How to create a synopsis for publication

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.

storyarc_traditionalMost 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.heller-catch-22

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