A plot synopsis is like the monster under the bed. You have to deal with it before you can sleep at night.
For every writer there is a different template for writing a synopsis. I present here what works for me. Feel free to adapt, change, or ignore.
Your first synopsis is only for you the writer. It can be as skeletal or enhanced as needed. Anything from a bullet list of beginning, middle, and end to a 100 page outline for a 300 page book—I met a romance writer early in my career who did this. She called it a synopsis. I called it a rough draft.
Then there is a 2 page synopsis that goes with a query letter and possibly later to a publicist. For this I start with the same template I used in the elevator pitch, back cover blurb, and the query letter. It is easier to expand from short than to cut from long to super short.
For the short synopsis you have a character with a goal, conflict to that goal—often the antagonist—and the emotional growth the character must undergo to achieve the goal, or get started on the right path at the end of the book.
And finally you get to write the full synopsis that will go with a finished novel or formal proposal to an editor. Complex, but it can be broken down to connecting parts.
When I first started in this business editors expected 1 page of synopsis for every 25 pages of book. That can get unwieldly, especially in an epic fantasy. In today’s ever changing world of publishing, I recommend no more than 10 pages total, less if you are writing sequels to an existing book or series.
Hook: a simple statement to engage the reader, “Real men don’t watch birds for a living. Real women don’t ride Harley Hogs wearing full leathers.” For a romance this turns a phrase form the 70s (Real men don’t eat quiche) on its ear and presents the romantic conflict.
Paragraph 1: Protagonist, short and simple, more about emotional short comings than physical description.
Paragraph 2: additional Protagonist
Paragraph 3: Antagonist.
Paragraph 4: A few words about how our characters got to page 1 of the book.
Paragraphs 5-20, or however many you need to describe the plot. Make certain there is a beginning, middle, and an end with appropriate transitions. I prefer to chart the emotional growth of the character rather than battle scenes.
Paragraph 21: Crisis.
Paragraph 22: Denouement or the black night of despair.
Paragraph 23: Climax, or the twenty minutes of murder and mayhem at the end of the movie.
Paragraph 24: Resolution.
It takes practice to shift your mind from prose to synopsis. Keep at it and writing a synopsis should become a routine part of producing a book.
This blog is part of chained series sponsored by Joshua Palmatier. You can find more essays on this subject here: http://jpskewedthrone.dreamwidth.org/492684.html
You can also find more of my opinions on writing in my book “Committing Novel.” http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/committing-novel/