Long Story Short: I Hate Writing Synopses

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Which is why I’m writing this instead.

Yes, yes, I understand the importance of a synopsis. It’s a quick ride through your story. I also realize that if you can’t condense your story down to its basics to accurately convey the plot, you don’t truly know your tale. But sometimes, writing a 3 to 5 page synopsis (I won’t even discuss getting it down to a one sheet) is on par with holding a lump of coal in your hands and trying to squeeze it into a diamond.

If you’re like me (heaven help you if you are) your mind tends to go blank when you force yourself to encapsulate that expansive thing that has been haunting you for weeks/months/years and occupying enormous amounts of space in your head rent free. One possible solution is to get some poor sap to write the synopsis for you. People actually offer that service. Problem is that’s a bit of a cheat, isn’t it? Kinda defeats the purpose of being a writer, don’t you agree?

I usually slog my way through by tackling the synopsis in stages. If you chop the entire stories into bite size morsels, say Beginning, Middle and Ending and take a quick break to jog around the block, walk your lovely pooch, do the dishes, or engage in some other non-writing activity. You’ll find, more often than not, your brain is working on the next stage of the synopsis on the back burner. Ideas for writing tend to flow more freely when you’re not concentrating on writing.

If that doesn’t work, you can try imagining that you’re explaining the story to an absolute stranger, but do it verbally and record your explanation (digital recorders are dirt cheap nowadays and most smartphones have apps for that sort of thing).  Your built-in editor will no doubt kick into gear and eliminate most of the story nonessentials. It does this every time you speak (well, for most people, anyway) even when you’re not aware of it. Don’t believe me? Try explaining a movie you just watched to a person who hasn’t seen it. You’ll be talking in Cliff Notes before you get to the ending.

And by far the easiest way to write a synopsis is to do it at the very beginning, while the story is still that ethereal creature swimming around in your brain. Jotting down the highlights of your tale from start to finish, in the order in which events occur, not only saves you the muss and fuss of struggling to whittle a synopsis down later on, it also helps to solidify your understanding of the plotline and should take a little of the burden off your writing process.

Well, I’ve skived off writing my screenplay synopsis for long enough. Guess I oughta go finish it.

Sigh.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

5 responses to “Long Story Short: I Hate Writing Synopses

  1. It might be a bit of a cheat to hire someone to write your synopsis, but I’ve considered doing it for all the reasons you mentioned. It’s just so difficult to boil everything down when the entire story is important to you. Another writer with an objective perspective might be able to do better.

    Then again, it’s probably actually a good exercise in writing to force yourself to summarize. One problem I can see with hiring someone is that the synopsis would not be in your writing voice and it might throw readers off once they get into the book.

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    • With certain screenplay contests, you sometimes receive a synopsis included with your feedback. I’ve never found those to be 100% accurate. And you’ve raised an excellent point about the writing lacking your unique voice. You also wouldn’t necessarily want to receive a synopsis written by someone who has a distinctive flair that’s not present in your writing style.

      I’m not knocking those who provide synopsis services, though, or ghostwriters for that matter. If you can earn a livable wage from putting pen to paper, by all means. Needs must when the devil drives.

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  2. I’ve always loathed the concept of a synopsis, because if my story should be a 3-5 page short story, then I wouldn’t have made an entire screenplay out of it. In other words, I write in the medium (screenplays) that best serves my stories. If my goal was a short story, then I would’ve written that to begin with.

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  3. As a writer, your normal instinct is to expand and flesh out stories. Condensing is for editors. Just sayin’.

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