But if you are submitting materials to a publishing house, whether through your agent or on your own, you will probably be asked for a long synopsis. They need to see how the whole story plays out before they decide whether it's something they can run with.
And here's a secret: you need to write a long synopsis even if you don't intend to ever submit to a traditional publisher. Why? Because the end result will tell you whether your novel did its job. How? It forces you to be very clear about what's in your book, and when you've finished you will know if the story works from beginning to end, where its storyline weaknesses are, and what you need to do to fix them. Your key points need to track and connect from beginning to end and be compelling to someone unfamiliar with your book. Putting that on the page makes it easier for you to see the story from that unfamiliar someone's eyes.
Anyone who's tried to write a synopsis of any length knows how hard it is. I've heard best selling authors state flatly that it's harder to write a synopsis than it is to write a novel, and if you know someone who's read your manuscript, ask them to do it for you. (If only!!)
While a synopsis is not a blurb, you still have to give it a little zing. It needs to be somewhat compelling, even though the plot, not language, is its main focus. You have to tell the story, not write an outline.
I recently came across a great point-by-point for writing a long synopsis. It incorporates the six main points in any novel (inciting incident, first major plot point, character turning point at book's midpoint, second major plot point, climax, and end), plus transitional sections between them, into a total of nine items to be included. Below are the nine points with my descriptions of them added.
- The Hook: a compelling statement of the inciting incident (the thing/event that turns the protagonist's world upside down and sets the story in irrevocable motion. The inciting incident usually happens within the first twenty pages of the book, with some exceptions in literary and experimental literature).
- Set Up: what the characters are up to, how they settle into their new reality after the inciting incident. Here you have the opportunity to give some flavor of characterizations in reactions/behaviors.
- Major Plot Point 1: something key to moving the story forward that happens once the protagonist is well-established (typically the plot point is unexpected/unwanted events, or behaviors of others).
- Response: how the protagonist and other prime characters react to what happened in Plot Point 1. This, in turn, sets up . . .
- Midpoint/Major Character Turning Point: around the midpoint of the novel, the protagonist's defenses against the problematic action of the story are bridged somehow, and s/he sees the situation in a different light and changes his/her attitude and behavior to reflect the new understanding. The synopsis presents this by showing the decision/changed behavior of the protagonist.
- Attack: what the protagonist and other characters do after the turning point to take on the issues they are confronted by, and to assert themselves within the plot. This typically involves working toward a resolution of the primary problem of the plot. Before they get to the resolution, though, another big thing happens. This is . . .
- Major Plot Point 2: a new development or intrusion of a major new but related element in the storyline that compels reaction and moves the story forward, perhaps in a surprising direction, and definitely at a faster pace.
- Resolution/Climax: key points after Plot Point 2 that show the protagonist making a choice that is like entering the river of no return to follow through with his/her resolution, so that the climax becomes inevitable; and the primary action of the climax.
- End/Denouement: the wrap up—should feel inevitable, and if it's really good, will also be surprising
I've found this approach to be a huge help in writing a long synopsis. Hope you do, too!