“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.”
Many writers begin a working on a manuscript by first writing a synopsis. They use it as a loose guideline for staying on track with a work in progress. And others only write synopses under duress. It doesn’t really matter how you feel about them, sooner or later, your agent or your editor is going to ask you to write a synopsis.
What exactly is a synopsis and why would anybody want one?
From the dictionary: synopsis, n. pl. -ses, a visual image, a statement giving a brief general review or condensation;–summary.
Trust me, especially for the beginning writer a synopsis is necessary and should include your super terrific surprise twist ending. Why? Because the editor wants to know that you know how to end a book in a satisfactory manner, by tying up all the loose ends and that you understand the components required to make saleable fiction.
First you have to be brave enough to face the possible rejection, then you have to approach total strangers in a professional manner, and then they expect you to prove to them, you know what you are doing!?!
Sometimes it’s just too much for the aspiring writer and they throw down their crayons and go home. And they should.
Whether or not we find the writing of synopses pleasurable, like every other aspect of the craft, it can be learned.
This is where you want to give us just the facts. The difference between synopsising and writing is night and day. Writers know this as do editors and agents. When the synopsis is requested, they want the facts of the story, and most importantly they want to know you know them.
So how do you go about writing a synopsis if you haven’t done it before?
There are ten essential points you need to address in order to have the “bones” of a good synopsis.
I suggest you begin where the story begins, and this is your choice. Either show the ordinary world or, if you want to jump into the fire, start with the conflict. Your initiating event should be addressed as soon as you open the synopsis. Tell the reader–whoever that may be, what got the story started.
In the first act, if you’re using the four act structure share the event which makes your hero/heroine do something and why that causes the antagonist to respond. Show the escalating conflict and how each major character handles the changes in their world and how it changes them on a personal level.
Conflict escalates until the stakes are raised and a turning point makes the story move in a new direction. This turning point causes an increase in conflict and requires more from both the antagonist and your protagonist, again on both external and internal levels.
At the beginning of Act Two, both characters, protagonist and antagonist, should have both gained and lost ground making their conflict more intense. It can also move in new directions. The next turning point is the Point of No Return.
In this turning point an event or action on the part of the two main characters changes them so dramatically that they can not go back to the old ordinary world. Neither character is the same person and the story must continue to it’s eventual resolution. This usually results in additional conflict for both characters.
In Act Three as the conflict continues to escalate and the desire is more desperate on each characters part, this will cause the tension to rise. The pace is increased in the story at this point, the conflict more serious and the desire more drastic.
This turning point is considered the final crisis, the Big Black Moment where all is lost. It will appear to the reader that there is no hope of the protagonist succeeding in achieving the goal. The hero/heroine suffers a “symbolic” death, from which they usually recover and move on.
In Act Four the characters find the strength to recover and fight to the finish. Tension rises, meaning the pace of the story increases, and this is the escalation leading to the final confrontation.
The climax, or final confrontation is the event which brings the characters into conflict where only one can achieve the goal.
In the resolution, we have a return to normal. This is the final passage of the story.
Using these basic guidelines, any writer can assemble the bones of a decent synopsis.