How to Write a Good Synopsis: 6 Key Things to Note

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Figuring out how to write a good synopsis may seem like a daunting task, but you've more than likely already done the challenging bit – you've written your novel or are well on your way to doing so.

Now you've just got to talk about it, spoilers and all.

For some, writing a synopsis is the hardest part of the writing process, but unfortunately, it has to be done. If you're sending your story off to a publisher or an agent, you're going to need one – and a good one at that.

Here, we're going to guide through exactly how to write a good synopsis so you can increase your chances of grabbing a publisher's or agent's attention.

What is a synopsis?

In simple terms, a synopsis is an overview of your manuscript. Your synopsis is not your blurb and it is not a short teaser of your book.

A synopsis should outline exactly what happens throughout the course of a story. We're talking a business-like explanation.

Remember, this is your chance to showcase your book, to sell that plot-line, that twist, that exciting ending, so make sure you include all it all. You don't have to delve into the greatest of detail, but make sure you talk about the most important events and character arcs.

And remember, you need to include spoilers.

Some agents or publishers may have certain requirements for what they would like included, as well as word count, so double check their submissions guidelines before sending it over.

There's also no official standard for how long your synopsis should be. That said, the general consensus is to stick to a page.

Why do I need one?

Almost every single publisher or agent will request a synopsis when you send over your work. This, along with your cover/query letter is the first thing they'll read. 

If they don't think your story sounds engaging and like something they'd be happy to represent/publish, then they won't bother moving onto your manuscript.

You may have a literary masterpiece on your hands, but if you don't know how to write a good synopsis, you could be sabotaging your own chances of success.

How to write a synopsis

TL;DR: to write a good synopsis, you should include:

  • Your manuscript's complete narrative arc
  • Your own voice/writing style
  • The major elements of your story
  • The ending/resolution
But let's delve a little deeper...

1) Your title

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but always remember to include the title of your work. Even if it's just a working title at this point.

While you're at the top of the document, it's always worth mentioning your target audience, genre and word count.

2) Pitch line

Once those are out of the way, you should include a pitch line. Or at least have one handy for the publishers or agents that ask for one.

According to Christie Wright Wild, a pitch line is 'a one or two sentence description that condenses your book’s dramatic narrative into the essence of your story’s plot.'

For more info on how to write the perfect pitch line for your novel, I'd thoroughly recommend checking out Christie's post.

Now for the main body of the synopsis.

3) Whose story is it?

When you're writing your synopsis, make sure it revolves around the main character(s). And remember to name your protagonist(s) early on. You don't need to name every single side character though, and if they have a small role, just leave them out entirely. 

Focus on the character arcs that truly drive your story.

Make sure your synopsis answers these questions:

  • Who is your main character(s)?
  • What are their motivations? 
  • What happens in the story to cause the character's main arc to begin (e.g. an 'inciting incident')?

4) The narrative

Your synopsis should outline your novel as it unfolds, even if the events are not chronological. Include key scenes, plot lines, and relevant details about your story. Be concise and to the point.

What is your protagonists goal and what stops them achieving it? Do they reach it, if so how?

Remember, only include the essentials. If you're not sure how to determine what these are, try this exercise: Set yourself a timer of 5 minutes and imagine you're telling a stranger on the bus what your story is about. What do you feel compelled to say? And what do you feel okay to miss out?

It's important to note here that you shouldn't break your novel down into themes or chapters in your synopsis, as publishers and agents generally don't like it. Just stick to the narrative arc.

5) Keep your own writing/narrative voice present

This one is pretty straightforward. A synopsis is an opportunity to showcase your writing style, so don't spend so much time worrying about what to include that you forget to include the most important thing: you!

Keep your distinct writing style present, especially if that is one of your strengths. No matter how great your plot and characters are, no one (especially not those who receive hundreds of submissions a week) is going to want to read your full manuscript if your synopsis reads like: 'and then this happened, and then that happened'.

Craft your synopsis as if it's an extension of your manuscript, and don't forget to add your personality.

6) Ta da, La Fin, The End

Don't leave your synopsis on a cliff hanger or without giving away the ending. While you may think you're tempting the agent or publisher to go and read your novel, you're more likely to end up on the 'no' pile. 

A publisher or agent wants to know whether your story ends with, 'And then she woke up and it was all a dream' before committing precious hours to reading it.

Note: apparently there are some agents who prefer not to know the ending in a synopsis, but so far, when it comes to publishers, I've not encountered any that share that opinion. So, as always, check an agent or publisher's website and guidelines before you send your synopsis out.

Things to remember!

Try and tailor your synopsis to the publisher/agent you're sending it to. Publishers and agents read a huge number of synopses all the time, so adapting your tone and presentation to align with that of the publisher or agent may help you stand out from the crowd.

What to do now?

At this stage, you're probably looking to submit your story to publishers or agents. If so, check out my posts on publishers accepting submissions to see which publishers are currently open to being sent unsolicited manuscripts.

I offer a range of editorial services for authors at every stage of the editing process, so if you're looking for some professional editorial help before sending your manuscript off to publishers or agents, get in touch.

With that, I'm off for a cuppa. Good luck and happy synopsis writing!