Let us pour out a drink for all the writers being murdered by synopses. I wrote a post on this awhile back that was mostly me being a smartass and avoiding the synopsis I was supposed to be writing at the time, but here's how I write a synopsis when I manage to stop being a smartass and actually do the thing, which to be honest is a rare occurrence.

Synopsis Basics (as I understand them):

-  Synopses are usually 1-2 pages long, but if your publisher really hates you, you may be asked for up to 5 or 6 pages. In this post, I'm focusing on the 1-2 pagers, but the format is the same; you just expand or contract the level of detail depending on the requested length.
-  They contain spoilers.
-  They should be in third person present tense.
-  They should be voicey and snappy, like your query or back cover copy. 
- They are commonly single spaced Times New Roman, 12 Pt Font, with your name and  book title at the top. 
-NOTE: If you're here because you're entering Pitchwars 2018, you'll need to submit a ONE PAGE synopsis. See more info on the Pitchwars FAQ page
 

Step One: Organize Your Book's Outline

Here is a link to the beat sheet I use to outline my novels. I separate my books into 4 acts, and here are the main plot points I'm working with (I did not invent this. I use a combo of some different outlining tools I've studied over the years, mainly Save the Cat and Anatomy of Story and a bunch of stuff I've read online.):

  • Intro and Set Up: The before picture, the world that has to change because it is broken, and the MC is the only person who can change it.
  • Inciting Event: The event that will force MC to take action
  • Debate: The road ahead of the MC is scary. Make sure the MC's motivation to enter the action is all clear on the page in the debate.
  • Break into Act 2: A whole new world. Transition often involves a setting change. 
  • Act 2A: Climbing up the mountain, gathering companions along the way. The B story is here too (love interest, etc).  
  • Midpoint: Holy crap, this changes everything. Stakes raised in a huge way. 
  • Act 2B: Everything is falling apart, the bad guys are closing in, MC's team is losing the battle and running out of time.
  • All is lost: That's it, bad guy has won, MC has lost everything, there's no way out
  • Break into Act 3: Hero's team regroups, finds a way out, casualties and excitement and war.
  • Climax: Villain and MC face off, and it's the battle of their similarities that makes a truly great climax and shows us why one is the hero and the other is the villain. 
  • Denouement: The new world with consequences of everything that happened.

Step Two: Organize Outline Into Six Paragraphs.

Don't laugh at me. I'm serious. Maybe get a glass of wine though. 

Paragraph One:

Introduce the MC, stakes, and main conflict of the story. "If Jessica doesn't divorce her hackey-sack playing husband, her children will grow up thinking hackey sack is normal." The purpose of P1 is to make us care. Why is this story being told? Why must things NOT stay the same as they are in Act 1? You can recycle a lot of your query in here if you wrote a good query.

Plot points to cover:
-  Intro and Setup
-  Inciting Event
-  Debate

Paragraph Two:

MC goes on their mission. What does that look like? What companions does the MC meet along the way? DO NOT DROP SEVEN THOUSAND NAMES IN THIS SYNOPSIS. We need to know about the love interest, main friendships, and don't forget to make sure we know who the antagonist/antagonistic forces are. Act 2A is all about building and climbing uphill. 2A is the hardest work of the book, and it should feel like increasing pressure and energy as we approach the midpoint.  

Plot points to cover:
-  Break into Act 2
-  B story (love interest or the equivalent)
-  Act 2A major action

Paragraph Three:

The midpoint gets its own little beat here. Much like in your book, the midpoint should feel like standing on the top of a mountain. When you got to the top of the mountain, nothing on the other side looked as you expected. This is a big moment. 

Plot points to cover:
-  Midpoint--how does this change EVERYTHING?

Paragraph Four:

Back into the fray! Action is coming faster now. You've already introduced everyone we need to know about. How does it all fall apart for the MC, bringing them to their lowest point? 

Plot points to cover:
-  Act 2B
-  All is lost--end this paragraph on the All is Lost moment. Leave us there for a second, sour with the feeling of disappointment as we realize our hero has failed to accomplish the mission. 

Paragraph Five:

But the hero rallies and finds a way out! Walk us through the big climax, and end this paragraph there. 

Plot points to cover:
-  Break into Act 3
-  Climax
 

Paragraph Six:

Although the MC won the fight (maybe), things look differently than they'd expected. Because they've changed through all this, the world they are coming back to looks smaller, and now they have to live with the consequences of all their hard choices. What does that look like? How does this story end? 

Plot points to cover:
-  Denouement

Disclaimer: This is just how I do it. If it doesn't work for you, no hard feelings. I'm obviously someone who adheres to commonly accepted plot structures. Perhaps you're not! I still encourage you to review your outline and organize the information in outline format before creating your synopsis masterpiece. If you have other tricks of the trade, please let me know so I can steal them. Good luck!