Everything You Need To Know About A Synopsis
Welcome to my blog! I’m glad your curiosity and passion for literature brought you here! Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s begin this journey of writing a synopsis together.
When I first began querying, I realized there was so much more to the process than simply saying; I wrote a book, please represent it! I promise its good!
No, no, no. There is a format, a style, and a structure to writing a query letter—one of the pieces of this structure is something called a synopsis. Those of you who didn’t pay much attention in high school English might be a bit confused right now but worry not! This article is going to explain everything you need to know about a synopsis and how to write one—keep reading and hit the subscribe button at the bottom of this page before you go!
The first thing I want to address before we get started is the query letter itself. Chances are, if you’ve come across this article, you’re probably deep in the querying stage. Not every agency requires a synopsis so there’s a fair chance you’ve already sent a few queries before realizing you might need this extra component. BUT if you’ve come here because you’re new to writing and you want to be prepared before you even open Microsoft Word, I highly recommend taking a look at my older articles; the Writer’s Block has a selection of helpful pieces you can use throughout your literary journey, my first suggestion would be How To Write A Query Letter and maybe a little later—How To Handle A Rejection Letter (haha).
Now, let’s get down to business. The first question on your mind might be; what on earth is a synopsis? The next is likely; do I need a synopsis? And then finally; how do I write a synopsis?
I’m going to answer these three questions in that order so if you don’t want to fish through all the information here—or you only want a refresher on certain points—feel free to skip around and collect whatever knowledge you need, my friend.
So … what on earth is a synopsis?
A synopsis is a concise summary or general outline of something; you can have a synopsis of a book, a movie, a play, or even a single episode of a television series. A synopsis can also be classified into two categories; while querying, you might come across an agency that requests authors include a general or brief synopsis with their query or a complete/detailed synopsis with their query. If you’re like me, you probably pulled up Google to find out the difference, right?
A general/brief synopsis is a one-page summary of your book. This means you have to sit down and write three to four paragraphs that detail your book from beginning to end. The first time I heard this, I was shocked and horrified; how am I supposed to tell you everything about my wonderful work of art in just three to four paragraphs? Don’t worry, once you start writing you’ll realize its actually much easier than you think—especially because its about your book! No one knows it better than you!
Now, what is a complete/detailed synopsis?
This sort of synopsis is technically the same as a brief synopsis except that it is broken down chapter by chapter—making it much longer and more detailed than a brief/general synopsis. A detailed synopsis will describe the key points of each individual chapter from beginning to end; this might take longer and be more tedious to compose than the shorter version, but it does allow authors to include more details about the events and even individual characters in their story. Now that I’ve written a fair share of synopses for multiple books, I honestly prefer to send a chapter by chapter synopsis to agents; this allows me a little more wiggle room to tell them tiny details that could make a huge difference in an agent’s decision for representation.
A few points you need to know about a synopsis:
A synopsis (typically a brief/general synopsis) does include the beginning, middle, and end.
Include the climax and major characters of the story.
Tell the FULL story!
Include the secret ending and every twist and turn! Don’t be afraid of “spoiling” your novel; agents need to know as much about your work as possible before agreeing to even sample the manuscript.
Don’t be intimidated by a detailed synopsis.
They might be more work to write but if you’re the kind of author who plans out their writing, you’ll likely have a rough draft of a synopsis ready if you outlined your story in the planning phase.
Next question on our list is; do I need a synopsis?
The only way to answer this is, yes. If you are planning on self-publishing your story then perhaps you can get by without writing one, but I will say that every author needs to have both a brief and a detailed synopsis ready to present at any given moment.
The reason for this is because it helps you organize your story; you’d be surprised by how helpful a synopsis can be when you sit down to write a back-cover description of your book or even when you’re trying to come up with a nice hook in the introduction of your query letter.
Also, if you’re querying agents, at least one agent is going to ask for a synopsis. These are simply one of the things you’ll need to have in the literary realm—and when you stop to think about it, you have to ask yourself; why don’t I have a detailed description of my book written down?
