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How To Write A Synopsis For A Novel

HowToWriteASynopsisWriters HATE the job of writing a book synopsis. As anxiety escalates, so many questions may rush through their minds: “What is a literary agent looking for in my synopsis or summary? How many details should I include about my novel? Should I explain my setting and characters in my book synopsis or just stick to the basic plot?”

If you’re having trouble and are procrastinating writing your synopsis, don’t despair. Writer’s Relief can help!

What is a synopsis for a book or novel?
To be clear, a synopsis for a novel is different than a book blurb for a novel. A book blurb is a one-paragraph description of your novel in a query letter. A synopsis is a longer description of the entire story. Here’s where you can find more information on How To Write A Killer Book Blurb for your query letter.

How do I write a synopsis for my novel?
For your novel synopsis, follow these insiders’ tips and get your book synopsis noticed by literary agents, editors, and publishers:

1. How should you format the pages of your synopsis? Write your synopsis in the same format as your manuscript. Double-space your synopsis. Use one-inch margins all around. Do NOT right justify your text. Use left justification only. Put a header on every page. Use Times New Roman or Arial font. Do not use Courier font.

2. How should you begin your synopsis? Begin by describing your story in 25 words or less. You must capture the agent’s or editor’s attention. If you succeed in creating this “hook,” you’ll be farther ahead than most people submitting their writing. Editors and literary agents read hundreds of submissions every day. Don’t get cutesy, but keep the reader awake. Don’t be boring!

3. What verb tense should you use for your synopsis? Include a COMPLETE summary of your story from beginning to end, written in present tense. Focus on major plot points or turning points. Omit secondary characters, subplots, and minor events. Don’t go into too much detail.

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4. What should you focus on in your synopsis? Include the setting, main characters, and the all-important CONFLICT. Identify conflict between characters. Include motivation. Then, show the resolution of this conflict.

5. Should you tell the ending of your book in your synopsis?  Yes, you should. We know you want to tease your reader and keep ’em guessing, but the novel synopsis is not the place for it. Leave the teasing for your book blurb!

6. Should you ask rhetorical questions in your synopsis to keep readers interested? Do not ask empty questions in your synopsis. They will not fool the agent into asking for the remaining pages of your manuscript.

7. Does proofreading really matter in your synopsis?  Yes, absolutely. Proofread your synopsis. Make sure grammar, punctuation, and spelling are perfect. Test your synopsis on a qualified friend or relative. Would they be interested in reading the entire novel based on your synopsis? If not, ask how you can make it more interesting. Ultimately, use your own gut to determine what works. As part of our services, Writer’s Relief can help you proofread and format your manuscript.

8. Should you write your synopsis in first person from a character’s perspective or third person? Always write your synopsis in third person. Some writers will choose first person, but generally, literary agents prefer third person.

How long is a synopsis for a novel?
Agents and editors don’t agree on how long a synopsis should be. How long is a good synopsis: one page? Five? Ten? There are no industry-wide rules at this point to dictate the length of your synopsis.

Our advice: if you’re going to write only one synopsis, keep it under three pages (two pages, preferred). Our feeling is that it’s better to come in slightly under the requested page count than over. Just make sure you include enough information to tell your story, but don’t get bogged down. Your goal is to get the literary agent or editor into the first pages of your book. That’s where the real story begins!!

What if I just can’t figure out how to start writing my book synopsis?
If all else fails, write a mini synopsis that hooks the reader, then use that as a jumping-off point. Taking baby steps might help take the pressure off and free you up emotionally, making it easier to write a full-length synopsis.

You can also use this paragraph when writing your query letter (another task Writer’s Relief can do for you). Writing a synopsis for your book can be difficult, but keep your eye on your goals, and the payoff will make the hard work worth your while!

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Do you write a synopsis of your book before you begin writing the book itself? Or do you write the synopsis after?

18 Responses to How To Write A Synopsis For A Novel

  1. For me, often the synopsis writes itself.

    I’ve found that when I write, I have a great deal of fun talking about my current project to family, friends, and other authors (hopefully friendly authors!). As I tell the tale of the process, the inspiration, and a bit about the characters and story, they ‘synopsis’ actually refines itself rather quickly.

    Sometimes the basis for the synopsis does come about as a rough outline of a future project. In those cases I am usually writing in ‘discovery mode’ and the story is as much a discovery for me as it would be for a reader. Of course, it gets refined after the fact as well.

    I like to think of the synopsis as something one reader would say to another to entice them to read the story.

    That’s all. Thank you, Writer’s Relief. You have created a wonderful forum for writers.

  2. This page is brilliant. This is a really good critique on how to submit written work. It tells you the right suggestions towards getting on the right path with submissions and writing practise. Nobody who is thinking about writing books and improving their craft would be in doubt with what it is saying as far as submissions will be concerned to make sure they know what they should do when considering taking this route.

