Home / Prestige Synapsis How to Play (group)

Each person takes three purple Ask cards and sets them aside. Next, draw one pink Spark card for the group. Let's say you draw "your sentence comes from the beginning of your short story." That means you each pretend you know a short story that nobody else knows, and you each write a sentence that comes from the beginning of it. If there are four of you playing, that means four unique sentences from four unique stories.

You each now draw two gray Riff cards and one blue Connect card, and you each write a sentence that goes gray-blue-gray. You'll notice the Riff cards have lots of words based upon a main word– that's to encourage you to play (riff) on language.

Writer Matthew Dicks playing at the Brattleboro Literary Festival. His cards were jack/had/voice.

Let's say the cards you draw are "laugh" and "coffee," and your Connect card is "smelled like." Your sentence could be as short as, "Her laughter smelled like coffee," or it could be longer and take liberties with the words on the cards: "Whenever he finishes his shift at the bakery, Lafayette smells like his family's locally famous coffee cakes and cinnamon rolls; when he was a boy he loved that smell, but now it makes him queasy and nervous."

Take about two minutes to write your sentence. More than that, and you might be overthinking things.

Next, read your sentence aloud to the group. Remember, your sentence comes from the beginning of a short story. You might have forgotten that part as you wrote your sentence. It's fun when there's that moment of, "Oh, right! This sentence actually has some context!"

Synapsis sentence samples

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. They were working from the Spark card, "ghost story." So many ways to write a sentence! 

After you read your sentence aloud, someone asks, "What's your story about?" This is always the first question you answer. Remember: this is not a quiz and there are no wrong answers, so try to answer with confidence, even though you are making everything up on the spot. "Well, my story is about a girl who hangs out in coffee shops so much she literally turns into a cup of coffee." Or, "It's about a guy named Lafayette who doesn't want to work in the family business anymore." 

Now each person looks at their Ask cards and picks one or two questions to ask you. These 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 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!

Synapsis at Boston Lit Crawl
Writer Tim Weed playing Synapsis at Boston Lit Crawl with memoirist Ethan Gilsdorf and YA author Molly Booth.