How to Write a Novel Synopsis

There comes a time in every writer’s life where they’re asked to write a synopsis of their book. Not to be confused with sales copy (which is persuasive marketing to get readers to buy your book) the synopsis discloses a book’s entire narrative arc. It divulges to an agent or publisher what happens in your story, from start to finish. And it reveals all the twists and surprises that are held back from your reader. A synopsis needs to convince an agent or publisher that your premise is exciting and marketable. It assures them that character actions and motivations make sense. On the flip side, it can reveal plot flaws, lack of structure or hackneyed or cliched ideas.

The dreaded task of writing a synopsis is not fun or easy, but necessary. Most agents or publishers will ask for a synopsis (in addition to a query letter and manuscript sample) before considering taking on a book. Unfortunately, there is no one “right” way to write a synopsis, but the general consensus is that it should be 500-700 words, single-spaced. So how do you convey everything about your book in a modicum of space?

A good place to start is with your protagonist.

1. Introduce your Protagonist, Conflict and your World (100-200 words).

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  • Who is your protagonist or your protagonists?
  • What inciting incident or call-to-action begins their story?
  • What motivates your character?
  • What conflict or conflicts arise that move the story forward?
  • What is the setting in which your story is set?
  • If it’s fantasy, what are the rules of that world?

2. Show your Plot Turns, Narrative Arc and your Villian.

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  • What major plot turns happen?
  • Who is your villain?
  • Who is your protagonist’s love interest?
  • What makes your world interesting?
  • Why will a reader care about your protagonist?
  • How can readers relate to your protagonist?
  • What’s at stake for your protagonist?
  • What are the moral grey areas?

3. Resolve Your Conflicts and Reveal the Ending.

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  • How will the major conflicts be resolved (or not resolved) by the ending?
  • Will your character reach their goal?
  • Does the protagonist succeed or fail to deal with conflict?
  • How will your character change and grow (or stay the same) as a person?
  • How has the protagonist’s situation changed?
  • How does the book end?

Do:

  • Write in Third-person POV.
  • Write in the present tense.
  • State the genre (literary fiction, romance, young adult, fantasy, etc).
  • Keep it short!
  • Reveal everything!
  • Convey your voice!
  • Include the characters’ emotions!
  • Put character names in bold or caps for easy navigation.
  • Save your file name as the book’s title instead of just ‘synopsis’.

Don’t

  • Just detail the plot.
  • Get weighed down by specifics.
  • Go in too much detail about the setting.
  • Interpret or explain the themes.
  • Include too many characters.
  • Put too much irrelevant character backstory.
  • Use dialogue.
  • Hide the plot twist!
  • Ask rhetorical questions.
  • Split the synopsis into sections.
  • Use flowery prose.
  • Include unnecessary subplots.
  • Omit the title name.

Have you ever written a synopsis? What stage are you at in your own projects?

leigh

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