#7: The Killer Pitch Part II- The Synopsis
Once again, it's Creating Comics! time! Last week, I wrote about the importance of writing a pitch for the comic book story you want to tell BEFORE you start scripting the book. I spent some time discussing the "high concept" or quick pitch. Today's article picks up where I left off.
After clarifying your high concept, you should try writing a synopsis for your story. A synopsis is a short, 1-3 page description of the story you plan on telling. It needs to include the important details of your story, including your main characters, their primary goal or purpose, the opposition to that goal, the emotional high and low points, how the character will grow or change throughout the story, the major twists and turns, the climax, and the resolution. The synopsis is essentially a very short description of your story's beginning, middle, and end.
Let's take a look at a strong example of a synopsis. Here is the synopsis of Bayou, the first web comic published by Zuda Comics.
Bayou by Jeremy Love
South of the Mason-Dixon Line, lies a strange land of gods and monsters. Born from centuries of slavery, civil war, innocent bloodshed, hate and strife lurks a world parallel to our own. LEE WAGSTAFF is the daughter of a poor, sharecropper in a depression-era, Mississippi Delta town, called Charon. She's an introspective, brave child and hard labor in the fields has made her sturdy and strong. One day, Lee and her father help the sheriff retrieve the body of a boy who'd been lynched and thrown into the river. Lee dives into the depths to tie a rope around the boy. While under water, she catches a glimpse of a strange world. Ever since that day, Lee hears voices in the trees and rivers. When Lee's playmate, Lily, is snatched by BOG, an evil inhabitant of that place she saw, Lee's father is accused of kidnapping. The worst thing a black man could do in the 30's was harm a white child. Lee must pursue Bog into his world in order to save her friend before her father is lynched. Lee enlists the help of a benevolent, blues-singing, swamp monster called BAYOU and together they trek across a Southern Neverland in search of Lee's friend. Along the way, they meet several colorful characters, like BR'ER RABBIT. Lee soon realizes that Bog has some sort of hold on all the inhabitants in this world and feeds off of hatred and strife in our world. As the racial tensions grow, Bog grows more powerful, so not only are Lee's friends and father in peril, but all of Charon.
Sounds like a story worth telling, doesn't it? Please note, this is the synopsis that was made for public consumption, and not necessarily the exact synopsis submitted to Zuda Editorial. This synopsis doesn't include the ending (which yours should) but that's understandable, given that Love doesn't want to spoil the story's conclusion for his audience.
Why is this a good synopsis? Well, because it answered all of the important questions a publisher would have about the story. It tells WHERE and WHEN this story takes place, and in just a few well-written sentences, convinces the reader that yes, this is a setting rich with conflict and story possibilities. It tells WHO the story is about, and gives us just enough description of Lee Wagstaff, Bayou's young protagonist, to pique our interest. It tells WHAT the main source of conflict in the story is and provides an idea about HOW Lee will attempt to resolve it. Bam. Synopsis written. No need to make it any more complicated than that.
Synopsis Writing Dos and Don'ts
- DO include your main characters, settings, and plotlines. In your synopsis, you want to focus on the main through-line of the plot, and the journey your main character is going to take. The basic structure should follow something like this: [Character Name] is a [character traits, occupation, position, etc.] who wants [something.] However [what happens shaking up his/her status quo] causing [a series of obstacles preventing him from his goal.] At the end, [character] will face [biggest obstacle] and in the end [achieve goal, fail at goal] and in the process [discover something about himself or the world.] Do all stories follow this exact pattern? Certainly not. But most do. Something to think about when writing your synopsis.
- DON'T include every bit character and minor plotline. There simply isn't the room in a short synopsis. Zuda gives you 2000 characters. The submissions guidelines of most comic companies ask for a written synopsis of no more than a page. If you're doing a small story and the cast is tiny and everyone important, sure, work them all in. But if it's a sprawling cast, as in Love's Bayou, naming them all will muddle your pitch. In the above synopsis, he focused on the main character (Lee Wagstaff), named the antagonist (Bog), and the title character (Bayou), and sprinkled in a few other key players, mentioning that along the way, Lee will meet "several colorful characters." And he leaves it at that. If you've been reading Bayou, you know Love has certainly delivered on that promise to his readers.
