How To Write A Synopsis

How To Write A Synopsis
Take a year or more out of your dreams and condense a story down into two pages of stiff, boring narrative summary and you’ll have a synopsis, right?

Writers always seem to hate writing a synopsis for their tales, but this is one of the most important documents you will ever compose. After all, it’s one of the primary tools used to sell your story, along with the query letter. Agents and editors will all want to see a synopsis because its an indication of how well you’ve structured your story.

The Secret Of Writing A Synopsis
The reason most writers dread writing a synopsis is because they’re looking at it backwards. After completing a 90,000 word manuscript, how do you condense it down to two pages?

Most writers take the wrong approach to writing a synopsis. If you’ve done your work properly, you won’t have to stress over getting one done. The secret to writing a synopsis is to complete it before you finish your story.

What Is A Synopsis?
A synopsis is a narrative summary of a story.

More than a just a simple plot outline, a synopsis is a miniature story, with action, description, characterization and snippets of dialogue to emphasize dramatic moments. After reading a synopsis, one should have the illusion of reading an entire novel.

A synopsis is not a dry list of events, but it should be written more like a Beat Sheet, with ACTIONS, REVELATIONS, and EMOTIONS.

A Beat Sheet is a tool used by screenwriters to organize a story. Take every scene and determine what the main action is, what is revealed and what emotions are in play. If you have 60 scenes in your story, you will have 60 things to talk about in your Beat Sheet.

Stick to the main character and leave out your subplots and minor characters. CAPITALIZE the names of characters the first time they are introduced.

Clarity is important. You must explain things. A confusing synopsis will not sell your story. The story must have a logical flow. If you switch to a new idea, put in some kind of transition.

Include the ending to your story in the synopsis.

Think of your synopsis as a bedtime story for children. Keep it fun, interesting and short.

Format Of A Synopsis
In the header place your contact information in the upper left, thus:


Example: Rowling/HARRY POTTER/Synopsis

Put the page number in the upper right of the header.

A synopsis can be either single or double spaced.
With single spacing, put a blank space between paragraphs.

A synopsis is written in third person, present tense.

A synopsis is written in the same style of writing as your book.

Create two versions of the synopsis:
A “Short” version – 1 or 2 pages.
A “Long” version – 1 page for every 35 pages of the novel.

When in doubt, send out the short version.
Action Steps
Your synopsis should be similar to your story. It should have a hook, the characters should have weaknesses, the conflict should be clear, the desire line must be strong, and the self-revelation should be clear.

1. Complete the synopsis before you write your story. If you have trouble with this, then write it as you complete your story.

2. If you’re creating a synopsis after you’ve finished the story, create a one page Beat Sheet. Use this as a guide for the synopsis.

3. Give it to five trusted readers. Do they understand the book? Are they interested in the story? What are their reactions?

4. Read the synopsis aloud. This is a great way to smooth out the wrinkles and to ensure that your synopsis is interesting. After you vocalize it, do you think an editor would buy it?

5. Pretend that a stranger has just asked you, “What’s your book about?” Can you answer this question in 10 seconds or less?

6. Does this synopsis capture the essence of your story? Is there anything you can do to improve it?

What to do now
Write a synopsis for your story, starting with the Logline (this is a one line description of the story). Keep it short and concise. Remember, the best kind of synopsis is a novel in miniature.


– Mark O’Bannon

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