MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Synopsis? Teaser? Timeline?

Agents and publishers may ask you for a synopsis, or a teaser, or a timeline. What do these terms mean?

A “synopsis” is a relatively brief narrative outline of your story, from first to last. It’s a detailed description of the action line and character development, especially for the major characters. The purpose of the synopsis is to provide its reader with an overview of what the story’s all about in enough detail that he or she can be confident that the story makes sense—that all its parts fit together.  Note that a synopsis is not a “treatment.” A treatment is a dramatic narration of the story elements to convince the reader of its film or television potential, forcefully emphasizing only highpoints of drama and character; while a synopsis is more matter of fact and thorough. The synopsis of Doug Fetterly’s Breach of Justice sounds like this:


LISHAN AMIR, an Ethiopian born child of a black father and white mother, is an ambitious and dedicated newspaper reporter at the Washington Mirror in D.C. She’s attempting to

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expose the corrupt connections between big Food Co. mogul JACK CONNER and top FDA officials. Her bad tempered editor, JERRY, who’s in Conner’s pocket, is doing everything he can to keep her story out of the paper.  
   
Lishan illegally lives in an upscale student housing apartment building thanks to her ex-professor, ERIK, who manages the building and lies about her eligibility. They have a troubled relationship, BFFs with occasional sex that might be more, but she constantly sleeps around and he’s jealous. She’s equally jealous of him, leading to a long cycle of fights and reconciliations in between her investigation activities. They also discuss the crimes of the FDA.



Her search for dirt on the FDA leads her to a book banned by the FBI, whose author, FRAZIER, is in prison for defamation of character against Conner. She reconnects with an old colleague she slept with and dumped, RAFAEL, and sleeps with him again unaware he’s still mad. He steals the hard to find book to spite her…

A “teaser” (aka “sell-sheet”) is a one-page-maximum pitch of your story that leaves the reader longing to read the whole story. Where a synopsis is complete, a teaser is not—a teaser leads the reader to wanting to read the whole manuscript. Here’s how the teaser for “Dark Surf,” a film we’re developing, begins:


Great white sharks are on the attack on beaches around the world, and a surfer falls bloody victim in a Southern California paradise.  But, something is suspicious, and beautiful Leilani Marley, a former surfing champion, is now an oceanographer investigating the attacks.  She runs into Tristan and the Nomads, night surfers who seem to show up within days of a shark kill.  Infatuated by his sheer power and good looks, Leilani begins to fall for Tristan and soon

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learns his true identity as the creator and leader of vampire sharks, who are the guardians of the oceans and who perform righteous kills on any who pollute the waters or threaten its species.  He has loved her since saving her life off a reef accident twelve years earlier in Hawaii.  She bonds with the Nomads to fight the rogue vampire sharks who are killing for blood with a view to dominate the oceans, and possibly the entire world. ..

A “time-line” simply lays out the events of your story by reference to the story’s own clock or to the clock on the wall. In other words, a time-line may reflect the fictional world of a story or the real world surrounding it. Like a synopsis, the time-line contains all the chronological elements from first to last. Here’s an example of the first few lines of a time-line from the film in development, “Andrew Jackson—Battle for New Orleans”:


1814
March, Northern front – Admiral Alexander Cochrane assumes command of the British North American Station based in Halifax.


March 27, Southern front – U. S. force under General Andrew Jackson surrounds and crushes the Creek Indians at their stronghold at Horseshoe bend in Alabama effectively ending the Creek Indian War, and eliminating the Indians as allies to the British army.


April 1, Paris – Napoleon abdicates ending the Continental War freeing British troops for the American War.


May 10, Southern front – British party lands at Pensacola to recruit and supply Creek Indians that had escaped Horseshoe Bend for their upcoming offensive to capture Mobile and New Orleans.  Captain Thomas Woodbine in charge and is to report to Admiral Cochrane.


May 28, Southern front – After defeating the Creek Indians Andrew Jackson is commissioned in the regular army to command the 7th Military District, which included Tennessee, Louisiana, and the Mississippi Territory.  


June 20, Northern front – Cochrane submits to the Admiralty, his plan for the invasion of United States including a southern campaign to seize New Orleans.


July 8 – In New Orleans, Pierre Lafitte is arrested and jailed for smuggling.  Secretary of the Navy, William Jones orders Commodore Patterson to crush the pirates’ operations at Grande Isle and orders the schooner Carolina to New Orleans for that operation.


August 8 – British and American negotiators begin talks in Ghent, Belgium….

I hope these definitions help you understand terms you’ll definitely hear at some point as your career progresses.


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