This is a suggested format for writing a synopsis (which is also called an outline by some editors). The process of writing a working synopsis is the same as writing a marketing synopsis. With a working synopsis, the author is less interested in polish and more interested in finding out about the characters and plot points. The marketing synopsis can (and usually does) come directly out of the working synopsis.
Write your synopsis in the present tense. Double space it using standard manuscript format – 1″ margins, header with title/author’s last name and page #, approximately 25 lines/page, 60 spaces/line.
STEPS TO WRITING A WORKING SYNOPSIS:
1. Start with your high concept or a short paragraph that could be the blurb on the back of your book or the short phrase on the front cover that catches a reader’s eye. It should relate to the theme of your novel. (Good conquers evil, the price of vengeance is death, etc. Clichés are good to focus you on your theme)
2. Protagonist should be described next. Physical description isn’t necessary, unless it’s important to your story. Instead think of the items we worked on during the first week of the class — what the characters want (their motivation), their fears, the things they like, what makes a character unique. Also include items from the back story (a character’s history up until the beginning of the story) that will have relevance on the book. Don’t do a biography on the character. You just want to gain some insight into what makes this person tick, so you can work with him/her while writing.
3. Repeat #2 if you have a second protagonist (romances would concentrate on the hero at this point, a mystery might include the investigator’s partner). The conflict in the book may come out at this point, if the two characters have clashing goals and needs.
4. Setting – Don’t worry about this unless it’s very important to the story. Science fiction/fantasy writers would be concerned with this if they are setting their story in an alternate future/another planet. Again, keep it short. You can lengthen this later for your marketing synopsis. This is just to solidify it in your mind.
5. Opening of the story should come next. You should now begin telling your story in chronological order, bringing in secondary characters and subplots as they appear. The problem that will be solved at the end of the book should be introduced here. Concentrate on pulling the protagonist’s motivation and the conflict through every paragraph. This section will be the bulk of your synopsis. It will allow you to see where there are “holes” in your plot and where you might want to put more tension into the story.
6. The climax and the black moment – when the protagonist faces his/her worst fears — should be clearly described. All the motivation and conflict and tension in your book was leading to this point. Keep your theme in mind as you write this. This is where your reader should be certain of what you’re trying to say with this book. Also here should be where the changes in the character (as a result of what’s happened in the book) should be visible. Does the character still feel the way he/she did in the beginning? If that’s true, you need to go back and slowly change some aspect of their character. A story where the character doesn’t experience some emotional growth will get bounced off an editor’s desk immediately.
7. The conclusion ties up all the threads of the story, whether it’s happy ever after or a tragedy. Have the characters achieved their goals? If not, have you altered them enough so the reader can understand why they no longer hunger for that goal? Do we feel that they will continue past this point in the book as “real” people with “real” goals and needs?
When you have all this done, give it to someone (preferably another writer) to read before you start writing your book. If you get back “But why. . .?” or “How. . .?”, you know you have some holes in your story that you have to deal with. Look at those sections again and rework. Go through the synopsis with a highlighter and mark “feeling” words, so you can see the growth of your characters. You may discover one of your characters is changing in very different direction than you intended. You want to create an emotional connection between yourself and your characters (and eventually between them and an editor) that will sustain you while you are writing.
Mark approximate chapter breaks. This will give you a good idea if you are on target for what your market expects and a guess at approximate word length. Also it shows you if your book is properly paced. If you have long sections with no action or emotional growth, it’s time to rethink your synopsis.
This working synopsis is a road map for you while you’re writing. You may find, as you write, that you want to wander down a side road. Your synopsis will enable you to come back to the “straight and narrow” after your side trip.
JUST REMEMBER THAT NOTHING IN A SYNOPSIS IS CARVED IN STONE!!!
Be able to be flexible as you write your novel after you’ve put together your working synopsis. If you don’t think you can allow yourself to deviate from the plot and characters you’ve set forth in your working synopsis, skip over this step in the process and write your marketing synopsis later.