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Writing

What Is a Novel Synopsis? 2 Examples of Novel Synopses

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 23, 2020 • 4 min read

One of the hardest things you’ll have to do as a writer is synopsize your novel. Whether you’re exploring story ideas, preparing for a reading, or querying literary agents, familiarizing yourself with synopsis examples can make the process a lot easier, especially if it’s your first time writing one.

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What Is a Novel Synopsis?

The word “synopsis” comes from the Ancient Greek word synopsesthai which literally means “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.

3 Essential Parts of a Novel Synopsis

Synopsis writing is an art form unto itself. Here are the necessary elements of a synopsis:

  1. Characters: The protagonist and antagonist 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 into its five basic parts.
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5 Tips for Effectively Writing Synopses

Follow these tips to produce a great nonfiction book or novel synopsis. For a step-by-step guide on how to write a book synopsis, check out our guide here.

  1. 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-person, with our guide here.
  2. Keep it short and write in present tense. A good one-page synopsis is single-spaced and typed, with a word count between 500 and 700 words. Check to see if your potential agents or publishing houses have specific submission guidelines.
  3. State the genre. Even if you feel your work transcends categorization or features a lot of plot twists, clearly stating the closest genre 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.
  4. Reveal it all. Keep in mind that a synopsis for your book is not the same as the blurb written on the back of book, which is meant to intrigue a reader or potential buyer without revealing too many main plot points.
  5. 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.

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2 Synopsis Examples

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Synopses can be one paragraph, one page, or longer. Below are examples of one-paragraph synopses of well-known novels.

1. Synopsis of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Jane Austen’s 1813 romantic novel Pride and Prejudice follows Elizabeth, the second eldest of the five Bennet sisters, known for her wit and intelligence. The Bennets live comfortably in the English countryside, but there’s one big problem: Since Mr. Bennet’s estate can only be passed down to a male heir, it’s imperative that at least one sisters marry before their father dies. Things get complicated when Mr. Bingley, a wealthy bachelor, moves into town and appears to take an interest in Jane, the eldest Bennet sister. The friendly Mr. Bingley stands in contrast to his (even wealthier) friend Mr. Darcy, who snubs Elizabeth, earning a reputation for snobbishness that is seemingly confirmed when he later discourages Mr. Bingley from proposing to Jane. Meanwhile, Bingley isn’t the only man with desires for the Bennet sisters. As they navigate proposals, friendship, and family, both Jane and Mr. Darcy begin to realize they may have judged one another too harshly. Eventually, Darcy marries Elizabeth and Bingley marries Jane.

2. Synopsis of Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
Inspired by real-life events, the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison takes place in 1873 Ohio, where Sethe, a former slave, lives with her 18-year-old daughter Denver in a house plagued by a ghost. When a mysterious woman called Beloved shows up on Sethe’s doorstep, Sethe devotes all her energy to caring for her. She believes that Beloved is the reincarnation of her eldest daughter, who died at the age of two. Paul D, a former slave from the same plantation where Sethe was once enslaved, encourages shy Denver to leave the house and talks to Sethe about having a child together. Sethe then reveals that, when she first moved to Ohio, her former master tried to capture her and her children. Sethe killed her oldest daughter rather than see her child enslaved. The community bands together in an attempt to exorcise Beloved. Meanwhile, a white man offers Denver a job. The white man’s presence triggers a powerful “rememory” of the day Sethe’s former master tried to take her children away. Sethe attacks the white man, and while she is in this confused state, Beloved disappears. Paul D and the rest of Sethe’s community try to help her heal, while Denver starts work.

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