by Peggy Bechko
I hear it all the time:
“Do I have to write a synopsis?”
“Why do I have to write a synopsis?”
“What the heck is a synopsis?”
“Yes you do.”
“You better do a little research – seriously.”
Okay, plainly a synopsis can be a very different animal for every writer. But who it is for doesn’t change. It’s for the reader whether a script reader or a novel reader. It has to be short, succinct and really hook ‘em.
Think about it. Script Readers and Editors are buried. Their workloads are tremendous. There are readers who actually tackle two or more scripts and many synopses each day. There are editors who plow through mountains of manuscripts. There are lots of producers out there as well who check out a logline and a synopsis before they decide if they want to read a script…or not. (It’s the ‘or not’ you want to avoid.)
If you’re writing to script or to novel the synopsis is a bit different, but not a lot. The fact is the synopsis could clearly lay down the main story from beginning to end. Yep, even to the ‘spoiler’ of an ending. You, as the writer, must compel the reader to read that script or that manuscript.
So, what your synopsis isn’t is what might be stuck inside a book jacket or a couple of sentence description that could be found in a TV Guide. It’s not just a tease, it’s an attention grabbing selling tool.
So, let’s focus on what we need in a synopsis for a script. You’re selling a story. The story is the main element. And character. The mixing of plot and character. Hit the plot right away. You don’t need flowery language and you can’t get across the meanderings of the characters’ minds. On the other hand you don’t want it to be so short and dry it could be something your newspaper types in with the channel listings for TV.
Focus on this. Script readers read a whole lot of scripts and because of that they’ve seen a lot. So you’re not going to be able to hook one with a bit of a teaser on the premise of your story. They’ve probably heard that before. Walk the reader through the story. The question is, can you, the writer, tie a whole story together, beginning, middle and end. You don’t’ stop in the middle. Readers of scripts (and yes manuscripts as well) want to know how a story unfolds.
You can tell a quick story with action verbs. You can set it up act by act in several paragraphs. There are lots of stories that begin with a bank robbery or a kidnapping or a suicide so the trick is to give the reader the meat. What happens next? What choices do the characters make? What’s behind it all? And yes, how does it all come together in the end?
Okay, so how long should this thing be? Generally about a page, tops. Sort of between 200 and 400 words, give or take a little.
So, the basics.
Establish the story’s characters, the story’s main conflict and the incident that triggers the story. Then comes the meat. Who’s the antagonist(s). What are the big plot twists? In other words save scene descriptions for your scripts and focus here on the main storyline. Then wrap it all up with how the main character has changed…or didn’t…and what the resolution is to the story.
This all applies to manuscripts as well though there’s a bit more room for some of that colorful language and maybe some thought exploration though the length constriction doesn’t allow for much.
So, go forth and create a stunning synopsis…and don’t forget the amazing logline as well.
Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.