The Synopsis – “Tell” don’t “Show”? Really?

What is one thing I learned during the multi-draft process of synopsis writing? That the job of a synopsis is to sum up your story in a way that engages a cold reader and fills them with a desire to read more. Not more as in, “I want to know what happens next”, but more as in, they want to SEE your story play out. They want to meet your hero or heroine, not just hear about them.

Imagine, your best friend tells you the most exciting story about her guy and how they spent their weekend… say… with him convincing your water-phobic friend to swim with dolphins. He held her hand, promised he’d be right beside her the entire time. And then following through on that promise, he even cut the swim early when she grew too frightened and didn’t berate her or sulk about it. She grew so comfortable with him that she dared to enter the water again and, this time, completed the experience to the reward of his praise, not his gloating. That evening, after a divine candlelit dinner, they strolled the shoreline, hand in hand, and danced by the moonlight, the music only in their heads and hearts. The rhythm theirs and theirs alone. And then afterward, they snuggled close and sipped Chablis by a warm, glowing fire where they shared secrets and dreams. One of her dreams, it turns out came true  that glorious weekend – the ability to stop being a chameleon for a man. When he cradled her in his strong arms and carried her to his bedroom, she knew it was where she was meant to be. She could be herself and he’d accept her, and in being accepted, she learned to step out of her comfort-zone and plunge into uncharted waters.

Now I ask you… do you want more details? Do you want to see this guy? Hear his voice? Experience the thrill of the ocean, of the fire, of his strong arms…? 

Her story was the synopsis. It was an overview. She ‘told’ you what happened, but the thrill of it, the way it moved her, changed her, ‘showed’ in the way she told it.

So it is with a synopsis. It’s not all ‘tell’. Not really.

A synopsis must get to the point of the story. It must TELL the plot in a somewhat bare-bones style. No melodrama, no purple prose (though, purple prose shouldn’t be in the story itself, either). But a synopsis also must SHOW the emotion and character growth.

Show and tell – both in story and in synopsis. In synopsis, tell me what happens, but tell me in a way that takes me right to the edge of that ocean… make me close my eyes, eager to feel its spray.

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