- DO describe the beginning, middle, and end. The synopsis is not the time to write flowery prose. It's time to get down to the business of story. And stories have beginnings, middles and ends. It might even help you at first to divide your story up into three paragraphs, one for the beginning, one for the middle, and you guessed it, one for the end. Now, if you can't write the beginning, middle and end, then you have more work to do. Don't make the mistake of charging into a story without knowing how it's going to end. Sure, sure, if you have an ongoing super hero story you plan on writing forever, you don't necessarily need to know where your character will be in 2020. But you are not going to be able to pitch a story to publisher successfully that doesn't have an ending.
- DON'T include questions. You know what I'm talking about. "Will Powerdude be able to save the day?" "What happens when Grundleface finds his wife cheating on him with Super Squid?" "How will it all turn out?" You are the writer. You need to know the answer to these questions, and more importantly, the publisher needs to know that you know. Just tell the story in the synopsis as you plan on telling it. Yes, that means spoiling the ending. Its okay, it's just be between you and the submissions editor.
- DO describe the key emotional highs and lows for your character. Soon, I'll talk more about character, but in your synopsis it should be evident that your protagonist will take some form of the hero's journey. There need to be ups and downs, wins and losses in your character's story, and you should provide some hint of these in your synopsis.
- DON'T run down every scene in sequential order. There's another time and place for this, and that will be covered in a later article. The synopsis is not simply a list of things that happen. It's a well-written summation of the story. Focus on the major beats, and only those things that are necessary to clue the reader in on the direction the story is going to take.
- Make sure your synopsis matches your genre. Are you writing a comedy? Great. But you better make sure that somewhere in your synopsis you bring the funny. Again, if you can't make someone laugh in a page, why should they think you can make them laugh in 100? Likewise, if yours is a super hero story, you better make sure there are some big compelling actions worthy of super heroics described in your synopsis. Horror? Better evoke something horrifying. It helps to know the genre you are writing for. If you can identify your genre, head over to Amazon and read the short info blurbs about a book or movie in your genre. These are essentially synopses, to get a sense of how they evoke the feeling of their genres for the reader.
Alright! That covers the basics of the high concept and synopsis from my perspective. I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is, once these are out of the way, you get to start working on the fun stuff, like developing your characters and hammering out the story beats and plot. The bad news? This will be far from the last time you write your pitching documents. You'll likely revise and refine your pitch over and over again throughout the writing process. You'll also have to keep them up to date as your story changes (and it will change.)
But this is good news, too. Because at this point, you probably won't have all your answers. You might not know exactly how your character saves the day. (That's okay!) Some of your characters will be only as fleshed out as "a really bad mo'fo'." (Fine!) While you should know if your character achieves his goal at the end, you don't need to know exactly how he does so. And your characters won't be fully fleshed out. In fact, you'll probably come up with plenty of characters you haven't even dreamed up yet. By putting in this pitching work early, you've simply laid out a framework from which to build. You've made a promise to the reader. In upcoming articles, we'll start talking about how to deliver on that promise. For the next couple of weeks, I'm going to take a little break from the writing process to get a few things off my chest.
NEXT: Pay Your Artists
Tyler James is the writer of Interrogation Control Element, a political action thriller COMPETING RIGHT NOW at Zuda Comics! Help Ty out by heading over to Zuda and giving ICE your VOTE, make it a FAVORITE, rate it 5 STARS, and leave a COMMENT.
Tyler also writes and draws Over, a romantic comedy online graphic novel updating every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. His comic Super Seed, the story of the world's first super powered fertility clinic, was featured at Zuda Comics. Next week, Tyler debuts Tears of the Dragon, an epic fantasy tale. He teaches a series of workshops on creating comics for adults and children. He works as a game designer and content producer for a software company, and currently resides in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Contact Tyler directly at email@example.com, keep up with him at his blog, or follow him on Twitter.
1: Big Goals
3: The Great Idea
4: Research Part I
5: Research Part II
6: The Killer Pitch Part I - The High Concept
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