How To Write a Synopsis

Reviewing notes

A synopsis is necessary to pitch a manuscript to a publisher. The synopsis tells the entire story of the book in a short amount of space and in a way that sells the book to the publisher.  Write your synopsis on plain write paper of high quality, and use a standard 12-point font. Some editors also like them to be double-spaced, which is easier on the eyes; read the writer's guidelines to be sure which type of spacing will be expected.

  1. Describe the setting. If the setting is important to the story, include a brief overview of it to set the tone. This can be a paragraph or just a couple of sentences leading into the story.
  2. If there is important background information that affects the characters or storyline, distill them into a paragraph that conveys that information and explains its importance to the story.
  3. Introduce your main characters and begin telling their story. Include all of the main crises that the characters endure, and how they endure them. Flesh out your characters enough that their motivations are clear. If the motives are intentionally unclear in the story, describe them in the synopsis. The editor reading it should understand why everything in the story is happening.
  4. Punctuate the synopsis with relevant quotes from your characters. Quoting from the narrative text is permissible as well, if it helps to demonstrate the unique style of the book and injects some excitement into the synopsis. Emotion, motivation, and character traits are all discernible from the right quotes, so choose wisely.
  5. Cover the book chapter by chapter from beginning to end. The synopsis should read much like a mini-novel, with a full plot, sub-plots and enough characters to convey the different aspects of the story. Make sure that you are not leaving out any important plot points and conflicts. Sometimes it can be hard for a writer to identify the most important elements of the story; to the writer, all of it may be important. To decide what elements cannot be omitted, try to picture writing the back cover of the book, or writing book review of it. What would you say about the plot in that limited space? If you had to describe the book to friends, what would you tell about it?
  6. Write the synopsis in present tense. The present tense conveys an immediacy and relevance to the story. Even if the story is written in past tense, and even if the book is non-fiction, the synopsis should be written in the present tense.
  7. Watch the length of the synopsis. There are varying lengths that publishers like to see, but the standard rule is two to five pages at most. If you are unclear as to the required length, consult the writer's guidelines of the publisher online, or call the editor who asked for the synopsis.
  8. Avoid unnecessary gimmicks. Beginning writers sometimes believe that a gimmick such as colored paper, strange fonts, or a high-powered pitch for the story at the beginning of the synopsis will set it apart from the countless other pitches. Any unnecessary gimmicks simply make the writer look amateurish. A synopsis written in multi-colored ink will not be taken seriously. Similarly, don't think that speaking directly to the reader in an aside (i.e., "Then she rode the horse, can you believe it?") will be seen as clever. Let the story sell itself.

A synopsis should read much like a novel, but it should sell the book like ad copy. The unique challenge of writing a synopsis is to find a cross between the two while keeping the editor interested and engaged in your story. 


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