The elaboration of a synopsis and the importance of plot twists in planning for works of long duration

A show bible for a series is a document that describes the story’s world, tone, plots, scenarios, characters, the development of the season, narrative and visual references, very often the pilot script and the description of possible future seasons. The detailed bible of a series is similar to the synopsis of a telenovela. However, a season outline for a series will have an expected ending, whereas in a telenovela, multiple factors may influence the conclusion. Therefore, the end of the plot is not at all likely to be revealed in the synopsis; partly in order to maintain secrecy, partly because it is characteristic of the narrative to be open to transformation.

Audience rejection or approval, corroborated by qualitative research or low audience rates, may change the story of a telenovela. Another factor that influences the story is the chemistry between actors. Daniel Filho defines chemistry between actors thus: “When two actors engender great emotion in a scene, generating great power by the mere fact of appearing together, we say there is a certain chemistry between them” (2001). Also, the author’s sensibility to changes in society during the months of a telenovela may alter the story. For example, Manuela Dias and Daniel Ortiz, telenovela authors that have had to pause their productions during the 2020 pandemic, incorporated COVID-19 into their narratives when the telenovelas came back. Finally, production problems caused by weather changes, illness and other factors may cause the author to make adjustments. During Belissima (2006), for example, written by Silvio de Abreu, Gloria Pires, who played Julia Falcao, got hepatitis and had to take sick leave for three weeks. The author then invented that the character, traumatized by her grandmother’s death, was admitted to a psychiatric clinic. While her romantic partner searched everywhere for Julia, the author wrote more scenes for the secondary plot.

A telenovela synopsis will circulate among executives who may or may not green-light the telenovela. The introduction of the synopsis of the telenovela О Clone/The Clone (2001), by Gloria Perez, an audience success in Brazil that has already been sold to more than 130 countries, made a synthesis of the topics that would be addressed before entering the story itself:

The main set of our teleno vela is the 21st century, the new millennium. It is often said that the twentieth century was the century of science and technology. These areas developed so rapidly that humanity cherished fantasies that in the year 2000 science and technology would be able to solve all problems and ward off the ghosts that have plagued man since his appearance on earth: material needs, disease, old age, death. There was a high expectation around that date as if it were the landmark of a new era for humanity. But as all optimism is reversed, the arrival of the year 2000 frightened many people: millennial prophecies indicated this date as the end of times. The apocalypse predicted by the Bible, by Nostradamus, by the Virgin of Fatima, by Rasputin, by the Mayan civilization, by the Muslims, at last, by all the prophets who have inhabited the earth. And here we are, coming to the new century, to the new millennium. The world is not over and we do not conquer, through science and technology, earthly paradise. The telenovela is about making this inventory: what has changed? Where are we heading?

(Perez, 2001)

The use of epigraphs is also commonplace. Gloria Perez, for example, begins the synopsis of О Clone/The Clone (2001) with a quote from Dostoevsky (1990): “If God does not exist, everything is permitted” (1990). In the telenovela Bom Sucesso/A Life Worth Living (2020), which dealt with, among other subjects, second chances in life, we chose a quote from Oscar Wilde: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all” (2003). The synopsis then will describe the А-plot. Often a plot summary is presented in a few lines, prior to further development, in order to guide the reader.

A telenovela synopsis should have good turning points and narrative plot twists. This term is widely used by theorists and researchers to designate the moment in which the plot is entirely modified by the characters’ actions, through an external event or a conflict that will reach its peak. A telenovela calls for at least three major turning points or plot twists along the way. This major turning point is developed into lower (or secondary) turning points and as weeks go by produces good cliffhangers per chapter.

To the viewer, these plot twists, turning points and cliffhangers translate into short, medium and long-term expectations. The paradigm would be one of several arrivals, which is to say, the author writes a chapter in order to arrive at the cliffhanger; the cliffhangers to arrive at the turning point, or revelation of the week; and the turning points of the week to arrive at the next big plot twist. A telenovela usually has more turning points, revelations and significant events in the beginning, the middle and at the end. Unless turning points come up in the plot, the story will seem static.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel, has inspired many telenovelas, like О Outro lado do Paraiso/The Other Side of Paradise (2018), by Walcyr Carrasco, and FI or do Caribe/Caribbean Flower (2013), by Walther Negrao, because the essential plot twists are already present in the original narrative:

  • 1 Edmond Dantes is falsely accused of treason on the day of his wedding to Mercedes and, after a troubled trial, is incarcerated on an island.
  • 2 Edmond meets and befriends Abbe Faria who tells him of a hidden treasure.
  • 3 Faria dies Edmond escapes and finds the location of the treasure. Edmond plans to reward those who tired to help him and punish those who hurt him.
  • 4 Years later, Edmond spins a vast web of intrigue to gain revenge on his enemies, going under several aliases, among them the powerful Count of Monte Cristo. He takes revenge on everyone who conspired against him and is reunited with Mercedes.
  • 5 Edmond reveals himself.

This list of events, or turning points in the А-plot, should already be part of the synopsis in the form of prose. This part of a synopsis must not be less than 20 pages long. Important secondary plots and their turning points are also part of a synopsis. Beyond this, a list of characters, their principal features and the main settings are also necessary, as are subplots, with characters and settings of their own. Subplots will be created, preferably with some connection to the А-plot. Additionally, depending on the telenovela’s time slot, there must be at least one young character cluster and one comic nucleus. The А-plot usually has a sentimental and emotive tone, pleasing viewers who have been watching telenovelas for a long time and look out for the structure of melodrama; therefore, it is within subplots that other narrative genres often appear. In the case of Totalmente Demais/Total Dreamer (2016), the primary cluster was that of Eliza, played by Marina Ruy Barbosa; Jonatas, by Felipe Simas; Arthur, by Fabio Assunsao; and Carolina, played by Juliana Paes. The amorous and family relations of these characters are also considered part of the А-plot. The secondary character clusters are often linked with the setting in which the main characters live or work. This strategy facilitates production by having specific actors for different sets, allowing more than one shooting crew to work simultaneously.

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