Ready for a challenge? Try this conversational, improvisational way to create stories.
250 cards that prompt characters, settings, plots, and conversation. There are 30 Spark cards to provide genre and context, 140 Riff and 30 Connect cards to get you exploring language and sentences, and 50 Ask cards to focus you on character, setting, and plot.
Includes suggestions for playing with a group or as a solo writing prompts.
Synesthetic– Synesthesia is when you experience one sense via another, as in smelling color or tasting music. Sometimes the sentences you write in Synapsis will have a synesthetic quality, which gives them a vivid, mysterious energy.
Improvisational and spontaneous– In Synapsis, you jump around from story element to story element. You don't need to start at the beginning of a story.
Only one rule: "Say Yes." Because imagination lives on Yes! Yes opens doors and Yes makes stories come to life.
Parents, teachers, and therapists: Synapsis can help with sentence structure, figurative language (simile and metaphor), conversational skills, sequential thinking, memory recall, as well as with fostering imagination and empathy.
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Ages 10 and up. That's not a set-in-stone rule about age range, of course.
What does Synapsis mean? Well, in biology, synapsis happens when two chromosomes join and begin the process of cellular division that leads to life. In Storymaticology, Synapsis happens when ideas fuse to create a new story.
Synapses are spaces between nerve cells that carry messages from one cell to another–they're the spaces in your brain that stories jump across, and a synopsis is a brief summary of a story.
Synapsis combines these things into a super-flexible prompt and game that starts with a couple of words, which then lead you into a sentence, which then leads you into your imagination, which then leads you into a story.
Writer Tim Weed playing Synapsis at Boston Lit Crawl with memoirist Ethan Gilsdorf and YA author Molly Booth.
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:
Writer Matthew Dicks playing at the Brattleboro Literary Festival. His cards were jack/had/voice.
One of the nice things about Synapsis is that you can use it however you want, and you can make up your own ways to play. Here are a few examples of ways people have made Synapsis their own (the instructions that come with Synapsis have even more ways to play).
Brian's Way– A solo writing prompt: write your responses to three or more Ask cards. Be detailed and specific. Finish by summarizing the story and titling it. Now use your notes to write the story.
Authors Grant Faulkner and Molly Booth playing Synapsis at BookCon.
Simone's Way– Simone is a Speech Language Pathologist. She only uses the Riff cards to help students identify common roots and sounds.
Jean's Way– Use a timer so you have one minute to write your sentence. Then answer as many questions as you can in five minutes.
Henri's Way– Use the Ask cards as a way to go deeper into stories that are already underway.
Julia's Way– Julia uses Synapsis as a prompt for movement. Someone draws a Riff card and says a sentence that begins, "Move like," and then you do exactly that. If the sentence is, "Move like snow," you move like snow. "Move like a balloon," you move like a balloon. You can vote for who moves the best, or not.
Sam's Way– Use only Riff and Connect cards to write the first line of a poem. Now finish the poem.
Even polar bears play Synapsis.
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Updated July 12, 2021
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