You have worked for months, maybe years, on your novel and now you are faced with the daunting task of writing the synopsis. Writers dread the work of condensing a 300-page manuscript into one page. Knowing what to include and how to include it is crucial to writing a compelling synopsis.

What a synopsis is not

It is not an author’s bio, nor the reason why you wrote the book. You can state this briefly in your query letter, but only briefly. It is not a character sketch, neither is it a list of plot points. Having said that, let’s take a look at what a synopsis is:

It is a summary of your book

Plain and simple. It contains the beginning andthe end with the high points of your story sandwiched between them.

It is compelling

Notice I use the word compelling because your synopsis should be as compelling as the story itself. And in order to do that you have to first start with a hook, just as you did at the beginning of your book. You want the editor to continue reading, right? Then in the body of your synopsis you write the salient points of your story in chronological order. This may not happen in your book, but for the sake of clarity, events should follow each other in order.

It uses strong verbs

Just as when you wrote the book, you chose strong verbs, used the active voice rather than passive and used adjectives and adverbs sparingly, do the same with your synopsis. And always write in the present tense.

It is concise

Leave out details that don’t matter. For example, if Anne confides in her friend, Susie, that she’s thinking of divorcing Jim, it’s not necessary to say Ann picked up the phone and called Susie and invited her to dinner and over a steak and lobster dinner … No, you are choking the details. Simply say what Anne tells Susie.

It includes action and reaction

Be careful to state how major characters react to events in the story – if their reaction helps to drive the plot. Let’s say Susie is thrilled at Anne’s news because she has had her eyes on Jim for a long time – then you must include that.

It follows the agent’s/editor’s guidelines

Some agents may ask for a one-page synopsis, some may simply say “short.” If they do not specify, limit your synopsis to two or three pages.

I heard someone say it’s a good idea to write the synopsis first. I don’t think that would work for me. My characters tend to change direction midway. But if you have carefully plotted your novel before you started writing your story, then you can give it a try. Either way, the more you practice, the better you will become. Why not try writing a synopsis for a story you have read?

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