A good synopsis is a rare pleasure, like a Cadbury's Creme Egg in November, but a badly written synopsis makes me turn cold at the prospect of reading a further 90 plus pages of script by the same author.
Never forget that first impressions are lasting; how many times have you been told the importance of a good covering letter when applying for a job? Your synopsis is the first sample of your writing that the reader will get - so the same definitely applies. Your synopsis should be dynamic, it should be exciting and if you don't enjoy reading it, why would I?
Another common problem of synopsis writing is that people get bogged down trying to express the overall mood of the piece or providing in-depth character breakdowns without ever really offering much in terms of plot.
Writing a good synopsis is about knowing your story, so it's not surprising that the things you should be communicating in this crucial introduction to your script aren't a million miles away from Kate Leys' storytelling tips which I wrote about last week.
Essentially your synopsis should tell the reader four things... hopefully in this order:
1) Who's your main character when we meet them?
2) What's the conflict/motivation that sparks the main character into 'action'?
3) What do they do (ie what 'action' do they take) to sort it out?
4) What’s the resolution and how has the main character changed from who they were when we first met them?
That's really it.
And the quicker you can get this across, the happier your script reader will be.
But what if you can’t answer these questions in your synopsis? What if it’s not absolutely clear to you who your character is and what troubles they’re facing?
Then it’s time to go back to the drawing/writing board.
Below, I’ve used the example of Rain Man to show how clearly these four questions can be answered to create a clear and well structured synopsis:
1) Charlie Babbit is an egotistical, ruthless, young professional.
2) When Charlie’s estranged father dies, he discovers that he has received a very small amount of the will. The rest, he is informed, has gone to his older brother, Raymond who is severely Autistic and who Charlie had no idea existed.
3) Charlie decides to take Raymond out of his care facility, as they travel across the country to meet with attorneys, in an effort to begin a custody battle which he hopes will end in out of court settlement granting him half the Babbit estate and returning Raymond back home.
4) After spending countless days with his brother on the road, Charlie begins to bond with Raymond and realises that he genuinely wants to care for his brother and no longer cares about his inheritance. Raymond eventually returns to his home at the institute and Charlie promises to visit him in two weeks. Charlie is no longer the selfish, money-obsessed character we first met as he has nothing to gain financially from this promise - a relationship with his long-lost brother is enough.