What You Need to Include in Your Synopsis

Ah, the dreaded novel synopsis. I don’t think any writer ever complains more than when they have to write a synopsis. They’re certainly intimidating: “Excuse me, please condense your 80k word manuscript into two pages. Good luck!” Even though you might think the task is impossible, it’s really not. You are a writer; you can make anything sound fantastic. Right?

If you include the following things, then your synopsis will be great (and just what an agent or editor is looking for):

You need a plot overview. The most important part of the synopsis is making sure you cover all the main plot points. The easiest way to do this? Invest in some sticky notes and start writing down two or three sentences per chapter that summarize the events. That’s it. Write down only the most important things that happen in each chapter of your manuscript (this is also a great way to check pacing if you’re still revising). Now that you have the basics in front of you, string those chapter highlights into a few pages of “narration” for your synopsis. 

You need to ignore most subplots. I know it’s difficult to cut things from the synopsis, but you can’t avoid it. Focus on the main story arc and maybe one or two intriguing subplots—if you have the room. 

You need to introduce the characters. A lot of synopses focus on the plot (good!), but ignore the characters (bad!). Introduce the main characters–protagonists and antagonists–and don’t shy away from including their emotions and reactions to situations (especially if it impacts the storyline). Your characters make your story compelling, so they need to be in the synopsis spotlight. Putting character names in CAPITAL LETTERS (just like that) is a good way to make the cast of your manuscript stand out in a synopsis—and the person reading your synopsis can quickly scan the document for character names to trigger their memory. 

You need to talk about the setting. Where does the story take place? How does the setting enhance the plot? These are important questions to answer in your synopsis.

You need to avoid adding description. Even if a situation is highly intense and life-changing, you don’t need to say that in the synopsis. Don’t over-analyze what is going on in the story. Simply state the action as it happens. Leave the descriptive passages in the manuscript.

You need to make it short. There’s no official length for a synopsis (agents and editors will prefer synopses of varying lengths), so it’s best to have a couple on hand (or at least know where you can shorten if necessary). Aim for a synopsis between 1 to 3 pages and make sure you can whittle it down to one page if you need to. The shorter, the better.

You need to format it properly. A one-page synopsis in 8pt font isn’t a great idea. Use a normal text size (12pt is standard, but I’ll let you get away with 11pt if you need the extra space) with a normal font (Times New Roman is always safe). Don’t set crazy margins and try your best to double space. Remember to include your name and the name of the manuscript at the top of your page—especially if you’re submitting your synopsis document separately from your manuscript. Make it easy for an agent or editor to find out what they’re reading and who wrote it. 

Need even more synopsis guidance? Author Marissa Meyer wrote a great post called 6 Steps for Writing a Book Synopsis.