How You Write a Synopsis

Posted on 16/05/2013 by


First you spend an entire day writing (and rewriting) three hundred words. Then, just at the point where you’re going crazy and starting to see things in the text that aren’t there you ask someone else to read it.

Hopefully they will say something nice like, I’d read that. Hopefully they won’t say things like, I don’t understand or Who’s this Jamie guy?. Probably they will say both. And you will stare at them in dazed confusion. And you’ll peer over their shoulder as though looking at it again from this perspective will make everything clear.

And then you’ll say, So there’s this thing in the first paragraph I just noticed, maybe it’s just me… And they’ll squint at it and say, No, it’s not just you. And you’ll realise you have to rewrite it.

And rewrite it you will. You will try every approach. You will demand of an unresponsive screen: Which version do you want?

Universal themes? It’s about a friendship. High concept? Wizards in space! The point where magic meets science and technology and stuff blows up! The story? Two very different people meet accidentally in a bar. When a fireball bursts through the window they both assume whoever is out there is after them and run together. Gray gets a crash course in magic and Jamie finds a fellow adrenaline junkie in the sartorially challenged drunk with alcohol in his hair.

Eventually, staring at the words on the page, you’ll realise you’re accidentally writing blurb copy instead of a synopsis and you have to start again.

Later one of your beta readers will say of the final paragraph: Oh, f*ing YEAH! Chills, shivers, puppies. Another will start a brain-storming session in dissatisfaction at your use of the word ‘unpleasantness’. You will sit there wondering if there is a way to cram more implicit death into a single word. You will wish you could figure out how to show the perspective of both main characters —

RKS: You have to show who Gray really is otherwise —
Me: Otherwise the synopsis reads a bit like ‘Mary Sue meets the wizard’? Yeah, I know.

 You will rewrite it.

Photo of old newspaper movie synopsis that reads:  The Wizard of Oz. (8-10 p.m., TCM) — Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.