Writing a synopsis for a novel can be a worthwhile experience. For many writers, they approach it with fear and anxiety, but you don’t have to approach it that way. I’ve written/edited/revised synopses for clients, and I can tell you it can be written in a matter of several days, between revising and re-reading and leaving the synopsis alone for a day or two. I think the reason the synopsis originally received such a bad rap is because the old standard used to be a 12-page synopsis, which would be sent to agents and publishing house editors. Yikes! I’ve written an entire novel and that number makes me squirm.
You can relax because the synopsis is now two pages. People may argue that number, but that is the number I’ve seen most from agents as of 2010. Some writers are more intimidated by the two pages than by the 12 pages, but in fact, it’s much easier to condense the plot and conflict of your novel into two pages. So how do you write that perfect synopsis that will win over agents and editors alike?
Let’s start with format:
- Font Times New Roman, size 12
- Header at the top of each page—book name to the left and author’s last name to the right
- Two pages total
A synopsis is always written in present tense and from the third person point of view.
I’m going to tell you how I write a synopsis. I start by scrolling through the book manuscript and writing down the major plot points. When I say plot points that includes CONFLICT. Agents, editors, readers—everyone loves conflict. Once I have the major plot points down, I start to write.
The opening line of the synopsis must grab the reader’s attention immediately. What is so striking, so unique, so cool about your novel that you can put it in the first line? What will punch the agent or editor in the face? How about the tagline for The Social Network: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Yes, I know, it’s a movie, but I think in these terms when writing an opening hook. (Avoid second person, unless it’s a great hook that can use second person.) I use taglines like this one to inspire me.
Once I’ve decided on the opening line, it’s time to write. I use the major plot points and conflict as my paragraph guides. For me, I don’t follow a structured method because every synopsis is different. But the mindset I have is: I’m writing the best short story I possibly can. Essentially, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Think of this synopsis as your labor-of-love short story and make it good. You should write in the tone of your novel, so agents and editors can see your voice. You should also include a bit of sensory details (touch, taste, etc.), so it’s entertaining and a quick read. Avoid being dry, boring or just summarizing your book.
Tip: You can use one quote from your book in your synopsis, but that’s it. It looks amateurish to agents when they see several quotes.
When you end the synopsis, you should tell the end of the book—agents and editors need to know how the book ends. And just as you began with a punch, end with a softer, memorable slap. What realizations does your protagonist come to? How has s/he changed for the better … or the worse?
Instead of dreading the synopsis process, have fun with it. Relax and be creative and sculpt it like a short story. Work on it for a few days and then take a day or two off to clear your head. I always take a few days off before reading the final version of the synopsis. That way my head is clear and my eyes are fresh, so I can catch any stray errors or a sentence that doesn’t sound right to me.
If you want to find other resources for writing a synopsis, I urge you to look at the date of the blog post or article. To get the most up-to-date tips (the industry is changing all the time i.e. before you know it, the synopsis standard will be one page—my prediction for the future), find posts, articles and books within a couple years of the current date. Also, I tried very hard to search the web and find some good synopsis samples, but the ones I could find were too outdated to reference.
Last tip: Relax, breathe and have fun!