Writing–and Improving–The One-Line Synopsis

Today we’re expanding a couple of last week’s concepts into synopses and then trying to improve them.

First I wrote out my first-thought, all-seven-components synopses, with each component identified with {W}orld, {C}haracter, {I}nciting Incident, {G}oal, {A}ction, {P}roblem, and {S}takes, with {i}mplicit components and questionable {?} components indicated.

And then I did a stream-of-conscious application of this week’s criteria for a compelling synopsis. We’re looking to choose options that boost: Inherent Conflict, Originality, Inherent Emotional Appeal, and Plausibility.

First concept:

1. What if a human rights lawyer joins the devil’s firm?

Top-of-the-head one-liner:

When a human rights lawyer {C} runs out of money {I} while working on a big case {Gi, S}, he joins {A} a prestigious and wealthy law firm {W} not knowing that the managing partner is the devil {P, Si}.

Can we improve this? What comes to mind for me is replacing “a big case” with something more specific (a compelling concept criteria). And we could increase the emotional appeal by making the case about someone the lawyer loves: his lover, his mother, his child, whoever.

We might also boost originality, and maybe inherent conflict, by making this person a lover who is transgendered.

Plausible? Well, we can’t get around the devil bit, since that’s part of our concept, but the rest of it? Yeah. I think so.

The improved version:

When the money runs out before the case against his transgendered partner is over, a human rights lawyer joins a prestigious and wealthy law firm not knowing that the managing partner is the devil.

Or wait… maybe we can do something about the devil…

When the money runs out before the case against his transgendered partner is over, a human rights lawyer joins a prestigious and wealthy law firm not knowing that the managing partner is the devil behind the lawsuit.

More plausible? Stakes raised? We’d have to figure out the nitty-gritty details of the plot, but yeah… I think yes on both counts.

Next concept:

2. Terrorists are making diamond bullets.

Top-of-the-head one-liner:

When a terrorist {C} learns his group has developed a diamond bullet that can penetrate the bullet-proof vests {I, P} of New York’s finest {W, Si}, he tries to stop them {Ai, G}.

What about this one? Can we make it more compelling?

What comes to mind for me is moving this closer to home.  I think this will increase plausibility and inherent conflict.  For example, instead of foreign terrorists, which is what I think of when I hear the word ‘terrorist,’ what if these people were local? I think we can mess with terrorists in this way because, for me, the high-concept (and original) part is the diamond bullet, not the terrorists.

Also, instead of a group, does it have more emotional appeal to make this a particular person close to our main character? Say, a brother?

But, if we change the group to a single family member are we lowering the inherent conflict or raising it? For instance, a family member may “have words” with you, but they’re less likely to kill you. At least to my mind. Whereas your group may have no problem killing you. But… I think we can solve this dilemma by just combining these and putting the family member in the group.

What about New York’s finest? I think we can increase emotional appeal and inherent conflict if our main character has a girlfriend, and someone in her family is the Police Commissioner.

Improved synopsis:

When a kid learns that his gang, led by his brother, has developed a diamond bullet that can penetrate bullet proof vests, he tries to stop them before they kill the New York City Police Commissioner, the father of his girlfriend.

A little wordy, but what if we raise the compelling factors some more: What if the gang is killing in retaliation for the death of one of their own? And what if that person is the previous gang leader, and our character’s father? ?!? Too far? And maybe our main character’s not actually in the gang… Let’s see:

When his brother’s gang develops a diamond bullet that can penetrate bullet proof vests, a scholarship student must decide whether to help his brother avenge the death of their gang-leader father or protect the father of his girlfriend, the Police Commissioner of New York City.

Ta-dah! That was pretty fun actually. A little over the top maybe, but how else do you stand out in this genre? No clue. Not my genre.

Well that’s it for me. How about you? See any improvement possibilities?

And what about your own synopsis? Tell us in the comments!

UP NEXT WEEK: Designing Principle

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