Monday, November 16, 2015

Synopsis /səˈnäpsəs/ (n). the bane of any writer's existence.

I tried NaNoWriMo once.

And I failed.


I started out writing between 1500-2000 words a day, and then somewhere around mid-November my brain became a stew of ideas and twists and new character arcs that sounded a heck of a lot better than the ones I'd started out with.
So since many of you are currently halfway through your own NaNo projects (imagine me applauding you at this point because I am, I promise), I thought I'd pass along what I learned from my month-long stint in a creative hell. 
The Super-Simple Synopsis Strategy Sure To Satisfy Your Storytelling...Stuff.
Don't judge me. Titles have never been my forte. 
Anyway, this strategy is going to be absolutely priceless for those of you who will be querying your newborn manuscript in January (imagine me hugging you and telling you it'll be okay at this point because I am, I promise) and hoping no agent you decide to query asks for a ONE PAGE SYNOPSIS OH MY GOD.
But we all know agents will. They have to. And after this post, you're going to be prepared to write one. All thanks to my TS-SSSSTSYS...S technique. 
It's really quite simple. I use it to teach writers of all ages how to write the world's most simple and complete synopsis. And all you have to remember are five words: somebody, wanted, but, so, then.
That's it! When you fill in the responses to those, you've got a full-blown synopsis that'll easily fit on one page. So let's take a look at each of these words so you'll know just what to include.
  1. Somebody: Tell us who the main character is, where she lives, her age, and anything else that you feel we should know.
  2. Wanted: Tell us your main character's biggest inner desire. What's her biggest external goal?
  3. But: Tell us the obstacle standing in her way of achieving these. There might be more than one or there could be one single challenge. This is going to be the biggest portion of your synopsis because we need to see how your character struggles and fails, struggles and fails, struggles and fails, and nearly gives up.
  4. So: Tell us the method she uses to finally overcome this obstacle.
  5. Then: Tell us the internal and external reward she obtains for solving this problem. 

That's it! As an example, we'll write up a quick (less than one page) synopsis for Bridge to Terabithia. Warning: major spoilers ahead if you haven't read the book.
  1. Somebody: Jess Aarons is a fifth grader at Lark Creek Elementary School. He's been training all summer long on his farm because...
  2. Wanted: he wants to be the fastest runner in the school. He knows if he can do this, he'll earn the respect of his friends, his rivals, and more importantly, the respect of his dad.
  3. But: But when Leslie Burke, Jess' new neighbor and classmate, challenges the boys to a race, she leaves every one of them in her dust...along with Jess' dreams. Second place isn't good enough to brag about. Not to the other boys at school. And not to his dad. When Leslie attempts to befriend Jess, he resists at first. But somewhere along the way, he realizes she's not so bad. And her family is more than ready to welcome him as their new neighbor. Jess and Leslie quickly become friends and together they create Terabithia, an imaginary world in the woods, just across the creek beside the old crab apple tree. The more time they spend building their castle stronghold, the more the other boys tease him about having a girlfriend. And the more time he spends with Leslie, the more his parents worry about him not doing regular "boy things." But Leslie brings out the best in Jess--his creativity, his curiosity, and his willingness to see a world outside of Lark Creek. And Jess inspires Leslie, too. She tells him she's never been to church, so when Easter rolls around, she tags along with his family. Jess worries that her lack of understanding about the Bible will come to haunt her one day, but he quickly forgets about it. Soon after, Ms. Edmunds, Jess' music teacher, invites him to visit an art gallery and Jess accepts the offer. They spend the day exploring the different paintings, talking about imagination, and enjoying their time in the city. But when Jess gets back home, his parents are waiting for him with some devastating news. Leslie is dead. She drowned trying to cross the creek into Terabithia. At first, Jess refuses to believe it. He becomes angry at his family, at himself, even at Leslie. He runs away to the woods, ready to tear down the world he created with Leslie. Jess' father finds him. Jess confesses that Leslie's death is his own fault because he didn't invite her to go to the art gallery with him. And what's even worse, since Leslie never went to church before Easter, he's worried God sent her to hell. 
  4. So: For the first time ever, Jess' dad consoles him. He tells Jess not to worry. That it's not his fault and that God doesn't send little girls to hell. They sit quietly together in the woods remembering Leslie and having their very first honest father-son moment. The next day, Jess finds the strength to revisit Terabithia. He decides to build a bridge across the creek and invite his little sister along.
  5. Then: Together, they will keep the memory of Leslie alive so that Terabithia can live on forever. 
There ya go! Obviously, the synopsis I just wrote can be modified and greatly improved, but it at least gives you the idea of how you can use the somebody, wanted, but, so, then method to at least get your started in the right direction.
But until then, happy writing! You're only halfway through November, so there's plenty of time to finish and worry about that synopsis (imagine me giving you plenty of caffeine and chocolate at this point because I am, I promise. Except for that donut. I'll take that.)


Sarah said...

I've...never read Bridge to Terabithia. I'm sorry.
In any case, my first year, I won NaNo. It was the only idea in my brain. My second year, I started thinking about another thing and lost it. Right now, I know that when NaNo is over, I let my MS sit and revise an old thing, but I can't even start to think about which thing, or I'll lose any momentum I have. :)

Unknown said...

You can do it! NaNo can be a beautiful thing. Just not for me. :)
Oh and I added the *spoiler* warning before the synopsis.