#5 THE DREADED STORY SYNOPSIS:
Here are 2 Examples That Sold!
Bobbi JG Weiss 2/12/14
If you plan on becoming a writer who sells their work, you’ll have to learn how to write synopses. I'll be the first to admit that it's a tough talent to master. I mean, it takes real skill to condense a complex story down into a short summary that can’t (because of its length) have many details yet must (because of its use) represent the depth and fullness of a much longer story.
There are two different kinds of synopses. The first is the kind you write if you’re trying to sell a story to, say, a TV show. This kind of synopsis is written before the script itself is written. It’s a pitch document designed to tell TV producers what you intend to write, should they be interested. The second kind of synopsis is one written after, say, you finish your novel. This kind of synopsis is designed to tease a book agent or publishing editor into wanting to read your manuscript.
You may or may not need to know how to write both kinds of synopses, but since they are structurally similar, examining either type is useful. However, I’m not going to blog about how to write one. I've seen several very helpful blogs out there on the topic. Instead, I though you might like to see two synopses that both led to writing jobs for myself and my husband David, who was my writing partner at the time these were written.
The first we wrote for Disney’s animated series Timon and Pumbaa. The original title was Bad Bugs in Borneo and it was pitched as an 11-minute episode. The producers bought it and turned it into a short filler episode called South Sea Sick. (I also wish to add that the final episode ended with Pumbaa giving a huge belch that lasted about 5 seconds. That may not sound long, but if you actually count out 5 seconds and think of a warthog belching for that time, it’s pretty disgusting! I am also proud to say that the belch was our idea.)
Pumbaa eats a bunch of strange but tasty rainbow-colored bugs in Borneo and ends up feeling sick. Timon, sure that the bugs were poison and terrified that his pal is gonna “die forever,” instantly transforms into Doctor Timon. Referencing a medical book that he whips out of his suitcase, Timon sets about prescribing a series of bizarre and ridiculous treatments that are plainly worse than Pumbaa’s affliction. Timon assures a skeptical Pumbaa that this is all going to make him well, and being the trusting soul that he is, Pumbaa dutifully tries all the remedies (real quack medicine stuff, weird concoctions, bizarre devices, insanely dangerous stunts).
Pumbaa starts to feel a little better, but Timon is so wound up in his doctor role that he won’t listen — he continues “treating” his friend. Pumbaa tries to tell Timon that he can stop now, but Timon insists on smothering his patient with quack remedies and TLC in the name of bosom buddyhood.
The showdown comes when Timon tries to get Pumbaa to swallow a spoonful of “medicine” that both of them know is vile-tasting. Timon offers to taste it himself to demonstrate how yummy it is, but fakes it. Pumbaa catches him faking and tells Timon to swallow for real. As Timon poises the spoon in front of his mouth, desperately trying to think of an out, Pumbaa suddenly lets out a horrendously huge belch, which scares Timon into swallowing.
Pumbaa realizes that he’d just had a case of indigestion, which was cured by the belch. He tries to convey his happiness to Timon, but the meercat is suddenly looking a bit green. We fade out as Pumbaa rummages through Timon’s collection of nostrums, cheerily predicting that he’ll have Timon cured in no time!
This next synopsis was written to sell a TV tie-in novel for Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. The final novel was entitled Good Switch, Bad Switch, and the editors didn't change the plot much. So the synopsis became the plot document, more or less.
When Zelda and Hilda return from a party in the witches' realm one night, they’re unaware that they’ve brought an extra passenger with them through the linen closet — a swarm of glowing microscopic germs. The germs float under Sabrina’s bedroom door and infect her as she sleeps....
Sabrina awakens the next morning to discover she’s got a head cold. But she’s in for a surprise — when she sneezes, her powers disappear! Or at least, she thinks they’ve disappeared. They’ve actually transferred over to Salem. The startled warlock-turned-cat is delighted and immediately uses his newfound magic to fill the room with fish — tuna, salmon, bream, cod — all flopping about. The room smells like the beach at low tide.
Sabrina yells for help and her aunts come running. They clean up her room and explain to Sabrina that she must have caught spellfluenza. It’s a virus that only witches catch and it lasts for 24 hours. It doesn’t make Sabrina feel all that sick, but it causes her powers to jump into the nearest other person/creature near her whenever she sneezes. At that moment Sabrina sneezes again, and her powers leave Salem and return to her. Sabrina is relieved, but poor Salem has had a tantalizing taste of witch-power again.
The aunts further explain that Sabrina will never catch spellfluenza again. Once witches get it, they can’t get it again. But the next 24 hours will be very dangerous. They advise Sabrina to stay home from school.
