A synopsis for publication is a brief list of plot points, including all the plot twists and the ending. This is not the blurb to entice buyers, but a valuable tool used by agents, editors, and publishers to gauge the story’s suitability for a market, as well as gauge the skill of the author as a story-teller.
Here’s an example:
- Jack meets Jill
- They discover they have a similar interest in helping their tribe.
- They hear a rumour that there is a source of fresh water on top of a nearby mountain.
- They go mountain climbing to help their tribe survive the harsh drought
- They discover the source of the fresh water
- Jack slips and falls, cracking his skull <—– major action part
- Jill tries to help him but ends up falling as well <– also a major plot point, triggered by the first major plot point
- Their tribe comes to rescue them (an ironic ending)
- They all have a feast together to celebrate their heroism
Just the major plot points are listed, things that, if removed from the story, would change the outcome.
A synopsis does not need to be too long, a page of points is usually enough.
A subplot is another story within the story that may influence the outcome, and this may be listed in a separate synopsis. If there are multiple characters with multiple plots this may help keep track of who is doing what, and how it influences others in the story.
Most stories follow a series of waves of action, the final wave usually being the most exciting, after which a slowly ebbing tide takes the reader to the end of the story.
Building up the drama to the peak of each wave is not a simple task for any writer, but the author should have a clear idea what the major peak should be, otherwise their story may not have the emotional impact they desire.
A synopsis helps build up the drama, and is often useful to keep track of stories that happen non-chronologically, that is, paragraphs may jump back and forth in time. A story needs a reason for a reader to keep reading, and so the initial conflict is an important litmus to engage the reader with the characters and the world they live in.
A synopsis can have multiple dimensions. There’s nothing wrong with creating a spreadsheet for the book, with dates and characters. Notable writers who have done this are Joseph Heller, JK Rowling, George RR Martin. In the case of Catch-22, the story’s complex interconnected arcs would have been impossible to keep track of without a spreadsheet.
JK Rowling’s Spreadsheet for Harry Potter
Joseph Heller’s Spreadsheet for Catch-22, a complex story with over 20 Character arcs and interconnected, overlapping, and sometimes disagreeing plot-lines and points of view.