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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 main plot, subplots, and the ending, a few character descriptions, and an overview of your major themes.
A novel synopsis appears in the query letter you will send to potential literary agents and publishers. Literary agents and publishers will then use the synopsis to determine the marketability and salability of your book.
3 Essential Parts of a Novel Synopsis
Synopsis writing is an artform onto itself.
- 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 character development 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 Effectively Writing Synopses
Follow these tips to produce a great book novel 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 the different points of view, from first person to third, with our guide here.
- Keep it short and write in present tense. A good synopsis is single-spaced and typed, with a word count between 500 and 700 words.
- State the category. Even if you feel your work transcends categorization, or features a lot of plot twists, 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.
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 the first paragraph.
Step 2: Develop an Outline
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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. Literary masters like Margaret Atwood have spent decades honing their craft. Learn how to create compelling characters, develop plot, and write settings that come to life in Margaret Atwood’s MasterClass. Then, when the time comes to sell your work, follow the above tips and practice the writing exercise to craft the perfect synopsis.
Want to become a better writer? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides access to exclusive video lessons taught by literary masters, including Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Joyce Carol Oates, and more.