How to write a novel synopsis

Below is a kind of question-answer article on the basics of a synopsis, how to write one, and what editors look for in a synopsis. Any questions, please post!

Why do you need to write a synopsis?

It provides prospective editors/agents with an overall and detailed summary of your novel, introduces the characters, plot and setting, and gives a brief glimpse at your writing style and ability.

When should you write the synopsis?

Either before you write the book, during, or after. Though chances are, if you start writing it at the beginning, you will have to do some major revisions as your plot changes, characters come and go, or you scrap one of the scenes entirely.

If you start writing the synopsis before the book, it will serve more as a guideline or outline for your writing; just be sure to remember that it’s not set in stone, and that you can make changes to both the plot and synopsis. Though it does help to have a basic one-page “draft” of the “stuff” in your novel to refer back to as you work.

So, what exactly is a synopsis?

As stated above, it’s a short 1-2 page summary of your novel that provides prospective editors/agents with an overall and detailed summary, introduces the characters, plot and setting, and gives a brief glimpse at your writing style and ability. It’s extremely important because editors want to know exactly what happens in the book; it is not the same thing as the back blurb on a printed book. It gives out much more information and details, no cliffhangers.

What tense is it written in? What about perspective or style?

The synopsis is usually written in present tense—this way it makes a bigger impact on the reader, and will push the action forward more in such a small space. It can be written in either first or third person—that really depends on how your book is written. For example, if your book is in third person, you don’t want to write in first person. As far as style, try to mirror the style you use in your manuscript, this way the editor gets an idea of what the rest of the book will be like, and whether you have mastered that particular writing style. In other words, if your book is humorous, dialect-bloated, or dark, make sure the synopsis is the same.

What do you need to accomplish in the synopsis?

Several things, actually. And since you only have 1-2 pages (depending on the house) you need to do it quickly and cleanly:

1) Introduce your main characters

2) Introduce main conflicts

3) Explain the overall plot

4) Describe setting: time, place, world, etc.

5) Give a clear idea of what the novel is actually about

6) Include the conclusion. Tell who wins, who dies, what happens to everyone and why. Cliffhangers are hated—and will cause a manuscript to be rejected nine times out of ten.

Should I put characters names in ALL CAPS?

This really depends on each house. Some publishers like it to call out the names of characters, and to bring attention each time a new character is mentioned.

We at Leucrota Press hate it. We feel ALL CAPS belong in a script, not a novel, and that it’s distracting and unprofessional. You shouldn’t have to call out your characters name to bring attention to him/her—if you wrote the synopsis clearly and coherently, the writing should point them out on its own. You don’t need blinking signs and screaming kids to make an editor pay attention to your synopsis. That all depends on your writing.

How should I structure the synopsis?

1) Put your name, the manuscript title, and a contact number or email address in the top header. Be sure to keep it short—as you’re taking away space on the page from your summary.

2) Start at the beginning. Open your synopsis with the beginning of the book, telling what starts the plot moving forward, introduce the characters as they come, and the subplots as they arise.

3) Make sure your paragraphs flow logically and smoothly to the next, so that the editor isn’t distracted by choppy sentences, or has to go back and reread a paragraph if they get lost.

4) Use transition sentences. (If you don’t know what those are, stop now and break your writing hand so as to stop the madness.)

5) End with the ending of the novel. There is no need to explain the ending, why you chose that to happen, go into detail about the last scene, etc. Just say what happens at the end.

A Checklist for your synopsis:

1) Does your first paragraph contain a hook to grab the editor’s attention?

2) Do you mention all of your main characters?

3) Are the conflicts clearly defined?

4) Have you described where the story happens? When?

5) Are all of the main subplots mentioned?

6) Have you touched on every major advancement in the plot?

7) Have you said what happens at the end?

8 ) Check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

9) Check your tense—make sure it’s in present.

10) Is your name and the title of your novel on it?

11) Reread it. Sit back and think about it. Does it sound like a book you’d like to read? Does it stand up to some of the other books that you’ve read and loved?