It is always handy to be prepared and have a polished synopsis ready for an agent to read, however, you may not ever have to use it.
Not all agents are the same! Some will ask for one, others will not.
Our last question of the day; how do I write a synopsis?
You’d think this would be easy and self-explanatory, right? Just sit down and write out your story in a few paragraphs or chapter by chapter—but it’s a little more complex than that! No matter which sort of synopsis you are writing, they will follow the same format when done correctly.
Only include major characters who have a real impact in the story. If you’ve written a book about an angry teenager who wants to become a basketball player, we don’t need to know about every member of the team. I can’t tell you who is important enough to mention in your own synopsis, that’s for you to decide, just remember that when you do mention someone their name should be fully capitalized.
Incorrect: The story opens with Joe Brown getting ready for practice.
Correct: The story opens with JOE BROWN getting ready for practice.
You can also include the character’s role or even a personality trait just to make things clear.
Also Correct: The story opens with hotheaded protagonist, JOE BROWN, as he’s getting ready for practice.
Make sure you include a timeline in your synopsis. If your story takes place over the span of a year, don’t just assume your reader knows how much time has passed from one paragraph to the next—or one chapter to the next. It can be as simple as saying six months later… Just don’t make it seem sloppy.
Incorrect: By this time in the story, Joe has been benched by his coach for his temper.
Correct: After being on the team for three months, JOE’S temper causes him to be benched by his coach.
Again, don’t be afraid to include character traits or roles if they are important enough for us to know.
Also Correct: After playing for three months, JOE’S temper forces his strict coach, MR. GREEN, to bench him.
My last tip on writing a synopsis is to be detailed but to the point. This might sound like an oxymoron, but you’ll understand what I mean when you sit down to write for yourself. Include key points but don’t hold on to unnecessary verbiage. If you’ve got a big secret to reveal halfway through the story, include that! But don’t make it a big reveal in the synopsis—you’ve already done that in your story. Keep things detailed but concise.
Incorrect: Once Joe is able to play on the court again; we find out that the underlying secret to all his anger is truly because his strict coach is actually his stepfather who has been abusing him since he was a toddler.
Correct: Once JOE is allowed play basketball again, its revealed that his anger issues stem from his relationship with his abusive stepfather; COACH GREEN.
You might be able to slide more detail into a chapter by chapter synopsis, but the idea is to tell your agent everything they need to know in as few words as possible—while still presenting an interesting and entertaining book. Sounds like quite a job, right? It’s definitely an important part of your writing journey but, trust me, writing the book is the toughest thing you will ever do. This will be a piece of cake.
I never post anything on my website without giving glory to God. The Rebel Christian is a faith-based platform first and everything else second; as a writer, I often feel overwhelmed by the work I must put in to make my manuscript polished and presentable just to receive yet another rejection letter. Those can be devastating to any writer of any caliber, but I want to take this moment to tell everyone reading this article that no dream on this earth comes without a little effort.
If it’s worth it, work for it. But if you feel yourself overwhelmed, weighed down, or even nervous about this part of your writing journey—or any part—I want to encourage you to hand it over to God right now. I Peter 5:7 NIV says: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.
The Him in that verse refers to Christ our Savior. What matters to you, matters to Him. If you truly want to succeed in this literary realm, ask God for help! He wants to help you, and the help He can provide will be better than any tip or advice you’ll ever find online—or even here!
I know not everyone reading this is a Christian but as a Believer myself, I simply cannot do a thing without mentioning my wonderful Father and I do not apologize for that. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe below, there’ll be plenty more like it coming soon. Be sure to check out the other articles posted for writing tips and advice—there’s tons more to find in my archives if you’re up late tonight.
A few last points about writing a synopsis:
No matter which type of synopsis you are writing, you’ll need the correct format!
Times New Roman
Some agents won’t mind single space as long as it does not exceed one page and is still 12pt font