How To Write a Synopsis
In preparation for CanWrite! 2014, I researched what I should bring. Quickly, I realized I should have a synopsis of my book (actually, I should have several). What is a synopsis? How many should you have? How should they differ? What should they cover? How do you write a synopsis? These are all questions that occurred to me as a first-time synopsis writer.
When You’re Ready
I’m going to reiterate Marissa Meyer here and say that if the book you’re looking to write a synopsis for isn’t finished yet (or even written), you’re getting way ahead of yourself. What you’re probably looking for is a guide on drafting. If you’re looking for advice on writing a synopsis for a finished book, keep reading.
While doing some research, I quickly came across articles like, “Writing a Synopsis for Your Novel: A Scary But Useful Exercise,” which simply details the following tips:
- Focus on conflict;
- Clearly outline your character(s)’ growth;
- Focus on main plot (hit all of the highlights);
- Don’t drown in the details;
- Give away the ending.
That last one, I’ve learned among other writers, is the one that most either don’t know or forget. And while this list is helpful in writing a synopsis, we still don’t know how many variations we should have and how they should differ.
P.S. Literary agent, Carly Watters, suggests having two synopses: a one page and a three page. The difference is literally volume. If you needed to give the plot of your book in one page, you could do it (how else do they write condensed back-cover copy?). A one page synopsis doesn’t focus so much on character growth (as there isn’t room to do this), but mainly focusses on the plot’s arc and how your characters fall into that. Three page synopses, obviously, allow you a little more breathing room. In a three page synopsis you have more freedom to explore your characters and how they react to the plot.
While this exercise seems impossibly difficult, it’s actually very useful: you’re forced to examine what the main plot points are, whether they’re followed through, and whether they’re enough to grab readers. A synopsis is the bare bones of your story and details the important reasons to love your characters. If, after reading your synopsis, a reader isn’t interested in both your plot and your characters, something’s wrong. Below are detailed guides on how to write a synopsis that includes both plot and character growth.
It’s important to say here that every agency has different rules and guidelines. This doesn’t just apply to queries, but often applies to synopses. Make sure you’ve read an agency’s guidelines before submitting a requested synopsis.
General rules that can be applied to formatting a synopsis:
- Entire synopsis should be in 12-point, Times New Roman font.
- Align left (indent paragraphs); standard margins; do not line space.
- Double-space synopsis submissions longer than one page; one page submissions can generally be single-spaced.
- Always write in paragraphs; never submit a bullet point synopsis (unless specifically asked).
- Always write author’s last name, project title, and the word synopsis aligned left at the top of the page, like a professional cover letter.
“6 Steps for Writing a Book Synopsis” by Marissa Meyer
“Learn How to Write a Synopsis, Quick & Easy Tips & Examples” by Writers Digest
“How to Format a Synopsis” by The Editor’s Blog