A Guide to Writing A Good Synopsis

‘S’ is for ‘Synopsis’

A synopsis is a short summary of your story, or piece of writing, that you send off with an initial sample of your work, and a cover letter, when you are submitting to an agent or publisher. It is a brief, and full summation of your story, used to:

  • identify potential plot holes, identify irregularities in plot, character behaviour or character motivation, identify general structural errors/conflicts
  • assess originality, identify conflict/interest
  • understand how a story will continue, the flow/style

Some things to remember:

1   Introduce your characters. Identify your main character(s). It is worth writing your character names in capital letters, the first time you introduce them – for easy reference.

2   Identify your hook. What will make your reader want to continue reading? What sets your main character off on their adventure? What is your main character’s conflict/story mission?

3   Summarise your story outline in full. Detail the plot, and any important reactions/decisions/etc taken by your main character(s).

4   Include important details. Include all of the relevant-to-your-plot twists, any necessary-for-your-story details, and any vital pieces of information (brief summary). Don’t include minor details or ones that only link to your sub-plots/secondary characters. Economy is important – only include what you need. Don’t give full character descriptions, don’t give chapter breakdowns, don’t provide detailed backstory.

5   Be clear. You want to show that you have an accurate, full plan of how your story will unwind. If your synopsis feels confused, or a little muddled, it will suggest that your plot (and book) will be as well. Make it clear, make it flow, make it consistent.

6   Include your plot resolution. You don’t have to give away full details of your final ending/plot twist, but you do have to reveal that you have a good ending and that it builds upon everything that has happened in your story so far. Reveal how you build to it, how your characters reach it, and how it finishes your story in a tidy manner.

7   Show your style. Your synopsis should reveal the style, voice, and tone of your story.

8   Don’t worry too much about length/number of pages. If a word-count maximum has been specified (usually between 500-1000 words), keep to that target. Otherwise, within reason, it doesn’t matter.

9   To write them or to read them, synopses are often boring. Your job is not to create a fun synopsis. Your job is to provide a summary outline of a full and compelling story.

10  Double-check your work before you submit. Make sure there are no spelling, typing, grammar, etc errors.


2 thoughts on “A Guide to Writing A Good Synopsis

  1. I find summarizing my own work an awful process. I’ve never written a synopsis (just shorter summaries), but just the thought makes me a little queasy. It seems like a simple thing, but there’s so much to get squeeze into that one document. I actually convinced my husband to write some summaries for my last book–just as an exercise to see what a reader thought the book was about. I’ll get brave one of these days and tackle it myself. Thanks for the tips!

    1. That seems like an interesting idea – it provides an objective basis upon which you can build. I find synopses quite difficult to write as well, and tend to leave as much time for them as I can so they can go through as many drafts as possible! Ha ha. Thanks for your comment 🙂

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