The Dreaded Synopsis

Even the venerable Nathan Bransford tried to avoid the topic of the evil, despicable, wretched synopsis. Agents love them or hate them (Honestly, most agents don’t request synopses…a few even admitted their fear of this horrific invention).

You can look at writing a synopsis in one of two ways: 1) the worst book report you’ll ever write or 2) a tool your agent could use when your book is on submission. Option 2 puts a little more sunshine on it, so I’m going with that one.

Every where I checked the requirements for a synopsis varied. You will have to check with each agent individually to determine what they want (the majority said 2-3 pages, but I found a couple that said 5-8…yikes!)

How Your Synopsis Should be Written
  1. Most guidelines suggest third person, present tense.
  2. It should “sound” like your book, your voice should be evident.
  3. It should include all main characters and major plot points woven together in a summary.
  4. It should not read like a list. (ie Then this happened, and this, while they were doing this)
  5. It should include your climax and conclusion.

How To Make Your Synopsis “Good” (I’m not saying that mine is…these are just the suggestions I found online)

  1. Just like your query, it should start with a hook.
  2. You must show the conflict early and often!
  3. Characters must be real, identifiable. This does not mean it should include dialogue.
  4. The last few paragraphs should resolve the conflict.

How To Actually WRITE Your Synopsis

  1. Study book jackets. The flaps have a quick synopsis you can use as a model.
  2. Outline all of your major plot points. Scan through your document and take notes on what happens where.
  3. Either use the hook from your query or determine that it won’t work. (FYI, mine didn’t. It was too narrow).
  4. Include the points that make your book interesting including crises and relationships.
  5. Send it to your crit partners.
  6. Revise.
  7. Ignore it for two weeks (or two days, or two hours, depending on your deadline).
  8. Start again.

Other random thoughts:

  • One agent said, “Don’t worry. It will probably be the worst writing you ever do.”
  • If an agent requests pages and a synopsis, always attach the pages first! Most agents would prefer to read pages.
  • If your query is good and your pages are good, your synopsis will not destroy your chance of getting a full manuscript request.
  • After you’re signed you may be asked to write a synopsis to help your agent with their “pitch.”

Just like writing a novel, you can’t make your synopsis better until you actually write it! So get to work.

I will now take my own advice and head off to work on mine.

Some helpful links:

Nathan Bransford’s post on synopses

Fiction Writer’s Post

Demitria Lunetta’s Post

Some other random post I found


  • Trisha Leaver

    It seems like all writers dread having to write a synopsis. We can churn out 70,000, masterfully crafted words; but when asked to bring your entire book down to three pages, we freeze. Go figure!

    Just to throw a wrench in your system, I was forced to write two of these blasted things — one short at 2-3 pages and one longer at 5 pages.

    Good luck!

  • Susanna Leonard Hill

    Good luck! Since I write picture books, I’ve never had to do it yet, and thank goodness – it sounds impossible! But I’m sure you can do it 🙂 Are you going to post it when you’re done so we can all see a shining example of how to do it right?

  • Donea Lee

    Ack – I actually need to write one of these things. (I’ve been putting it off…) But, these are some great and timely tips! Thanks you ~ 🙂 New follower and fellow crusader here, just (finally) making the rounds. Happy Tuesday!

  • Angela Scott

    Oh, the synopsis! It makes me cry a little to think about it. *shudders*

    I almost find the synopsis harder to write than the query. I don’t know why.

    Good post. Very helpful when I get to the point of writing the synopsis for my WIP *shudders*

  • Carol Riggs

    Haha, yes, I’ve noticed agents either hate them or love them, too. I don’t like to write them, but when I do, I really try to make them not read like the dictionary (boring, dry, tedious).

  • Demitria

    Of the three agents (when I was querying) who requested a synopsis, none of them actually read it. They were all surprised by my manuscript’s ending. It’s like something you have to do, but might not be necessary.

    I feel honored that you linked my post!

  • Barbara Kloss

    New ‘follower’ here..but love your blog! I especially love this post. I hate synopsis’.

    I particularly like this line: One agent said, “Don’t worry. It will probably be the worst writing you ever do.”

    Makes me feel so much better. I look at my synopsis, yawn, and think “who chopped my wonderful story to pieces?” Oh wait. I did.

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