4 Easy Steps to a Great Synopsis

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Creating a synopsis for your novel is one of the hardest pieces of writing there is. It is also one of the most important elements of your proposal. But if you follow these steps, you can master this writing task every time.

Some authors like to write their synopsis before they start writing the book because the exercise gives them the framework for their story. Others find it’s better to write it when the manuscript is completed, because they learn how their characters’ conflicts will be resolved only as the story unfolds. Either approach is fine as long as the book’s end result is the best it can be.

Questions and Answers signpostFirst, let’s lay the groundwork. A synopsis does not include a list of characters, and there is no dialogue in a synopsis. It is a detailed answer to the questions: “What is the time and place? What happens in the main plot and how do the main characters precipitate the action and/or react to it? How do they change from beginning to ending? All without saying, “In the story…”

A synopsis for a trade-length novel should be about five pages long, single-spaced, depending on the complexity of the main plot. Write it in present tense, third person, and in the same voice and style as your story.

Agents and editors are the audience for the synopsis. They need to see how the story’s narrative and the main characters’ inner conflicts and goals unfold to a final, satisfying resolution at the end of the book. Save your cliffhanger questions for your back cover copy to tantalize readers to buy the book.

With this in mind take the following steps.


Before you begin writing, answer the following questions mentioned above: What is the main plot of your story? and What is the inner conflict and motivation of the main characters? Your answers to these questions provide the boundaries for what you will and won’t include.


Next, introduce the agent or editor to your main characters in the first couple of paragraphs and clearly describe their conflicts and their goals in ways that make us like, or at least sympathize with them and care about what happens to them.


Follow the events of the main plot—or outer conflict—in chronological order. At the same time fold in the main characters’ inner tensions and motivation—or inner, emotional conflict—showing how they cause or react to the action and propel the story forward.

Transitions from one event or paragraph to the next must be smooth and easy to follow. This is where many synopses falter because an author leaves a gap of pivotal information. Remember that the agent or editor reading your synopsis knows nothing about important details. Ask a friend or critique partner to read your synopsis with a special focus on pointing out gaps to safeguard against making this mistake.

Visualize two ribbons wrapping around each other from one end (the book’s beginning) to the other end (the final completion). Just as they have to be the same length to end up together, so do your inner and outer conflicts in order to culminate simultaneously in a final resolved ending.


Make every word count. Polish and tighten sentences and paragraphs until you have removed superfluous words, phrases, and unnecessary subplot detail.

Proofread to correct grammar and punctuation errors. Do not simply trust your computer’s spellcheck.

A deftly written synopsis gives an agent or editor a positive impression of your writing ability, motivating him or her to want to read more of your proposal.


What do you like or not like about writing a synopsis? What is the hardest part for you in writing it? Do you write the synopsis before or after writing the manuscript?


Do you dread writing the synopsis? Follow these four easy steps to a great synopsis. Click to Tweet.

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