Writing a synopsis for your novel is one of the most difficult tasks you can be asked to do. It involves quite a different skillset. You need to be concise, understandable, and ideally keep it limited to a page in length – all while giving an overview of your entire novel. Not the easiest thing to accomplish, but there are methods that can make it much easier.
Why do I need a novel synopsis?
Most commonly, you’ll need one when submitting to literary agents. Some agents request this as part of the material you should send them. You might also need one when submitting to a writing competition. If you’re an agented author, you may also need to send one of these to pitch a new idea in more detail to your agent or your publisher/editor.
How long should my novel synopsis be?
There’s varying advice out there on this, but I usually advise authors to stick to one page in length. Keeping it short and succinct is a good exercise, and many agents request a one-page synopsis. Having said that, it is acceptable to do a two-page synopsis if you’re writing a complicated novel or in a complex genre – unless an agent or contest requests otherwise.
Bear in mind that your synopsis should be single-line spaced, with a blank line between paragraphs.
Writing a strong novel synopsis – tips and tricks
Here are some tips on writing your novel synopsis. It’s a skill you’ll use frequently in your writing life, so knowing how to go about it is essential.
1. Start with a single-sentence pitch line
You want to start your synopsis with a one-sentence hook. This is the “point” of the book – what the story is about. Think of this as the what? of the story, the objective. It’s tied into what your characters want to accomplish and their purpose, establishing the overarching plot. Make this as compelling as you can.
2. Focus on the main plot
The goal of a synopsis is to express the main plot: beginning, middle, and end. It’s an overview of the story. This means that focusing on your characters’ backstories, personalities, day-to-day lives, etc isn’t necessary. Any information that isn’t relevant to the main plot (such as subplots/side plots or arcs about side characters) can be left out to focus on what’s most important.
3. Give the synopsis a solid structure
Giving your novel synopsis a solid structure will help to make it more cohesive. Here is a structure that works well:
- Hook (single-sentence, compelling hook).
- Main character/goal: Who the protagonist is, what they want to accomplish, what’s preventing them from getting it.
- Main plot: Beginning/inciting incident, middle (remember to stick to the main plot and not veer into subplot, or subplots for side characters), climax, ending.
You don’t need to include any kind of author bio in your synopsis either – that will be in your query letter or other material. It can be helpful to include a header or a footer inside the Word document, with your name/pen name and your novel title.
4. Don’t include too many characters
If you have a novel with a lot of characters, it may be hard to compress that into a synopsis. Try to stick to the main protagonist/s. If your novel has a lot of perspectives, you may want to structure the synopsis so that you have one paragraph per character, and only focus on the most important ones that help to convey the central plot.
5. Don’t explain your themes and aims
Remember that the synopsis doesn’t need to include your aims as the author (what you’re trying to accomplish with the novel), or an explanation of the themes. The purpose of the synopsis is to communicate the plot from start to end in a clear way. Your themes will come across in the book itself and in your writing.
6. Avoid being vague – give everything away
A synopsis isn’t the same as a blurb for the back cover of the book. Think of a synopsis as a spoiler-filled summary of the novel: you should give every important part away, including your ending. Lines like “And they discover a secret that will change everything…” are best avoided. You want your synopsis to be as specific as possible. Give everything about the main plot away (including plot twists!).
7. Cause and effect is key
Your synopsis should show a clear sense of cause and effect taking place in the novel, with one event triggering another and leading toward a climax and conclusion, with the protagonist driving the story. If the synopsis covers too many unrelated events that aren’t linked in a cohesive way, it may become confusing and hard to follow. If you find that issue cropping up too often in your synopsis, it may also be that your novel needs more of a sense of cause and effect building into it, too.
If you need help with cause and effect, and linking scenes in a meaningful way, the book Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham is incredibly useful.
For more resources on writing, submitting, and publishing, check out my resource library.