The Basics of a Good Synopsis

If you’re planning to shop your book around, you’re going to need a synopsis. I started writing one when my first manuscript was complete and I was ready to find an agent.

Strangely, even though at this point you’ll know your book inside out, writing the synopsis can be harder than writing the book.

I looked up tips online and thought I’d come up with a great first version. It plotted out the entire book, introduced the main characters, basically gave a step-by-step, condensed version of my whole book. I even wrote it in the same voice, and was proud of the effort.

When agents who read my query letter requested a synopsis, I very happily sent it along… and got nowhere.

Now, since most agents don’t specifically say why they are rejecting you, I can’t say it was because of the synopsis, but something clearly wasn’t working with the package I was sending out.

After a few rejections in a row, I decided to professionally get my manuscript assessed. This required sending through a synopsis, for which they directed me to a section on their website that provided tips for writing one.

Reading their tips, I quickly realized my original synopsis may not have been as great as I thought. It had too much detail, too many characters that didn’t need to be part of the synopsis, and mentioned pretty much everything.

Yes, a synopsis needs to tell your story, but it doesn’t need to tell it like a very boring road map, IE: this happened and then this happened and then this happened (for the record, my synopsis wasn’t that tedious, but it might as well have been).

Agents and publishers do want a run down of your book at a quick glance, including the ending, but they don’t need to know every single incident and every single character and every single chapter broken down.

To write a good synopsis, you just need to stick to the basics:

Focus on the Main Character

Include two other characters (maybe 3 if you really, really have to), but stick to talking about just the main character for the majority. They are the glue that holds your book together, and should shine in the synopsis.

Explain the Essence of the Story

Show the path the main character/s took and how it changed them. By mentioning how they are at the beginning of the book vs. the end, you’ll show growth and that you know how to incite change in your characters, which is a great feature to have in a book.

List Only the Main Events

Your synopsis has to be a cohesive, mini version of your novel, with all the best bits on show.

By including just these basics, your synopsis will highlight the most important parts of your book and be much more interesting for whomever is reading it. Interest creates a need for more, and could lead to an agent or publisher requesting your manuscript–which in the end, is what a good synopsis should do.

– K.M. Allan