Friday, April 10, 2009

How I Do It Part 3: The Synopsis

Writing the synopsis is often the most difficult step in writing the script.

It's a step in which you have to fill in a lot of details - but not too many. It has to give the reader a clear idea of what your scenes are going to look like in dialogue - without acutally using any dialogue. And most frightening of all, it's the step in which you really have to start making Decisions.

In developing the script, the most time should be spent on honing your synopsis. It should give the reader the burning desire to read the finished script. And as you're missing a whole lot of tools which can make it easier to sell your story, installing this burning desire is often pretty damn hard.

Making it harder in the event of a comedy synopsis, is the fact that you cannot put every joke in your synopsis. For two reasons:
- the script will become far too long if you detail every verbal and visual joke in the synopsis
- the jokes will often completely obscure the story information, and make the whole thing a tiring, chaotic and ultimately disheartening read.

So how do you solve this quandary?

By making sure the basic situation is funny. In this way, the reader will get the overall gist of what'll be going on, can see the comedic development within the scene, and can even imagine what actual jokes may actually be in the final script.

Of course, you will describe the big gags, twists and reveals - as long as you keep to the appropriate level of detail, that's perfectly fine.

I try to break up long scenes in smaller blocks of text (something I only learned to do fairly recently, in thruth) so the eye doesn't immediately rebel. Nothing is worse when reading a synopsis than to be faced with 1 1/2 pages of dense text without any paragraphs in place.

One thing I also strive for, though at times it's damn hard to avoid: not to use 's/he says that...' If you do, not only are you producing reported speech instead of describing the events in the scene, and, worse, you do not indicate the emotional state of the character doing the talking. And generally, the dialogue version will then literally transcribe these sentences, and still ignore the emotional situation of the character(s) in the scene.

Therefore, look for synonyms - the thesaurus is your friend.
Similarly, I try to avoid 's/he enters' or 's/he walks' as much as possible as these are also too generic to impart the necessary information in most instances.

I generally write the synopsis from a developed step outline, though in the script I'm currently doing, that's not the case - I just went from 'nutshell treatment' to synopsis and things fell into place amazingly well. Still, I would recommend anyone to go for the complete outline first, as it usually is the best tool for making sure your synopsis is well-structured.

More later!

1 comment:

Johan said...

Sorry I'm commenting on such an old post, but I only recently discovered your great blog and now am reading back in time. My question is if there are any professional synopsises available on the internet as study material. You can find hundreds of screenplays, but I never discovered a synopsis - not in my classes either I must say...
Thanks and keep up the good work!

Johan.