Sep 9, 2015

Writing a Story Synopsis (Tips for NaNoWriMo)

Picture: Unsplash
    There are essentially five things your synopsis needs. But first why do you need a synopsis for NaNoWriMo?

     My first writing teacher, Daniel Schwabauer, had a marvelous idea: Write a story synopsis and use it as a source of inspiration while you write.

     So I did. I pinned it up above my writing spot and I looked at it all NaNo long. And all NaNo long I had a reason to write that story.

    So here's what you need to write a story synopsis:

     The Protagonist - the hero of your story

     The Goal - your hero's goal and that of his friends united in a common purpose

     The Antagonist - the bad guy or source of conflict 

     What's at Stake - what does the hero risk losing?

     The Theme - at the end of the story how will your hero be different from what he was at the beginning?

     To begin putting it all together start with the Protagonist. What does he want? What are his dreams? Who is he? Has he failed at something and wishes to redeem himself? Begin by telling us who they are and what motivates them. (In The Magnificent Seven Chris is a gunfighter, and he's a loner out for hire with only himself to care for, until he meets up with the three Mexican men who want him help rid their village of Calvera. His motivation soon becomes helping these men save the lives of their innocent families.)

     Usually this will reveal, in some aspect, what the story goal will be. It doesn't always have to be exactly what the hero wants, but they are at least connected in some way. (The story goal in The Magnificent Seven is stopping Calvera.)

     Next, what's stopping them? Is it an evil villain with a tragic back story? A global disaster? In Pride&Prejudice there were several sources of conflict keeping the Bennet ladies from what they truly desire. For one, it is their lack of social status, connections, and wealth. For Jane, and for Lizzie, too, it's Bingley's sisters, at times Mr. Darcy himself, and in a way the sister's own family. So you see, conflict may come from any number of things. The world is your's when it comes to creating conflict!

     What does your protagonist stand to lose? If they take on this challenge, if they're willing to fight for what they truly desire, what could they possibly lose? If they don't triumph in the end what will happen to them? Their family? The world they live in? It's got to be pretty bad if the protagonist is going to risk it to defeat the antagonist or the central conflict to save it. Maybe not on a global scale, but a scale of 1 to 10 for the protagonist personally, it should be the 10. (The gunfighters in The Magnificent Seven are risking their very lives. In their eyes, that's what they are paid to do. But throughout the story the lives of the women and children and the honorable farming men come to mean much more to them.)

     The Theme, what's the overall conflict really about? What must your protagonist learn? How will they change? Chris, Vin and the others don't really have anything to learn, but it's obvious that there's more keeping them in the village than just the $20 apiece the farmers paid them. So it is a fight between good and evil? Hate versus love or forgiveness? Whatever it is, theme is one of the most important elements in a story and your protagonist needs to be different a different person by the end of the story.

    The next thing to do is to fit all these pieces of the puzzle together. 

     Start by summing up each of these elements into one sentence, more or less. 

     This makes it easy and pliable to put them together.

     Now combine them into a synopsis, joining all the elements up with a few appropriate, in-between words.

     Don't feel pressured to put them in any certain order. Once you have all of the elements feel free to get creative! Below is the synopsis I wrote for one of my NaNo novels. As you can see, I have What's at Stake in more than one place. Showing that there really isn't a specific spot for any element, but it also shows that What's at Stake needs to get worse throughout the story.
Deirbre Tuller(the protagonist) has dreamed of the day when her father will come to retrieve her from St. Margaret’s of Scotland School For Girls, when they can once again live together and be happy. But when the day comes, Coll Tuller is no where to be found. When her faithful guardian, Father Godfrey, makes the decision to send her to school to become a nun(what’s at stake), Deirbre becomes convinced her father would have come for her—if he could. She sets out on a journey to bridge the gap between them(the story goal).

But will she be able to find any shard of his existence midst the terrible bombings of England’s cities during WWII? Will she be able to elude Father Godfrey’s determined, ruthless measures to take her back? When questions arise about her father’s past with Father Godfrey, will she cling to hate or learn to forgive(the theme, what’s at stake)? Will her love for her father be strong enough to defy death? When she finally finds her father, will it give her strength enough to face what she discovers? 

     The biggest thing to remember while writing your synopsis is that it needs to be awesome. Not perfect awesome, but the kind of awesome that would make you want to write it. Something you look at to give you instant inspiration all through NaNo. It needs to be a synopsis you would dare NaNoWriMo and the frigid cold of November to write!

1. What kind of story are you willing to take on a 50,000 word goal for?
2. Write the kind of the synopsis that makes your desire to write that story greater than your fear of failure.

Next up: Outlining

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