I didn't wait until I had finished writing Instructions for the Working Day to begin compiling the synopsis. I made a summary at the end of every writing session, like the example in the picture above. The main thrust of these was:
what has just happened (action)
who was involved in the scene (characters, main and minor)
how the scene has affected my main character(s) (whether psychologically or physically, and also more broadly, in terms of obstacles to their mission, relationships and conflicts)
how it has advanced the plot
how it has developed the main character(s)
any motifs or foreshadowing
Once the novel was written, I collected all these rough and ready summaries together. The resulting 'synopsis' was far too long and wordy to submit with the manuscript to an agent or publisher. They usually request one, at most two, pages. However, because all the information was there, my only task was to condense it, select the most salient points, delete all writerly ponderings and opinions, then keep trimming until it was succinct.
I enjoyed working on this, because after I had tidied up the summaries and made them into an overview of the entire novel on one page, it looked like a certificate of authentication. It showed I had created a story with a beginning, middle and end, invented a main character with a mission, constructed an inciting incident, a string of setbacks and conflict.
And if I hadn’t?
What if I'd discovered plot holes, glaring omissions, inconsistencies, or weak characters the story could manage without? Luckily there was nothing too serious, but there were definitely a few sections I wanted to revisit, a timeline I needed to check, a minor character who needed an extra scene. It’s exciting really, how the synopsis reveals so much. Without the summaries and synopsis, I wouldn't have spotted these issues. And it's often more straightforward to fix them than you might imagine. I made corrections on my plan or timeline first, to avoid too much tinkering with the manuscript. For example, I wanted to change my protagonist's age by a year, so I altered it on my timeline, which then told me at a glance how his revised year of birth might affect other important events and historical references in several sections of the novel. Once I had located and listed the affected places, I could go to the manuscript, finetune it accordingly, then make the same corrections on the synopsis.
I didn't mention every twist and turn of the plot in the synopsis, nor introduce every minor character. And I didn't relate the storyline chapter by chapter. It was more effective to relate some events out of sequence to explain the narrative in the best, most comprehensible way.
The most important thing is to be clear and precise, to explain who is in your story, what they are doing and why they are doing it. Don't leave the reader puzzled.
Since its purpose is to outline the entire story, the synopsis may sound a little dry and emotionless when you read it through. But it won’t seem that way to the grateful agent or publisher, who only needs a general idea of what actually happens in your story:
The above is the first paragraph of the synopsis I sent to Fairlight Books. The whole piece was just over 600 words and one page long. I kept all the paragraphs as short as possible. All the major plot points were there, including the ending. Submitting to publishers or agents isn't the time to worry about spoilers. This is the time for all the important revelations, demonstrating that you have a complete - and hopefully irresistible - story to offer.