Fellow writer and GGW member Maryellen Cameron asked another great question:
Would you discuss the elements of a great synopsis?
Before I talk about the elements, let's talk realities:
• A synopsis is only necessary if you're attempting to get an agent, who is necessary for approaching big publishers and most medium-sized and small, but prestigious publishers. If you're planning to self-publish or work with a small publisher, you're home free.
• A synopsis is of modest importance for these reasons: 1) A synopsis is only requested by a small number of agents (I'll estimate no more than 10%). 2) Even if it's the greatest synopsis ever written, what matters most to agents is if they love the storyline and writing and if they feel they can sell the book.
• A synopsis should be no more than 2 pages. Agents don't have time to read any more than that. If you have a 2-page synopsis and an agent requests 1 page, don't sweat the small difference in length. Send what you have. Again, a synopsis is of limited importance.
• A synopsis should be written in present tense to give the story a sense of immediacy, i.e., "Eleven-year-old Darcy Wiggins is hauled out of science class by the principal one afternoon and told by an FBI agent that she's got 10 minutes to save the world..."
• The point of a synopsis is to state how the story ends. I say that because many writers — including myself at one time — seem to think the goal of the document is to pique an agent's interest, whereas that's the point of the query letter.
Now for the basics...
Elements of a Great Synopsis
1. Paragraph 1: State the Basics
The first paragraph should be your back-cover blurb — also known as the elevator pitch — in which you state who the main character is, what she must do over the course of the book and what will happen if she doesn't. Include clues about the basics: the type of book (mystery, romance, memoir, etc.), the era (contemporary, historical, futuristic) and the setting (a farm in Iowa, a planet in a far-off galaxy, another country).
This is the paragraph that's most important, not only because it's first, but because this is the paragraph you should include in your query and the one that could wind up on the back cover. The point is to pique the reader's interest while telling him or her everything he/she needs to know about what type of book this is.
Therefore, spend 90% of your time crafting this paragraph so that it's informative, easy to read and titillating.
2. Paragraphs 2-6: Expand a Little
Use these paragraphs to mention other main characters and how they fit into the character's journey. This is where you'll be tempted to start a laundry list of "this happened, then this, then this." Don't. Fit in all the basic threads in a writing style that reflects that of the story. Feel free to include a few snippets of fantastic, conflict-ridden dialogue.
Include any out of the ordinary writing elements, i.e., "While the story is told mostly in Perry's point of view, those of Harold and Mr. Tx are also included to provide a rich contrast between...." or "Though the timeline is mixed, readers are taken from the past to the present in a seamless rhythm that shows the events in Louise and Harvey's youth that led to their eventual love as adults...."
Use the last paragraph to tell how the story ends, i.e., "Though Harvey rushes to the hospital, he's too late. Louise is dead."
3. Paragraph 7: Conclusion
Use the last paragraph to reiterate the theme of the book and why that theme is so marketable, i.e., "Caught between two warring families, the sweeping tragedy of Louise and Harvey's forbidden love is as relevant today as when William Shakespeare first addressed the terrible error of attempting to control the love between two people..."
The above is all gleaned from my almost 20 years of fiction and nonfiction writing. But I don't assume to know everything, so you shouldn't, either. Therefore I'll suggest that you check out at least 10 other sources, choose what makes sense, then start writing. Be sure to run your attempts past another experienced writer to gain the necessary feedback regarding clarity. Here are some resources to get you started:
How to Write a Synopsis by writer and former agent Nathan Bransford
Writing a Novel Synopsis from Fiction Writer's Connection
How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel by Glen Strathy
And as always, if you've got information to add, please do! I'll include it in the next blog post.