How To Write A Novel Synopsis

Today, we are going to tackle what I would argue is the most difficult part of your entire submission package: the synopsis.

When I realized I was going to need to write a synopsis for some of the literary agents I was going to submit to, I was absolutely terrified. Every single English teacher I have ever had has commented on my inability to stay within page/word limits. It’s just impossible! If my point needs four pages instead of three to be argued beautifully, how can they expect me to cut myself off? But of course, when you’re submitting your manuscript, you want to nail the guidelines. You don’t want your submission to be thrown out without a chance just because you couldn’t follow an agent’s directions.

The consensus among the writers I’ve spoken to is that the synopsis takes the most time to create and is the most complicated to figure out. So when I was approaching the synopsis for the first time, I took to Google to do some research. I read lots of articles about the subject, and to be honest with you, most of them were no help whatsoever. There isn’t a good consensus about how to write a great synopsis except to just…. well… write one?

But I did find one article that took a different approach to writing a novel synopsis. Instead of trying to deal with a lot of moving parts at once and writing straight through from beginning to end, the author offered a suggestion to break down your book into parts. Analyzing what is important from different elements of your story makes it a lot easier to write your synopsis. I’m going to break down this technique for you right now, so get ready, get a pen, and take some notes.

Basics of A Synopsis

Most literary agents are looking for a one to two page synopsis in size 12 font and single spaced. Single spacing is a lifesaver, trust me; use it well. There’s a few points you’re going to want to make sure to cover: the narrative arc, your characters and their motivations and emotions, and the ending, to name a few. Do NOT forget to reveal your ending. In your synopsis, an agent is looking for the full main story and as many nuances as you can include within your word limit. You need to be concise, yet detailed at the same time.

Breaking It Down

Step One: Get a piece of paper or open up a document, whichever you prefer. And get ready to make multiple lists. We’re going to start with the plot basics. Use a number list or bullet points to detail the main plot events in order. Emphasis on MAIN. Do not worry about your subplots at this point; we are solely focusing on the clear steps that move your protagonist from inciting incident to the climax and resolution. Include the turning points that set your protagonist on a clear path for either success or failure.

Step Two: Now, we’re going to make a separate list for the main character’s character arc. Introduce your main character and list the points where we see the protagonist thrown into situations where they are forced to make decisions. List the events throughout the novel where the reader sees the character change and grow as well as places where the character maybe takes a step back and reverts back their old ways.

Step Three: Next, let’s bring the secondary characters into the mix. These characters influence the main character in various ways and push them towards or draw them away from their goal. Showcase the ones who play a major role in your novel, and track their progress. Do those characters stay fixed? Do they change as the protagonist changes?

Step Four: Following the introduction and journey of these secondary characters, pick out the major relationships in your novel. This can be a romantic relationship between main and secondary character, or it can be the hero/villain relationship. Or both, depending on the story! Track the main events of each relationship like a mini plot, from beginning through the climax to the end.

Step Five: Take a look at what you have so far. Can you identify any key themes that are addressed throughout your book? Are there any messages that you are trying to convey, blatant or subtle? If these are crucial to the book, write these down and find ways to weave this into your synopsis.

Step Six: Organize your numbers or bullet points into plot order. Now you have a list of everything you should include in your synopsis. Now it’s time to write! One other note, especially for fantasy: make sure you introduce the world that the story is operating in. Include a few important details about the world that are important to your story.

There you have it! By the end of this, you should have a synopsis in your hands! But don’t stop after a first draft. Make sure you edit, edit, edit this document. Have someone look it over, whether it’s another writing friend or a professional. Polish until you are happy with the state that it is in. Spend some time on this! A synopsis can be what gets you that manuscript request!