  3. P.S. (If not now, I hope this helps next time.)

    Although I’m a “big-picture” person who often loathes details (unless they are literary details), I’m not incapable of organizing. Like many of us, I simply find little joy in completing details and rue the opportunity costs (which was one of many reasons to turn to the experts at Writer’s Relief).

    To prevent mistakes based on conflicting details, I used my “word count” spreadsheet as I expanded the story (and again as I edited) to type brief event highlights and details from each chapter (e.g., character ages, town names, chronology). The WR tips diminished some of my ignorance and hopefully these little items from the spreadsheet will facilitate the application of Anne’s approach by forming a de facto outline.

  4. Knowing our individual predispositions and predilections puts us in a much better position to advance our cause. In my case, the tendency for a simple comment to proliferate will make my job more difficult. Nonetheless, the task of writing a synopsis is clearly daunting to more than just a few of us. Those of us with marketing knowledge immediately recognize its critical role, yet writing for some us is an creative process that inherently resists structure until a lack of it becomes deleterious.

    An experience or some other spark inspires an idea that grows into a character on a specific journey. Additional characters and circumstances then accumulate momentum like the innocuous snowball that becomes a devastating avalanche beneath a furious blizzard of words that are all drawn to one singular purpose. Compressing that avalanche is like reversing Eddington’s Arrow of Time.

    So, while there may be many methods of getting back to the snowball, Anne W. Clarke’s approach makes sense. By systematically filling a canvas with cogent material, identifying what’s most appropriate for the space inside the lines becomes much easier. Of course, Ernesto’s method makes sense, too, and the concept of harmony is important. Unfortunately, in my case, his approach is structured far beyond my level of comfort despite my predominantly left-brain education.

    Regardless, the feedback on this page helped me realize I’m not the only one who feels snowblind. Even more important, it gave me some ideas for getting that avalanche back into a snowball. Thanks, everyone, and best wishes.

  5. I write the Synopsys after I have written my concept page that I will later use for the query letter.
    I use them as a guideline to create a plot.
    As I write the book, I keep on looking at them. I may then alter them or the plot to suit my story.
    The main idea is that all three should harmonize.
    But the story and characters trump all else.

  6. i never heard of double spacing a synopsis until now. in fact, i am very new to query letters, synopses and the likes but thanks to Writer’s relief, i am learning.

  7. That’s great, Eric! We’re glad to hear you’re enjoying our content. We’ve found that writing the synopsis can be just as difficult as writing the book on occasion, and since some agents only ask for a synopsis, it has become increasingly important to build a strong, concise account of your work. Good luck with your writing endeavors!

    P.S. I believe the plural is “synopses” :)

  8. Using the tips in this piece prompts me to revise a few synopsises, (synopsie?) Ive written for some books I’m attempting to get published. Thank you for the assistance. Hopefully, with your help, by the time the snow melts away in June here in New Hampshire I’ll have an acceptance letter from an agent or publisher.

  9. William: We believe that the synopsis is JUST a quick tool for literary agents to know how the book ends, with teaser information about the characters. The query letter is when you’re able to get into more of the flavor of your writing style. Writing these two things as strongly as the book itself, we think will be key in getting the literary agents to ask for more pages. Good luck!

  10. Writing a synopsis for an author is much more difficult than writing a 250,000 word novel. We’re too close to the action and can’t view three-dimensional objects as two-dimensional stick-figures. Our characters have been given life in our narrative and dialogue. Now we must condense all of these complex emotions and plots into two double-spaced pages.

    Impossible for me.

  11. I start my synopsis with a chapter by chapter outline. Then I cut it down to 1200 words, then to 750 words, then to 250, and then I write my blurb. This formula makes it easier for me, and I have three different sizes to choose from when submitting, depending on what the agent wants.

  12. I don’t see how I couldwrite a synopsis before finishing a novel
    It might be useful to write a skeleton story, for my private benefit, to help me get from A to Z, but I keep it like sign posts
    or a guideline of essentials.
    I will write my synopsis after the story is completed, because new
    elements, like accidents, unexpected meetings etc. might occur to me, and I will be free to incorporate them, rending the story more active, more vivid etc.. It’s like creating nerves and organs and muscles to create a being for whom I only had a spine and four limbs.
    I’m speaking for myself,knowing that what works for me may not work for someone else.
    I’ll be interested in reading what others think.

  13. I am one of the people who hates writing a synopsis!! So I never write them until it’s time to start looking for an agent for the book. Great article–though. This will help next time.

  14. I found your tips on synopsis very helpful. There was precise rules expressed that may not commonly be well known. Thank you for continuing to bring good things to the table.

  15. I just subscribed to your newsletter. Also, I am now doing my synopsis for a course I’m taking with the Institute of Children’s Literature. I did not know that we should double-space the synopsis. Thanks for the help!

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