8 Tips for Writing a Synopsis

Studying_Scott_AkermanBy Cecilia Lewis

One of the most frustrating parts of the submission process is the dreaded synopsis. It’s difficult to tell your story in only a few pages while trying to include voice and keep it engaging. But it can be done. Understanding exactly what goes into a synopsis and what doesn’t is essential to paring your story down. Here are my tips for writing a great synopsis:

  1. Follow the submission guidelines

I said this in my post on writing query letters, but I’ll say it again: You must follow each agent or editor’s submission guidelines. They will often be very specific about how long they want the synopsis to be and what it ought to include. Everyone has their own preferences, and you should be prepared to change your synopsis accordingly. Guidelines are there for a reason, and following them is essential.

  1. Keep it short

If the agent or editor doesn’t specify how long the synopsis should be, keep it down to 1-2 pages. The goal of the synopsis is to summarize your story as concisely as possible. Although it may seem impossible, 1-2 pages is a sufficient length for summarizing your average-size novel. If your synopsis is significantly longer, that’s a sign that you’re including too much information.

  1. Tell the facts that readers need to know

How do you keep your synopsis short? By sticking to the essentials. You should cover all of the plot points that are essential to the main plotline, but don’t include subplots. Details that aren’t essential for the reader to understand the main plot aren’t necessary in a synopsis.

  1. Only include essential characters

Similarly, you should include the most essential characters of the story. Too often, I see writers naming dozens of characters in their synopses. We don’t need to know every character who’s included in the story, just the ones who are essential to the protagonist’s journey. A good rule of thumb is to only name three characters—protagonist, antagonist, and the love interest/sidekick.

  1. Avoid talking about theme

Stick to the plot and avoid talking about the themes or moral of the story. Attempting to talk about the themes can make the synopsis sound too vague and subjective. If you stick to objective statements about the plot, the themes will be evident even though they’re not stated.

  1. Tell the ending

Unlike a query letter, you should include the ending in your synopsis. A good synopsis will demonstrate to an editor/agent that you can tell a story from beginning to end. Remember, editors/agents read the query letter to be enticed, but they read the synopsis to find out how the story ends.

  1. Proofread

This should go without saying, but always proofread your synopsis before you send it out. A typo or two won’t mean an automatic rejection, but having multiple errors definitely raises a red flag for agents and editors. Make sure your synopsis is polished and error-free, and have critique partners read it to catch errors you may have missed.

  1. Format correctly

Unless the editor/agent specifies otherwise, your synopsis should be single-spaced, with a double space between paragraphs. Include the title, your author name, and the word count as a header.

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Of course, there are many other tips for writing a good synopsis, but this should cover the basics. Pair a professional synopsis with a great query letter and an outstanding manuscript, and you’re on your way to submission success.

Are there any tips I missed? Have a question about synopses? Let me know in the comments!

Want a professional critique of your synopsis before you send it out? Check out my Synopsis Critique service, or take a look at the Full Submission Package to have all of your submission materials evaluated. Looking for other editorial services? Check out my Services page for more information about what I offer.

This post is part of my Submission Tips series. For information about submitting to literary agents, publishing houses, and more, check out other posts in the series here, and follow the blog to see future posts.

Related Links:

-5 Steps for Researching Literary Agents

-The Querying Process 101: Links and Resources

-10 Tips for Writing a Query Letter

-10 Tips for Querying Agents

-7 Tips for Writing a Professional Cover Letter

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