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Writing a Plot Synopsis

Qaryn August 16, 2012 User blog:Qaryn

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I have a method for writing plot synopses. I haven't done a lot of it but I quickly developed a set of steps and guidelines. I prefer to write a little shorter summaries than what I've found here, for the most part. That's not to say I necessarily disapprove of longer synopses, just that when I write them they turn out shorter. For a synopsis I want to keep it to the basics, like an outline in prose. I prefer not to give a beat-by-beat account or even a scene by scene account. Here are the questions I constantly ask myself while writing:

  1. What is the episode about? This is clearly the most important thing. It's different than "What happened in this episode?" because that could include even the smallest detail. This is more of a big picture view. I want everything I write to answer this question. Sure, Pierce hallucinates seeing Andy Dick while drinking water from a fountain, but is that what the episode is about? Think about it. Pierce hallucinating? Yes. The water fountain? No. Andy Dick? Certainly not.
  2. What part does each character play in the episode? This is especially important with an ensemble cast like on Community. Once again, the question is not "What does each character do?" That's too broad. I go about this two ways. First, I run through all the main characters and keep track of the plotlines they are involved in. Then I look at everything I wrote for question #1 and make sure I don't leave out a character who plays a significant role in what I described. In a synopsisy I just wrote I originally included Pierce's assertion that getting punched in the face is a male rite of passage. However, I cut it out because I didn't feel that it represented a major contribution from Pierce. Some might feel that the episode is about Jeff getting punched in the face, in a small way, question #1 says that it goes in, I felt differently. If somebody wants to add it in, you won't hurt my feelings but that's the way I work.
  3. Have I missed something? Episodes typically, but not always, progress in a linear fashion and so do summaries. However, summaries condense the stories and so I sometimes describe multiple scenes and end up jumping over other scenes between the ones I combined. Then I may have to go back and write about what happened in scenes I skipped. For example, if scenes 3 and 5 involve the same characters and plot I might cover those scenes before writing about what happened in scene 4. So it's important to look at what I've written to see if I've omitted something key to the episode.

That's pretty much it. I cycle through those three questions, constantly editing down to the simplest form that lets me answer those three questions in a way that satisfies me.

So, if anybody cares or is looking for a method, feel free to use mine. If you have thoughts or ideas, I'm open to that. If nobody reads this, that's fine, too. I just felt like writing it down.

Dan

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