How to Write a Good Synopsis

I think all writers feel cheated when they discover that, after working so hard on honing their novel, there is no way to get it in front of a publisher. If you try sending in your manuscript – or even just a few chapters – to a publisher, it’s thrown on the “slush pile” without even a glance. So how are you supposed to get your novel published?

romanceThe only thing a publisher will look at is a letter and three or four measly pages summarizing your plot. Unfair, isn’t it? Unfortunately, that’s life and there’s not a lot you can do about it – except make that synopsis so stunning that they can’t help but buy the book!

The synopsis is basically a summary of the whole novel. It’s NOTHING like a marketing blurb, which would typically introduce the characters, build up some tension and leave the reader on a cliffhanger – because you’re trying to hook your reader into buying the book to find out how the story ends. There’s nothing more guaranteed to upset publishers! They want to know the whole story – beginning, middle and end with no questions unanswered, so they can judge how well the story is structured and whether the ending makes sense.

Writing the synopsis can be harder than writing the whole book! You have to convey your characters’ personalities in a few carefully chosen words, and summarise the plot without losing the excitement, all within about three pages.

Your book is probably written in the first person (“I”), or in the third person (he or she) but through the eyes of one or two of the characters. If you switch into omniscient (which means you are writing as yourself, the author, watching the action from outside) you’ll find it easier to summarize, because you’ll be able to tell the story in strictly sequential order. That makes it easier for the publisher to understand what’s going on. It also generally needs fewer words.

For instance, say part of the plot was that a girl (Mitzi) was double-crossing our Hero (Daniel). For most of the novel, he (and therefore the reader) doesn’t know what she is up to, and her behaviour perplexes him. In Chapter 15, he (and the reader) has an “Aha!” moment, going back over her actions and realising her motives.

In the synopsis, writing in omniscient, you wouldn’t have to keep this a secret from the publisher. When you introduce Mitzi, you would say something like “unknown to Daniel, Mitzi is double-crossing him by …”. Then there is no need to explain her subsequent actions, or waste words going back over everything when you get to Chapter 15.

When you sit down to start writing your synopsis, don’t worry too much about length at first: just concentrate on getting the bones of the story down on paper. You can always cut and polish later.

The best way to learn to write synopses is (a) to try it and (b) to read other writers’ synopses. You’ll find several examples of synopsis writing on Google.

Be willing to devote a lot of time to the synopsis – your novel’s future depends on it!

Photo courtesy of Hakan Dahlstrom on Flickr.


2 thoughts on “How to Write a Good Synopsis

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