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How to Write a Synopsis

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How to write a synopsis

A synopsis is one of the key elements of a query package, alongside your cover letter and opening pages. If you’ve ever tried to write one, you might have come to the same realisation all of us do – writing a synopsis is often harder than writing the book!

In this blog post, we’re going to tackle the basics of writing a synopsis, including what it’s for, how long it should be, and how to get started.

What is a synopsis?

This tends to trip a lot of writers up because there are many names for different types of summary. There’s the synopsis, a blurb, a pitch, a hook, an outline. With so many terms, and oftentimes overlapping definitions, it can be hard to get straight what each of them mean.

In this case, a synopsis is a brief summary of the important plot beats for your book. It introduces the main character(s), shows the journey they go on throughout the story, and gives away the ending. This part is important – you are supposed to reveal the ending in a synopsis! State whether the hero gets their love interest, reveal the killer, unravel the twist.

Why do you need a synopsis?

As I said above, a synopsis makes up part of your query package, and agents or publishers use it for a number of reasons. First, it gives them a quick look at the important plot points within your story, so they can get a taste for what it’s about before reading the full manuscript.

Second, the quality of a synopsis can tell them whether you’ve actually put in the right amount of work to the full book. If the synopsis feels over-long or has too many complicated plot threads, it can be a sign that your actual manuscript isn’t as tight as it needs to be. Of course, this isn’t always the case, because a lot of authors simply struggle with what should be included in a synopsis or not, but it’s also worth considering that if you’re having a hard time trying to sum your story up it could be because there are broader issues still left to be fixed.

At Silver Crow, a synopsis is especially helpful for initial submissions because they allow us to see how the story develops beyond the opening pages we get to see. If we’re unsure about a certain detail in the first chapter, for instance, we might look to the synopsis to see how the author intends to build on this later.

How long is a synopsis?

One of the fun things about sending out queries – and by fun I mean very, very annoying – is that there’s no standard length for a synopsis. Some agents and publishers ask for a page, some ask for two pages, and I’ve even seen some ask for as many as five pages. The length of the synopsis is entirely up to each agency or publisher, and that means you’ll need to create a synopsis of varying lengths to suit all preferences.

Generally, it should be formatted to a standard A4 page, with a suitable sized font (11pt or 12pt) and regular margins. While you don’t have to double-space your synopsis as you do with your manuscript, you should ensure the text is clear and easy to read, so don’t use too narrow line spacing or try to make the margins tiny so it all fits on one page. If it’s pushing longer than the agent or publisher wants, trim the word count, don’t fudge the page dimensions.

How do you write a synopsis?

I have two methods I recommend for writing a synopsis: you can either expand on your hook, or you can simplify the book.

Expanding the hook

If you find it easier to start small and build up, first come up with a one-sentence summary for your story – this is called the hook. It should be short, punchy and include just enough of the plot to… well, hook the reader.

When the Ruling Ring falls into Frodo’s possession, he must travel across Middle-earth to destroy it before the Dark Lord finds him.

Once you’ve got your hook, you can start adding more details to it that are pertinent to the plot. In the Lord of the Rings example, you might include how Frodo gets the ring at the start, who accompanies him on his journey, the key plot events along the way, and where he is by the end of the book.

Simplify the book

If starting small and building up isn’t for you, the other option is to start big and chip away at the less important information. For this, I recommend starting with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, writing a one-sentence summary for every chapter.

Once you’ve got this, you can start removing any parts that aren’t strictly necessary, such as side characters or sub plots. While these might be important to the actual story, you don’t need to bring them into the synopsis unless they have a significant impact on the main storyline.

Extra tips

  • Synopses should be written in present tense, even if the actual book is written in past tense.
  • Avoid rhetorical questions. Not only do they not drum up the suspense you might think they do, but there should also be no unanswered questions in a synopsis – reveal everything.
  • Format the character names in all capitals when you first mention them and, if necessary, state their age – ‘ALISON JENKINS (34) has been married to SIMON (36) for fifteen years…’
  • Avoid talking about themes. This is better suited to the cover letter, and you don’t have enough space in your synopsis to waste valuable words. Stick to the narrative beats and the themes should be clear based on the protagonist’s journey.
  • © Jess Lawrence 2023



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