The synopsis is a breakdown of your story. It’s another form of an outline, but in complete sentences, no bullets. The purpose of the synopsis is to tell your complete story to the agent or publisher. Specifically, you need to outline the main character, the main conflict, and the resolution. Yes, you must tell the ending. The synopsis tells the complete story, from beginning to end, in abbreviated form. The key is the length. For a pitch letter at a conference, and for some queries to agents, it should be one page. For some agent queries, it might be two to three pages. From there, where a full manuscript is requested, it could be three to ten pages, depending on the individual requirements of the agency. The key is to follow their instructions explicitly. As a general rule, stick to one page unless told otherwise. One good thing about sticking to these rigid requirements is that it keeps your writing tight.
THE SYNOPSIS WILL SHOW FLAWS IN YOUR PLOTTING
A synopsis can be extremely hard to write properly. However, the synopsis can also be a very good way to reveal how well your story has been put together. It is a good way to spot any red flags in flow and plot. When you break down your story into a few paragraphs, just to get the key plot elements, you’re going to see right away if it all holds together. If, at the end of your synopsis, you notice that the story doesn’t hold water, you may need to go back and do some rewriting!
One way to develop your synopsis is to start by describing each scene or each chapter (if you have a lot) in one bullet sentence. Compile all of these bullets and look them over for the key patterns. If something looks extraneous, maybe it shouldn’t be there. Once you have that down, turn these bullets into sentences and then organized paragraphs so that they flow together.
As for me, I have the whole story in my head. In my creative process, I only know where I want to start and where I want to end, the middle is a total surprise. Once I get going and write it all down, it becomes locked in my head. As I edit it over and over again, the plot and all the details become locked in so when I sit down to write my synopsis, I already have the big picture going for me. I don’t have to bullet out each chapter. However, I don’t expect all of you out there to write or create the same way I do, so I’m throwing that bullet method out for you.
KEEP CHARACTER NAMES TO A MINIMUM
The key elements are that you introduce the main character and maybe their adversary by name only. Everyone else remains unnamed. They’re just anonymous characters as far as the synopsis is concerned. The first time you name these one or two characters, you put them in italics. From then on, they’re in regular font. Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary details such as naming a whole bunch of characters, names or places in the story. Don’t list time lines either, especially on a one-page synopsis! Describe the plot, describe what happens, describe what, where, when, why and how the character gets from point a to point b in the story and what happens at the end. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you’re writing a two, three or more page synopsis, a few sentences per chapter might be appropriate unless you have eighty chapters. Again, if you do this, it should read almost like a short story. It should make sense on its own. If it doesn’t, you need to work on the plot of your book some more before you try pitching it.
DON’T LET IT GO, SIGHT UNSEEN!
Now, the final element to all of this, before you ever even think of turning it in to an agent or publisher: Get someone or several other people to read it first! There’s nothing like second sets of eyes to see what you can’t!