Updated May 2023
Writing 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.
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.