Need help submitting your writing to literary journals or book publishers/literary agents? Click here! →

5 Common Synopsis Mistakes That Fiction Writers Make

common mistakes when writing a synopsisWriting a synopsis for a novel is difficult work—no doubt about it. Writers, especially new ones, are prone to make synopsis mistakes. But don’t worry! We at Writer’s Relief have got your back. We read many, many synopses from the writers who submit their novels to our Review Board. And we’re happy to share a list of the most common synopsis problems we regularly see popping up in novel submissions.

Synopsis Mistakes: Don’t Make These Five Common Errors When Writing The Synopsis For Your Novel

5. Choosing the wrong verb tense. A synopsis should be written in present tense. There are almost no exceptions to this rule for novels. Some writers choose past tense. Or worse: They vacillate between verb tenses. Start on the right foot with present-tense verbs.

4. Not showing a clear plot arc. Sometimes, writers will mention what seems like an important plot point (hero resents father who misses game; child can’t find her dog), but then, the issue never appears to resolve. If you pick up the thread of one plot element or subplot, your synopsis should show that your novel offers a conclusion.  Also, be sure that the pacing of your main conflict has lots of forward momentum and shape, particularly if you’re working in a traditional genre.   

3. Not offering clear transitions. Yes, we know that A is followed by B. But…why? Let’s say a dying woman leaves her estate to the wrong son. The other son, who believes he should have inherited everything, leaves the country. What’s missing here? You got it: The cause part of “cause and effect.” Unless you’re writing a mystery (in which case it helps to deliberately draw attention to unsolved questions), always explain. 

2. Lazy writing. You know all those rules about writing fiction? About using the five senses for evocative prose, about showing instead of telling, about establishing character, etc.? All those rules apply to synopsis writing. Many writers “quit” by the time they write a synopsis, thinking that their novel’s manuscript pages will be good enough to entice a literary agent or editor. But a new writer should strive to be the complete package—and that means writing a synopsis that engages, compels, and brings the story to life.

Submit to Review Board

And the number one, most common mistake writers make when writing a synopsis for a novel…? 

1. Not giving away the ending. There may be no greater mark of the amateur novelist than a writer who turns in a synopsis to a literary agent or editor with a “cliffhanger ending.” The POINT of a synopsis is that the agent/editor can know with accuracy what he/she is buying or agreeing to represent. If your ending is truly great, then hiding it won’t make it better. Your synopsis should always provide the full scope of your story, beginning to end.

Other Common Synopsis Mistakes For Novel Writers:

  • Switching POV
  • Bad, overcomplicated formatting
  • Focusing on too many subplots
  • Introducing too many minor characters and their names
  • Going on too long (limit your synopsis to three pages MAX, if you’re querying for the first time)

Writing a synopsis for a novel is hard; mistakes happen. You may need to rewrite your synopsis multiple times before you’re happy with it. Ask yourself, if a literary agent or editor had ONLY your synopsis to go on in order to make a decision about your novel, would he/she love it? Not making the typical synopsis mistakes we’ve listed will certainly help.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Synopsis writing: Love it? Hate it? What’s your secret to synopsis success?


11 Responses to 5 Common Synopsis Mistakes That Fiction Writers Make

  1. Hi Darren,

    Some literary agents only request a query letter—no synopsis or pages. And they will be receiving hundreds of query letters. If you don’t capture their interest with an intriguing summary, what will encourage them to request to see more? We’ve been writing effective query letters since 1994, and we know the importance of a brief, well-written summary with an enticing hook. And we’ve seen many articles by literary agents that express the same information.

  2. My understanding about tip#2, from other articles and agents, has been not to worry about compelling writing in the synopsis. Sure(they say), basic mechanics must be there but the synopsis is a necessarily deconstructed skeleton of your story so it is understood that there is no room for compelling writing. Have I misunderstood this?

  3. It is not standard practice to quote your novel in your query letter. You provide a brief blurb about your story that intrigues your reader without revealing the ending.

  4. This article is so helpful. I’m going to scrap what I have written and start again!

    Thank you for the brilliant tips.

  5. The synopsis is all about POV and “sell”. Similar to pitching a book to your best friend or your bookclub, the synopsis explains “Why should I be interested in this book?” At the publisher’s or agent’s level, it’s: “What’s compelling and worthwhile about this story? What happens to whom and why and why should I support this book?”

    The synopis is also an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your thinking style, along with your writing ability.

    Great tips, well said, in this article!

  6. I have been trying to write a synopsis for two weeks! The novel and query were easy compared to this…I am stuck and thus the process has halted my getting ready to query this month. Help!!!! Will keep editing and trying…it is bound to come together…..I hope!

  7. I often write short stories, essays, and other things like that. I very rarely write a synopsis about my writing, and a lot of the reason has to do with the fact that I don’t now HOW to properly write a synopsis. Your post has definitely made it easier for me to understand what not to do and what TO do. For instance, I have certainly written a synopsis in the past in the past tense and I now know that is incorrect. I must write in future tense for my synopsis to make sense.

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign me up for
FREE Publishing Leads & Tips
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

WHY? Because our insider
know-how has helped
writers get over 18,000+ acceptances.

FREE Publishing Leads and Tips! Our e-publication, Submit Write Now!, delivered weekly to your inbox.
  • BEST (and proven) submission tips
  • Hot publishing leads
  • Calls to submit
  • Contest alerts
  • Notification of industry changes
  • And much more!
Live Chat Software