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What Is a Synopsis?
The word “synopsis” comes from the Ancient Greek word synopsesthai which means quite literally “a comprehensive view.” A novel synopsis includes a brief summary of your story’s plot (including the ending), a few character descriptions, and an overview of your major themes. Literary agents and publishers use the synopsis to determine the marketability and salability of your book.
The 3 Most Important Parts of a Synopsis
- Characters. The protagonist and antagonist(s) form the foundation of your story. Make the main characters and secondary characters strong and memorable from the outset. Read more about developing character here.
- Conflict. Conflict is the primary tension that keeps readers reading. Include a short description of the main conflict in your brief synopsis. Sharpen your understanding of the different types of conflicts here.
- Narrative Arc. From inciting incident to ending, the narrative arc is the skeleton of your plot. Although your novel’s plot should be multilayered, for your synopsis, you’ll want to condense this arc to its five basic parts.
5 Tips for Writing an Effective Synopsis
- Write in the third person. Even if your book is not written in the third person, write your synopsis from the third person point of view to maintain professionalism and narrative distance. Read more about different points of view with our guide here.
- Keep it short. A good synopsis is single-spaced and typed, between 500 and 700 words.
- State the category. Even if you feel your work transcends categorization, clearly stating the closest category will help a literary agent envision how to market and sell the book. Categories include: literary fiction, romance, science fiction and fantasy, children’s and young adult, satire, and more.
- Reveal it all. Keep in mind that a synopsis for your book is not the same as the sales copy written on the back of book, which is meant to intrigue a reader or potential buyer without revealing too many plot points.
- Convey your voice. Your synopsis is an extension of your writing style, so make sure the writing is in line with your voice. This is your opportunity to sell yourself as a writer, after all.
How to Write a Synopsis in 3 Easy Steps
This exercise will help you create your synopsis.
Step 1: Create a Short Overview
- On a page in your notebook, write one sentence on each of the following points:
- How your protagonist gets involved in the story
- What conflict or mystery arises to move the story forward
- The world of your story
- The top thing that makes your book interesting
- In 50 words or less, combine the above information into a single paragraph.
Step 2: Develop an Outline
- On a page in your notebook, write a one-page synopsis in the following format:
- In paragraph one, introduce your hero, the conflict, and the world.
- In paragraph two, explain which major plot turns happen to your hero. Pick only the big ones. It’s a good idea to include a mention of your villain and the most important secondary character (sidekick or love interest).
- In paragraph three, describe how the novel’s major conflicts are resolved. You must reveal the ending.
Step 3: Fill in the Details
- Next, make the synopsis longer (5-10 pages) by adding more information. Find ways to hook the reader. Don’t reveal your ending. Be sure it touches on the following questions:
- What makes my world interesting?
- Why will a reader care about my protagonist?
- Who is my villain?
- Who is my sidekick or love interest?
- How do they relate to my protagonist?
- What is the moral gray area here?
- What’s at stake for my protagonist?
- Use this new synopsis as a framework for describing your novel.
Writing a synopsis can be daunting for any writer, regardless of experience. When the time comes to sell your work, follow the above tips and practice the writing exercise to craft the perfect synopsis.