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Five Super Tips on How to Write a Synopsis

The Joy of Querying

Are you in query mode? Ugh! I feel your pain.

For those writers who don’t know, querying is the search for an agent to represent you and your literary work. An agent will then in turn, hopefully sell your book to a traditional publisher and work out the best deal for you.

While you’re querying, you may be asked for a synopsis for your manuscript. Don’t go into full panic mode, but do step back and consider what the synopsis entails.

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You May be Asked for a Synopsis

Okay, you’re kickin’ right along and boom, an agent asks for a synopsis. Wth? Now what?

Breathe… Just breathe… You’ll get through it, I promise.

A synopsis is a brief summary of the entire plot of your novel. An outline, if you will. Yes, even the twists, the shockers, the main happenings throughout, and even the end.

The challenge is to provide a one or two page synopsis of an 85,000 word novel. How do you condense it down into a workable, legible, and professional piece for your submission without going off the deep end?

Tip Number One: Breathe and Center Yourself

Understand what you are trying to do. Go back and read above again if necessary.

This is not a time to be cutesy or too wordy.

According to Jane Friedman the synopsis should be around 500-1000 words, single spaced.

A synopsis, like a bio, is written in third person.

Note your protagonist and the main plot and the narrative arc. Sketch out what happens–step by step.

Tip Number Two: Start Writing

At the top of the page use a headline “Synopsis” and include the title of the novel, your name, manuscript word count, and the genre.

There’s no need to mention every single character, but you do want to demonstrate the journey and growth/change of the protagonist.

What are they up against? How does it affect them? What do the events show the reader about the character of the protagonist? What is the central conflict along with its outcomes, pitfalls, and getting past it all?

Think: Character, Conflict, Narrative Arc

Make point by point notes about these things in the order in which they are revealed in the novel. (See bonus tip at the bottom of the post to make this even easier).

Include the setting if it plays a significant part– the same goes for the secondary characters and antagonist. You don’t want to flood your synopsis with names or minor details. Along with this, often a few words or a sentence covers a lot of information.

An opening line could take care of introducing the protagonist, the setting, and the goal.

The first sentence could say something like:

EG: Jon Smyth, a thirty three year old bachelor, wakes up in his New York apartment to find a dead body of a stranger sprawled across the kitchen floor.

In the above sentence, a lot of information is packed in. We know the protagonist (Jon), his age, his State, and that he’s a bachelor. You’ve also identified the main plot and conflict. That’s a lot of solid information in one sentence.

Source: Unsplash: thought catalogs

Number Three: Things to Avoid

You want to write this in a professional manner. The synopsis is a showcase for you, the author, to let the agent know what happens in the story. The person reading the synopsis needs to know whether or not your story fits into something they want to represent.

Don’t get fancy, mysterious, or too descriptive. Your field is limited and you must be concise and get your entire story down.

Don’t ask rhetorical questions as they aren’t necessary and take up too much room.

Don’t get into itty-bitty details. In the synopsis you’re looking for the main plot points, characters, conflict, and narrative arc.

Number Four: Start Filling in the Other Details

Once you have it sketched out, go back and flesh it out.

While you’re exposing all the twists and turns, this is not the document that will end up on the back of your book.

The synopsis is for the agent and/or publisher to see how the story and characters move. They’re looking for a salable product and the synopsis can be key.

The synopsis should be in your voice so the agent/publisher can get a sense of you, the author. This will shine through in your choice of vocabulary (don’t get fancy shmancy–it doesn’t help anyone), the length of sentences, the tightness in the details, and your personal style of presenting the written word.

Summarize the plot, but also indicate why your book is special? If you can weave that information into the synopsis that’s a good thing. Again, be subtle. Perhaps you’ll want to use a personal antidote or a reference to recents events.

Ask yourself: How does it stand out from other books? What point of view did you use? Is there a reason you chose that? or perhaps it’s the target audience–will your book speak to a specific group? who? why? What is significant and/or timely about your work?

Let the reading agent know how you’ve written this book. How is it unique?

As you flesh out your first draft, keep your word count, grammar, and sentence structure in mind. Remember this is an important document.

Number Five: Edit. Edit. Edit. and a Tip for Next Time.

Like any edits, make sure you print out the document you’ve written and read it aloud.

Put it through a grammar checker if you can, or have someone else read through it and provide feedback. (note: Grammarly and ProWritingAide both have free versions available.)

Once you’re satisfied, leave it for a few days then go back and read it. Does it need changes? clarification? Make your edits and let it sit again before rereading and calling it all done. This will help you catch any mistakes or tighten up the sentences.

**BONUS** TIP FOR NEXT TIME: One of the most difficult questions for a writer is, what is your book about?

Many writers really sweat that question, but if you work through a synopsis and find the pivotal shifts, it will be easier. To have everything in your head and in order is difficult to keep straight, soooo……

Next time…

As you edit your next novel, write one line about the main thing that occurred in each chapter…just one line.

This will come in very handy as you go to write your synopsis. Take all those single sentences and bingo your first draft of a synopsis is done and you can edit from there.

AND ANOTHER TIP: Go read a bunch of synopsis’. What do you like about the style of one over another? Read. Read. Read. It always helps. And a synopsis doesn’t have to be done all at once…

Do it ONE SENTENCE at a time.

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