How to write a synopsis for your novel

If you’re a writer, you may have heard the word Synopsis and depending on what publishing route you are hoping to take, you may have to write one. 

Big thanks to Grazia Rita Calcagni, who requested this blog post.  As I missed writing this last week due to being ill, I am skipping the monthly Question post and writing this post instead!Banner - How to write a synopsis for your novel

What is a synopsis?

A lot of new writers get synopsis and blurb mixed up.  A Synopsis is considered a brief description of the contents of something.  This is why it’s often confused with a blurb.

A synopsis is an outline of your story (though different from the outline you might create for yourself as a writer) that explains the plot, characters, setting and twists.

A synopsis is designed for an agent/publisher to read.

So, what is a blurb?

A blurb is considered a promotional description usually around 180 words and is used on the back of a novel.

A blurb is designed with the reader in mind and catches their attention enough to make them want to read/buy the book without giving too much of the plot away.

I will cover writing a blurb in another post.

Why do I need a synopsis?

You might not.

If you are planning on self-publishing, then you don’t require a synopsis.

It is (almost) always required by an agent/publisher as a way to pitch your story.  So, if you are planning to get an agent and/or pitch to a publisher, then you will need a synopsis.

There is this strange belief among some writers that publishers and agents will read your work like a normal reader would.  That’s not the case.  An agent/publisher expect to know about your plot including the ending before they read the book.

Why do agents/publishers need a synopsis?

A synopsis helps these people to know whether your book will be a good fit for them.  It will give an idea as to whether it’s something they can sell.  If they are interested enough in the synopsis they will request the rest of the manuscript.

A synopsis is important and should be written with care as you will be using it to pitch your idea and make them aware of just what your story offers.

By having a synopsis, agents/publishers don’t have to waste time reading full books only to find out it’s not something they could sell etc.

What needs to go into a synopsis?

A synopsis is designed to explain your plot, introduce characters, show clear arcs, reveal plot twists and offer up a rewarding ending (or reveal enough of a hook to lead onto the sequel).

If you are a planner by nature, you may already have a good deal of information ready for your synopsis in the outline you created.

You should be direct and clear about what is happening in your story.  Remember, you are not enticing readers, you are pitching to a professional.

How long should a synopsis be?

There is no defined length however, Writers Digest suggests that for every 35 pages of a manuscript, you should have one page of synopsis to explain what is happening.  They also recommend up to a maximum of 8 pages.

It is also suggested that you write two synopses; a long one (as mentioned above) and a shorter one usually around 500 words (no more than 2 pages). 

As with everything, check the guideline requirements with the agency/publishing house you are pitching to as they often have their own defined length requirements.

How to format a synopsis?

A synopsis is part of a pitch, this is the business part of writing and so should be treated as such.  That includes clear, on point, professional language. We are all creative people so it can be hard writing something so technical and bland.

Remember, you are a business person, writing to another business person.  Be professional.  Don’t be flamboyant, humorous or overly descriptive.

As with all your writing make sure there are no errors in spelling, grammar or consistency.

It appears a number of agencies prefer you to write character names in bold or CAPITALS when they are first mentioned in the synopsis.  Again, check their own guidelines.  If nothing is mentioned pick one (bold or CAPS) and use it.

Check the agency/publishing house guidelines regarding margins and line spacing as they may have a specific preference.  If not, use either 1.5 or 2 line spacing so it is easier to read (and allows them space to make notes) should the agent/publisher wish and normal 2″ margins.

How to write a synopsis

There are a number of ways to write a synopsis.  The best way is to do it in pieces, make notes and build it slowly.  Here are two methods you could try:

The Chapter by Chapter method

Let me be clear, your finished synopsis should NOT have a chapter by chapter explanation of your story.  This method is to help you make notes.

Write a VERY brief description of each chapter.  Focusing on setting, character and a few lines about what happens in the chapter.  Any hooks, inciting incidents, conflicts or developments should be noted down.

One you have a condensed version of your novel, you can scan through and scratch out anything unnecessary.

The Headings method

Create 5-7 headings including something like:

  • Characters
  • Settings
  • Inciting incident
  • Development
  • Crisis/conflict
  • Ending

Explain under each of these headings the relevant, salient points of your novel.

These methods help you to draw out the important aspects of your novel and discard the wiffle.  You don’t want to cover excessive detail.

When describing characters

When you first mention your characters, you should always include what they do/are such as homeless veteran, a stay-at-home dad, legal secretary etc.

For example – Laura Scott, a part-time cleaner witnesses the execution of Neal Roach, an off-duty police officer, while on her way home one night.

Also, as per this example, include their full names (if they have one) when they are first introduced.  After that, you can refer to them just by their first name (unless you have more than one character with the same first name)

Things to consider

Settings – unless your book covers a large array of locations, a simple line stating the setting can be enough.

For example – This book is set in the Elven world of Rath-lish.

Characters – make sure you are clear who the central character(s) are early on.  Even if you switch POVs throughout your story, there is usually just one or two characters who are the true main characters.

Describe the characters briefly and don’t include their whole backstory, include only the most relevant parts or those that will create a plot twist.

For example – Darth Vader is Luke’s father.

Goal – Be clear on what the character’s goal/motivation is.  What they are trying to do.

For example: Get the ring to Mordor

Conflict/crisis – Explain what is standing in their way of achieving their goal.  What or who is the obstacle that is stopping them.

Action – include action information such as a battle or a chase if they are important to the plot or are part of a character arc.

Ending – How it ends, how the character(s) overcomes the conflict and reached their goal (or not).

Genre – If should be clear within the synopsis just what genre your books falls under.  If it’s a YA then you need to mention your main characters are teenagers.  If it’s a romance, you need to be clear about the romantic plot and who the romantic interest is.

A final thought

Take your time, make lots of notes about who is important in your story, key points and arcs and how it all ends.  A synopsis is not something hurriedly written.  It will take some effort and should be given the same editing and polishing as your novel.

Have you written a synopsis? Do you have any tips and tricks?  Let me know in the comment section below.

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Hope you found this useful.  If there is a topic I haven’t covered that you’d like to see on this blog, feel free to drop me a message.

I’ll be back on Monday with a Marketing post, see you then.  Have a great weekend.

Happy writing

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14 thoughts on “How to write a synopsis for your novel

  1. Most agents I queried wanted a 1 page synopsis (some allowed 2 pages & one wanted 500 words). My first draft was 4 pages, it was hard to cut 75% and still give it all and make sense. I introduced my characters names in capitals and only gave their first name… I hope that was alright. I really hate synopsis lol

    • Yeah, I believe a number of agents now want smaller synopsis due to time constraints. I think trying to get a smaller synopsis is definitely harder than a longer one.

      I am sure just using their first names will be fine. 🙂 You did well to cut down 75%, I can imagine how hard that was.

  2. Excellent information on the synopsis. Learned some new things and now I’ll be looking for how to write a blurb!

    • Thanks hun, I am glad you liked it. It was a great topic. I am just planning my Blurb one – should be up in a few weeks 🙂

    • That was good that your editor wrote your synopsis. Did you have to pay extra for that service or was it included in? (if you don’t mind me asking) 🙂

    • Thanks Anne, glad you liked this post. The blurb one should be up in a few weeks. I also find it a challenge. I still struggle writing blurbs for my WIPs and I’m going to try and complete them and use them in the article… maybe! lol

      • Yes I did, but I think my experience as a technical writer helped. Now that I’ve finished my revisions (again) I’m going to expand my synopsis by a couple of pages. Adding character arcs will be a lot of fun.

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