Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Art of the Synopsis

I'm having one of those moments where I can actually see a measurable sign of growth, both in myself as a writer and in my play.  I had to write a synopsis of Breaking Pairs for a writer-producer "speed date" this weekend where I will be pitching my play to 20 or so different producers. (side note: if you are a theater professional and aren't familiar with TRU, the people who put this on, you should be).  I only just learned I was accepted into this, so I've been a little panicked that I wouldn't have enough time to prepare.  But I sat down to write the synposis this afternoon and it's already done.  That is not what I was expecting.

You see, I've had to write synposes (yes, spell-check, I do mean the plural of synposis) before, and always found them incredibly difficult.  The first one I ever wrote was a veritable disaster - a two page long blow-by-blow of every little moment in the play (for a one-act script it should have been two paragraphs max) that was boring as all heck.  I have since learned a bit more about how to do this crazy thing. The writing of a synopsis is the telling of a good story -- it is not merely a re-hashing of all the events in the play.  In fact many events may actually be glossed over.  What is important is that it is crafted in such a way as to lead the reader on a journey and give a sense of the tone and style of the piece all at the same time.  It's a rather daunting task, actually, and I wouldn't mind if I never had to do one again. 

When I first wrote one for Breaking Pairs (then called All in the Shuffle) last year, its litany of tragedies made a Eugene O'Neill play sound like a light-hearted frolic in comparison.  There was no sense of the humanity and the humor of my play, nothing to make you think you wouldn't need a double dose of prozac after watching it.  With some good advice from my director, I figured out how to change the tone, how to add in a few hints of the hope that is in the story, of the humor that sneaks its way in.  But it took me hours.  Days, actually.  Getting the short one-paragraph version was even harder, and I think that's because I didn't really know what my play was about.  I thought I did, but I didn't.  I know that now, because now I do know what my play is really about.

And here is how I know that.  My first day of class with Josh Hecht, we had to write -- on the fly, right there in class -- three different synposes (yes spell-check, I still mean that): first, all the major events of the play, then a one paragraph summary, then a one sentence "essence" of the play.  I was able to come up with these -- albeit in unpolished form -- right on the spot.  And they were good enough that when I went back and looked at them, I was able to use much of what I wrote when crafting this polished version.  It was almost easy -- well, certainly easier than I expected -- because I have spent so much more time in the last year really deciding what my play is about, really deciding what the story is that needs to be told.  So it was merely a matter of summarizing and re-telling that story in prose instead of with my characters' words.

I don't know if I've written a great synopsis, but I think it's a good one (you can read it here if you're curious).  I'm sure I'll get ever better at them as I keep doing this.  But it's nice to feel the progress, to know that I've really learned something.  Now let's hope a producer or two likes my synopsis as well.
blog comments powered by Disqus