some extrapolation that causes this main character to come up with a new plan and a way to set it in motion.
5. You just need a truly amazing villain (antagonist) who’s there to do whatever it takes to stop the hero. Villain can be anything from another character to an earthquake. The hero also needs some or something that is in place to help him push through to his own victory.
6. There needs to be a point where all seems lost, where the hero fails, but through that, learns something and bounces back with a whole new plan.
6a.(and must I mention the writer needs to do some foreshadowing early in the story as to how the hero is going to come out on top?)
7. Things are ratcheting up so the struggle must get more intense. Internal or external.
8. The climax wherein the hero wins despite the certainty that he wouldn’t.
9. And return to hero’s normal world wherein he or she was changed by all that happened and that driving need at the beginning is satiated. (You might think about reading The Writer’s Journey by Vogler if you haven’t already http://amzn.to/1PShQia )
That’s the basic stuff to include in a synopsis. Of course there may be a bit more, depending on genre, SciFi for example, can cause the need for a bit more explanation.
So here’s the tricky part. Yep, you need all that info, but you need to get it all in there while keeping it as short as possible. More than a paragraph but probably not more than about one half to one page in length. Producers and editors are looking for story as the primary objective – then they’ll worry about how well it’s done.
Hint at problems that will be solved in the script, but don’t give all the answers in the synopsis. Don’t clutter it up with details like dialog, subplots and fringe characters.
Language needs to be simple and clear to get the producer/editor to focus on the story (as mentioned above) and not the magnificence (or not so much) of your vocabulary. Yeah, all that use bigger and more colorful words you learned in creative writing class? Don’t.
Okay, so stop whining and create the best darn synopsis any producer or editor ever saw. One that person can’t wait to show around due to it’s amazing quality.
Really. Have at it.