But for some reason [yet to be determined], Sabrina simply cannot stay home today. She takes every cold medicine she can get her hands on and heads for school.
It doesn’t take long for Sabrina to realize that the medicines aren’t helping. She winds up sneezing in class. Luckily for her, her sneezes are frequent enough that she reclaims her powers from whichever of her classmates they jump into, but for brief moments, various students at Westbridge High School are flabbergasted when their wishes suddenly come true or bizarre things happen when they inadvertently point their fingers.
Mayhem ensues, but Sabrina manages to get through each incident with her powers back and the mayhem corrected. Sort of. And then the unimaginable happens -- Sabrina sneezes only once in Libby Chessler’s presence and the witch-powers migrate into the unscrupulous cheerleader. Worse than that, Libby leaves the room before Sabrina can sneeze her powers back again!
In a remarkably short time, Libby discovers what she can now do — and connects it with Sabrina. It’s simple, really, when all she has to do is command her finger to point out where her powers came from.
Panicked, Sabrina races home after school, unaware that she is being shadowed by Libby. Sabrina explains what happened to her aunts, and they search for a solution in Sabrina’s big “Learning Magic” spellbook. When Libby sees the spellbook she gets a nasty idea....
Libby accesses the spellbook later when no one is looking. She finds a soul-switching spell and uses it to put Sabrina into her body and herself into Sabrina’s body. With Sabrina’s identity, tutoring from the aunts and the spellbook, Libby intends to control the school! Heck, why stop there? The world!!
The faux-Sabrina fools Zelda and Hilda, but Salem’s cat senses know that something’s not right. He discovers that “Sabrina” isn’t really Sabrina anymore. Libby/Sabrina cuts a deal with Salem, using magic to persuade him to join forces with her.
Now, Salem was condemned by the Witches Council to be a cat for 100 years for plotting world domination already. Libby’s offer cuts right to the core of his power-hungry nature. He accepts her offer.
Libby’s first goal is to obtain as much magical power as she can. Salem knows just who she can get it from — Drell, the most powerful on the Witches Council. The conspirators plot to steal Drell’s magic using the spellfluenza virus. Since Sabrina’s room is ankle-deep in tissues, Libby is able to extract all the spellfluenza viruses out of the tissues and seal it in a glass ball. Salem shows her the magic linen closet, and the two of them travel through it into the witches' realm. There they break the glass ball in Drell’s presence.
Drell, who’s never had spellfluenza before, contracts it immediately. He sneezes and his powers pop into Libby, who immediately magics him away before he can sneeze a second time. Drunk with power, Libby returns to the mortal world with Salem.
Now that Libby has Drell’s incredible power quite literally at her fingertips, she doesn’t need Sabrina’s paltry powers anymore. She casts them aside, along with Sabrina’s body, and returns to her own body. Sabrina suddenly finds herself restored in body and witchery.
But Libby is out of control now. Salem realizes he’s done a foolish thing, and he confesses to Zelda, Hilda and Sabrina what he’s done. Before they can think of how to stop Libby, however, Libby starts messing with the Universe. Together, Sabrina, the Aunts, Salem and Drell have to wrest near-infinite power away from Libby, Queen of the Galaxy!
After a few disastrous attempts to attack her head-on, Sabrina thinks of a much simpler approach. While the aunts distract Libby with a wild pyrotechnic show, Sabrina collects loose hair from Salem (he performs an instant “shed-on-command”), makes a furball bomb and shoots it at Libby. Libby sees the sneeze-inducing cat hair coming, however, and with a laugh easily blows it back at Sabrina and crew. But this is exactly what Sabrina wanted — the cat hair makes Drell sneeze and his powers pop out of Libby and back into him. Libby is reduced to what passes in her for normal.
Drell wants to annihilate Libby five thousand times for the humiliation she’s caused him, but the aunts stop him — Zelda threatens to tell all the witches about how a mere mortal teenager stole the mighty Drell’s powers, and Hilda tempts him with the offer of a date. Drell settles for wiping Libby’s mind clear of all knowledge of witchcraft and sending her back home.
Twenty-four hours have passed. Sabrina has endured her bout of spellfluenza with no harm done... so to speak. But she’s learned to respect the power of her powers a bit more.
Salem, however, will never learn his lesson. In a last-ditch attempt to retrieve some of the spellfluenza virus from one of Sabrina’s used tissues for his own nefarious purposes, he instantly catches it himself. Since he has no magical powers in his cat form, the virus instead makes him allergic to his own fur, and the poor cat is caught in a stream of endless sneezing.
I hope these examples are helpful. In future I'll be posting more stuff like this. If you would like to see other documents based on the work I've done (see my resume and gallery), just let me know via my website weisswriters.com or my accounts on tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter.
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