How to Write a Synopsis
If you plan on traditionally publishing your novel, you will need several other materials in addition to your novel when starting to query.
One of those items is a synopsis.
What exactly is a synopsis, why is it an important marketing item, and how can you make yours the best it can be? Let’s dive in!
What is a synopsis?
A synopsis is an overview of your novel from beginning to end. In your synopsis, an agent will get to know your main character, your setting, and your major plot points and arcs — including how your novel ends. If an agent falls in love with your novel in a three to five page overview, then you know they will be interested in the full manuscript!
When should you start writing your synopsis?
I wrote mine as I was close to finishing up my first draft. You could wait to write your synopsis until you are finished revising and ready to start querying, but I found that writing my synopsis before revising helped me create a clear revision plan. I was able to clearly track my characters’ growth throughout the novel, make sure all of my scenes connected, and think about my novel in a different way. My synopsis is the book I want to hold in my hands by the time I’m ready to query. It will help me make sure I’ve crafted each character and scene exactly how I want to as I revise.
What should a synopsis include?
To help you write the best book possible, and to get attention from your dream agents, include the following in your synopsis:
Information about your main characters, setting, and conflict as early on as possible. The sooner the reader knows who your novel is about, where and when it takes place, and the conflicts the character will encounter, the better. You’re giving the reader a roadmap of what to expect, and it should be a clear one from the start.
All plot arcs, but not all details in all plot arcs. In a synopsis, it’s important to recount each scene in the manuscript, but you also need to know which details you don’t need. One way to do this is to include short descriptions in a few sentences. Here’s an example from my synopsis–it’s an important part of my novel, leading up to the climax of the story. I knew I had to showcase how pivotal this part of my book was, but I had to make it as concise as possible:
The long weekend in Montana tests Natalie in every possible way. Between bear encounters, hard conversations between her and Adam, no cell service to stay in touch with her family back home, meeting new friends in the local fly shop, and catching her biggest trout yet, it’s an unforgettable weekend. Natalie comes out of that weekend feeling more self-assured and confident than ever, until she gets back home.
Through a list, I showcase all of the important scenes that take place in this part of my novel without giving too much away, and leading up to major changes and developments for several characters in my novel.
Your novel’s voice
The essence of your book. A great synopsis should not only objectively recount the scenes in your novel, but it should also tell a story in its own right. Include your character’s emotions and motives, as well as your own voice:
The next day, Adam takes Natalie to an easily accessible creek right in town. When Adam hands her a nine-foot fly fishing rod, Natalie feels like she’s in over her head. But Adam is a gracious teacher, and Natalie is quick to learn and apply her grandma’s advice about not always being comfortable. Natalie ends up catching her first rainbow trout, and is instantly hooked (pun intended) on fly fishing.
If your novel is fun and adventurous (like mine), keep your synopsis fun and adventurous as well. If it’s a thriller, keep building the suspense! The tone of your synopsis should match the tone of your novel.
Include (almost) all of the details about the end. In my synopsis, I left one loose end untied. Otherwise, I explain how the novel ends for my characters, including their personal growth and realizations. Don’t leave your reader confused or unsure about how your novel ends, or why things end up the way they do for your characters.
Optional: A “So What” sentence
My novel is for younger readers (upper MG/early YA), so including themes and big ideas is important for this target audience. Below is the final paragraph of my synopsis:
If Natalie learned anything that summer, it’s that a risk worth taking is better than no risk at all. Rapid City Summer will teach young readers about taking chances, trying new things, and living life outdoors and outside of your comfort zone.
This reinforces the big ideas my novel will cover, and it’s also a nice way to conclude if ending your synopsis where you end your novel feels incomplete.
Your synopsis shouldn’t feel like a dry book report that you write for school. By including key details early on, using lists and punchy sentences to pack in information, and showing your characters’ (and your own) heart throughout, there is no doubt an agent wouldn’t want to read the full manuscript. And remember, it’s not too early to start writing your synopsis. It’s not just a marketing product for agents; it’s a tool to help you write the book you want to read.