A Helpful Synopsis Outline -- The Five Step Synopsis
The inability to prepare a synopsis hinders a writer from becoming traditionally published or having a chance to place in a writing contest. The following is one way to take some of the dread out of a synopsis.
The synopsis, written in present tense, reveals the story arc from beginning to end in five (5) paragraphs, approximately 350 words.
One: The first paragraph describes who wants what and why (goal), and what stands in their way (obstacle).
Two: The second paragraph expands the situation. Introduces the antagonist (person or situation that blocks the protagonist). Shows the thoughts and emotions of the protagonist as they struggle against the antagonist.
Three: The third paragraph moves the protagonist closer to goal achievement. Hints at the possibility of failure.
Four: The fourth paragraph heads toward the goal post. A “red herring” might suggest that failure (not success) is imminent and irreversible.
Five: The fifth paragraph reveals the story resolution as the protagonist succeeds or fails.
(Note: If the author neglects to reveal goal, obstacle, and resolution in the synopsis, the manuscript sample pages will not be read. No agent will take the time to figure out the core of the story or how it might possibly end. The author has to show and sell them.)
Example of a 5-step synopsis, written for Jack and the Beanstalk:
Twelve-year-old Jack must save himself and mom from starvation when their country suffers a drought, causing crops to fail. Bossy (the cow) goes dry. Inexperienced at bartering, Jack swaps Bossy for a handful of “magic” beans which mom, in a fit of anger, throws out the window.
The next morning, Jack discovers the beans have sprouted into a mile-high stalk. He climbs up and into another dimension. Timidly, Jack sneaks into a humongous castle. He cowers under furniture to hide from a nasty-tempered giant (the antagonist) who adds fiber and crunch to his bread by kneading human bones into his dough. Terrified that he might be captured, Jack grabs a gold coin and scoots down the beanstalk to safety.
When mom heads for the market, Jack hurries back up the beanstalk to nab a goose that lays golden eggs (thereby ensuring residual income). The giant smells Jack, but can’t find him. Jack escapes by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin. Elated by his newly-discovered thievery skills, Jack decides to climb the beanstalk, one more time, to nab a special gift for mom.
Jack sneaks back into the castle. So far so good. He grabs a singing harp and heads for the beanstalk. The harp rats him out and screams for help. The giant (murder and lunch in mind) pursues Jack down the beanstalk.
The moment Jack reaches home, he chops down the beanstalk. It collapses and the giant smashes into the earth and disappears forever. They all live happily ever after.
ONE: Reveals who wants what and why.
TWO: Expands the situation, introduces the antagonist. The protagonist takes action to overcome the obstacle(s). He feels timid, terrified, and covers under objects to conceal his presence. He hurries home as soon as possible, clutching the stolen coin. Jack proves, at the moment, that the end (avoiding starvation) justifies the means (stealing).
THREE: The protagonist moves closer to goal achievement. The possibility of failure is introduced. Jack discovers he's quite good at stealing and pushes his luck. This paragraph hints at the potential for disaster.
FOUR: The goal post is in sight. But, the potential for failure and disaster for the human world loom on the horizon.
FIVE: Reveals the story resolution as the protagonist succeeds (or fails).
This synopsis style is just one of many. Jordan Dane, best-selling author and dear friend, gave me permission to use her example and information. The message is, "Don't be afraid of writing a synopsis. Practice and soon you won't dread writing one at all."