sallyhanan’s blog

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Writing the synopsis September 24, 2009

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A synopsis is a short summary of a novel, movie, play, etc. Apparently there is a huge benefit to doing this—you get to examine your story and see if there are any holes in the plot, any developmental lack in the main characters, or any unbelievable occurences throughout the story. For me, it’s as comforting as dissecting a (dead) cat and laying the parts on a gurney for inspection. I mean, come on, who wants to take a beautiful story and rip it into little scientific shreds?

Editors do.

Agents do.

Because they are busy people. They can see in the first three paragraphs if your writing is worthy of their time. If they like it, they can look at your summary/synopsis and decide in seconds if the story is worth reading. Some do it the other way around—they check out the storyline first and then look at your writing. Either way, they need that synopsis.

How long does it need to be?
It varies. Usually the submission guidelines will let you know exactly how long it needs to be. Some agents like it to be one page long and unspaced, others prefer the longer version of about five to six spaced pages.

How do I know if they want a synopsis at all?
Read the guidelines!

Where do I begin?
Skim through your novel and highlight all the important, key parts of the story. Then put them all together to see if you can tell the story on one page. Don’t worry about the subplots, they just make things more interesting. You are focusing on the two (or three) main characters because they rule the story you are trying to tell. Don’t worry about the sentence flow or grammar at the moment, just read it through to see if it includes all the key points. This will be your rough draft.

I’m already overwhelmed.
We all feel that way. You just have to grit your teeth and get on with it, though.

Here is a good list of more tips for writing the short version. (Ignore the “don’t give too much away” comment. The agents wants to know the whole thing. They just don’t need the smaller details. You’re giving the overview.)

And here are two great examples of what you’re going for.

Once you feel that you have nailed the key points, make the sentences flow and try and fit in a little of your voice. Sometimes, because you are limited to one page, the summary can sound stilted and boring. See if you can take out any more smaller details so that you can add in some suspense or humor to it.

N.B. DO NOT SEND IT IN until you feel that it covers exactly what you want to say, the way you want to say it. I know, I understand, you are excited; BUT if you can curb your enthusiasm a few more days until you are delighted with it, chances are, the agents/editors will be too.

The long synopsis
What? This is even worse than dissecting a cat! I couldn’t agree more, but like I said, grit your teeth, and get on with it. The long synopsis is going to be the long summary of your novel. It should fill about three pages before you double space it. Some evil people might even ask for a ten to fifteen page synopsis. . . . (Just pretend you didn’t see that.) What you’ll need to have in there for both MC 1 & 2 are:

1. Opening/intro/hook

2. Who are they, what do they want, what’s your promise to the reader

3. Main goal throughout the story, what kicks them into gear, flaws/fears in action

4. Internal and external tension, conflict, and POV (point of view)

—Keep developing the plot in each MC

—More conflict

—Some redeeming powers to overcome conflict (repeat these three ad nauseum as plot builds)

5. Darkest moment

6. Break free/wow moment

7. Wrap it all up

Here is a great example of a longer plot synopsis from My Book Therapy with the whys added in.

Lisa Gardner has some tips for writing an even longer synopsis.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, if you need a break to go and laugh about summarizing your novel, visit angry alien. Hopefully you will be refreshed and inspired upon viewing. 🙂



Every piece of writing needs to be clear and precise. With microscope in hand, Inksnatcher’s writing and editing service will hone any work until it glitters in the light of a 1,000 watt bulb.

sallylogo3 INKSNATCHER.COM                                                                                                                                      





2 Responses to “Writing the synopsis”

  1. Jane Says:

    Sally, the link to your example of your short synopsis seems to be broken. I’m not sure if you deliberately broke the link but the post says “Here is a great example of…” and then there is no example or link.

    Still, I like the way you described what a good synopsis consists of. or “…of what a good synopsis consists.”

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