Sometimes "synopsis" means the kind of thing you would put on the back cover of a script book. Three or four sentences that doesn't give the ending and makes the reader interested in the play.
Sometimes, it seems to mean a half page or full page summary that does include how the play ends. That's what the Dramatists Guild Resource Directory for 2010 says (they have an article about it).
I'm working on a submission of a play of mine to a theater, and I asked theater friends of mine to give me feedback on my synopsis. Some people said it was too long, but I was following the Dramatists Guild recommendations.
What's your definition of a synopsis? Are there any I've missed?
I'll tell you what taught me this. About a year ago, I had a regular 6 month doctor's appointment at 8 am. That is early for me. And, I've learned over the years it is early for everyone. When I lived in NYC, I used to think it was just theatre people. I've learned I am wrong.
I was driving to the appointment and I had Chicago's Classical Radio Station, WFMT, on the car radio. Carl Grapentine announced the next selection as "Some Enchanted Evening" sung by Ezio Pinza. Well, I was dragging/driving my ass to the doctor's and I was singing along - in poor voice - with the recording. I was on a high.
I walked into the doctor's office. The woman at the front desk, about 50 years old, noticed how "alive" I was. (They know the usual me.) I told her, "Well, I just heard Ezio Pinza on WFMT singing "Some Enchanted Evening." She swooned.
Then I sat down in the waiting room. About ten minutes later, a nurse called my name - again one who knows me. She noticed how "alive" I was. She was about 30 years old. I told her, "Well, I just heard Ezio Pinza singing "Some Enchanted Evening" on WFMT. She swooned.
Then the actual nurse came in to the examination room- who was from Russia with a pretty thick accent - who takes my blood pressure and other pertinent information prior to the doctor coming in. She is a little Russian bureaucratic, but can be fun. She noticed the same thing. She's great.
I told her as before, "I just heard Ezio Pinza on WFMT singing "Some Enchanted Evening." She swooned. Mind you, from RUSSIA! With a pretty heavy accent!
So...without any specificis...THAT is what a synopsis is supposed to do.
In the same energy of writing a play, I believe, Like IMR, that the synopsis is whatever it is. Have to wade through hundred of submissions, I prefer a short synopsis that teases. Personally, I don't want to know the ending. I want to read something that excites me into diving into the play. The most interesting synopsis begin with a question.
Mine are short. I also think a play needs a tag line like a film. In the playwright's group I belonged to, the dramaturg said if you can't sum the play up in one sentence, it probably isn't right yet. It works for me.
As a producer, I don't care how long, or what format the synopsis is. I'm not a professor grading pages, I just want a bite so I can reel in the play.
A synopsis, for me, is to give your voice to your work - concise, honest, appealing. Both you and the synopsis must capture the imagination of the reader quickly and effectively.
I sent THE MOON AWAY, a play of mine to a theatre in Boston a number of years ago. Within a week I was telephoned and told they were going to produce it. It was, I was told, my cover letter and synopsis that caught their attention. All the remaining scripts that were submitted went unread.
There is no way anybody can tell anybody how to write a synopsis. Be honest, unaffected, appealing and concise. Remember, the purpose of a synopsis is to capture the imagination of the reader - quickly.
I can tell you how not to do it. Choose almost any well known film and type the title into wikipedia. The 'synopsis' will almost certainly be a methodical scene by scene description of the storyline that is so dull you will have difficulty reading it though to the end and lose any enthusiasm you might have had to see the movie.
A synopsis should be grounded enough to be an accurate representation of the story but should tease the reader into wanting to know more. Whether you reveal the ending depends on whether that is likely to make the reader want to read the play or not.
Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts. IMR, that's a great story.
I'll have to read the article in the Dramatists Guild book again, especially thinking about if someone has to read a whole bunch of synopses in a row, like Paddy. Why would they want a whole page, or even half a page?
IMR - I love the guiding principle "flirtation." Very cool.
It's a good idea to create several types of synopses to use. A two or three line one, a paragraph or two, and a complete (one page) synopsis that includes the ending. That way you have the perfect accompaniment for any submission request.
Edd wrote: I sent THE MOON AWAY, a play of mine to a theatre in Boston a number of years ago. Within a week I was telephoned and told they were going to produce it. It was, I was told, my cover letter and synopsis that caught their attention. All the remaining scripts that were submitted went unread.
http://edwardcrosbywells.yolasite.com/play-synopses.php has synopses of all my plays. I hope these help in some way. I don't think THE MOON AWAY synopsis as it was written then any longer exists because a producer's remarks tells the synopsis mixed with glowing blah, blah, blahs. But here are synopses for everything I've written that may be of help to you.
I did find it. But there are many other examples on the link to the synopses list.
THE MOON AWAY
3M/2W cast doubles), Single Abstract Unit Set, 2 Acts, Full Length.
Based on a actual incident, this powerful and intense drama takes place between September 1984 and April 1985. Joe, a photographer in southern New Mexico while grappling with his identity as a gay man, is suddenly thrown into a nightmare world when he is wrongly accused of criminal sexual contact with a minor. The story follows seven months of his life as he struggles to overcome his obstacles. Dream sequences and flashbacks take the audience on a surreal journey through the nightmare world of the inner-self and the hostile environment in which Joe finds himself.
OK, fascinating. I'm a prose fiction writer, too, and I've been told by more editors than I can possibly count (never, fortunately, in response to my own submissions) is that an author should never, ever include words like "powerful" and "intense" in their synopses. "Tell me what happens to Joe," they would likely say in response to a synopsis like this one for A MOON AWAY, "but don't tell me how I'm supposed to feel about it. That's for me to decide."
To continue IMR's "flirtation" metaphor, most women (and men) know that a guy (or woman) who tries to woo them by telling them he's "noble" or "honorable" probably isn't.
I really like what your synopsis says about the play and the character as themselves, Edd, and it obviously worked for you, because you got the production, but I couldn't personally see myself using those sorts of adjectives in a letter to a theater company (or an editor, in my prose-writing hat).
Some of the top brass in the Dramatists Guild were at the Seattle meeting in November for a mini-conference. One of the seminars was about writing synopses, and they said the same thing, i.e., don't use adjective to characterize the play.
Make the description reflect the tone of the play. So, Edd, you'd need a "powerful and intense" synopsis.