How to Play Synapsis
The premise of Synapsis is straightforward: You pretend you've already written a story and then you answer questions about it.
Simple, right? Here's the thing: Synapsis takes you in directions you might not otherwise explore. Your stories might come from genres different than the ones you ordinarily read or write. Your sentences might be a whole lot stranger than the sentences you ordinarily read or compose. And your answers to the questions might surprise you.
Looking to level up your storytelling game? Jump into Synapsis.
There's only one rule: "Say Yes." That's because imagination lives on Yes. Yes opens doors and Yes makes stories come to life. You must always say Yes in Synapsis. "Is it okay if I only use the cards that prompt sentences?" Yes. "Can I only use the Ask cards for a story I've already working on and skip all the other cards?" Yes. If there's ever a question in Synapsis, the answer is always going to be Yes.
There are four kinds of cards: Spark, Riff, Connect, and Ask.
To begin, draw one Spark card to get the genre or context for the story you're pretending to have written. For example, suppose you draw "ghost story." Yup, that means you've written a ghost story.
Now write a sentence. To get your sentence, draw two Riff cards and one Connect card. On each Riff you'll see a main word and a bunch of other words like it; you can use or adjust any of those words in your sentence, and you can add in whatever other language you want. Your sentence will go Riff-Connect-Riff. It takes a minute or two to do this part. Imagine that this sentence comes from the story you're pretending to have written.
Let's say you drew shadow and wolf for your Riffs, and the Connect card looks like. Your sentence might be something like, "As the moon rose, it made shadows that looked like wolves."
There's totally a ghost story in that sentence!
Now read your sentence aloud. Doing so will help you enter the world of the story. If you're in a group, each person uses the Ask cards to ask you about your story. The first question is always, "What's your story about?"
As you answer the questions, talk about the story as if you really and truly know it, even though you're making it up on the fly. If you're by yourself, write out your answers.
Sentences from a Synapsis game at Lit Crawl NYC. Clockwise from top: novelists John Freeman Gill, Yoojin Grace Wuertz, cartoonist Ellis Rosen, poet Sam Ross, and novelist Rebecca Chace. So many ways to write a sentence!
The Ask questions get you to focus on the specifics of your story, so try to answer in some detail. Follow-up questions are allowed. Shoot for at least five or six questions– the more you answer, the more you'll discover about your story. Let the answers come to you without thinking too hard. Allow 5-10 minutes for questions, laughter, and sidetracks.
After each person in the group has a turn, read your sentence once more (edits are allowed), give a super-short summary of your story, and then say what the title is. At this point, you will have brought a brand new story into the world. You can write it if you want, or just enjoy the feeling of knowing the story exists.
Discard the used cards, draw new ones, and go again!
Here's a round of Synapsis being played at the Brattleboro Literary Festival: