Synopsis Do’s And Don’ts

So you’ve done it! Created your characters, planned a world, plotted a story, and turned them into a whole book.

It was hard. It took years. It filled your soul, and it stretched your sanity. It was one of the best things you’ve ever done and one of the worst—or so you thought.

As many writers discover after completing their book, they need to write a synopsis; a process that feels harder than typing “The End” on a 100,000-word manuscript.

Why? Because condensing those characters, world, story, and years of carefully crafted sentences into a one-page summary is damn hard. Like writing a book, however, you can do it, all you need is a little help from these do’s and don’ts…

Do’s

Do Give Yourself Options

A one-page version is usually standard, but some publishers/agents do request a two-page option so it’s a good idea to write both. While you may balk at that suggestion when writing one version is hard enough, two will up your skill level. Working on multiple synopses will teach you what to leave out when you have to whittle a synopsis from two pages down to one, and will also provide you with enough options for any submission guideline.

Do Be A Reader

Before attempting your synopsis, read your book from start to finish and make notes about every chapter. You’ll know the plot inside out by the time you’ve written a book, but writer-you will remember the parts of the story you wrote but later deleted. Take the time to go over the story as a reader, noting down what actually happens in your finished MS and use those notes as the basis for your synopsis.

Do Be Concise

Even though you have pages of notes from your summary, your synopsis shouldn’t and can’t include everything. Highlight the most important events and arcs in your notes and include only them to keep your synopsis concise.

Do Cut Unnecessary Words

Just as you’d check your MS for unnecessary words, check your synopsis for the words you can safely delete.

Do Include Spoilers

Even though it’s hard for your writer-heart to include every twist and the ending because you’d rather an agent/publisher discover those gems reading your MS, spoilers are expected. Include every notable twist and the end, and write them in a way that makes the agent/publisher want to read how they came about, even though the synopsis has spoiled the fun for them.

Don’ts

Don’t Get Physical

Physical details of your characters have no place in your synopsis (unless it has a bearing on the plot) so don’t waste words describing the golden locks of your MC.

Don’t Go With The Minors

Minor characters don’t need a mention, and it doesn‘t matter if you’re attached to them or that your betas loved them more than the MC. You’ve got limited space to create a connection to a character in a synopsis, so keep the mentions to the absolute main characters; two if you can get away with it, four at most.

Don’t Give Play By Plays

A synopsis is not the place to delve into character history so don’t saddle your sentences with the MC’s whole life story when only the incident that kicks off the book matters. Same goes for the history between characters and how they know each other. Keep those details for the MS.

Don’t Be Thematic

As much as you want to highlight the brilliance of your theme and logic, the synopsis needs to be about your plot and what happens.

Don’t “And Then…”

Don’t get caught up in describing “this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” Find a way to tie together the story highlights and main aspects of the plot, without the “and then” moments in between.

Don’t Forget The Growth

Because your synopsis is more detailed than your query, you’ve got the room to show off character growth. Make sure to include the arc of the MC and how they change from the beginning of your book through to the end.

One final tip to try is to write the synopsis in the same voice/style as your book and take advantage of the chance to show off your word-smith skills. Combined with these do’s and don’ts, this should make the process of crafting a synopsis easier.

If you have any of your own synopsis advice, drop it in the comments. I’d love to hear it.

— K.M. Allan

You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

39 thoughts on “Synopsis Do’s And Don’ts

  1. I had to take a step back and have someone else write it for me. Luckily she was my editor so she read it just as much as I did.

    For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why it came so easy for her and than I realized she did not have an emotional bond it at the level I did. So maybe that’s it. If you’re struggling and you’ve had a few people read it, have them write it instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good tip, Bryan. I can totally understand being too attached to view the story objectively enough to be able to write a synopsis. It’s lucky you had someone who knew the story so well they could do it justice 😊.

      Like

  2. Great post, so many good points that writers must remember. It’s so hard to cut out minor characters, especially if they mean a lot to you, but it has to be done. My biggest challenge was submitting to an agent who only wanted 300 words in the synopsis. I tried to cut down my original synopsis, but in reality I should’ve started from scratch, because it ended up a mess.
    These tips are awesome, Kate 😀 xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lindsey Russell

    All good points but unless I’ve developed a blind spot there’s one missing.
    Synopsis should be written in the present tense – probably why so many of us don’t find them easy if it’s not the tense we normally write in 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good tip, Lindsey, and easy to slot in with the “writing in your book’s voice” tip. I’ll remember that for any future synopsis blogs, and for when I’m writing my own. Thanks!

      Like

  4. Reblogged this on Just Can't Help Writing and commented:
    We can never get enough advice on writing a synopsis. I especially like a point in the comments: Don’t wait until the day you’re asked for one. Start now. I’ve also found that a good basis for a synopsis is my list of talking points for a five-minute pitch. Thanks, K. M. Allan!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reading through your MS before writing a synopsis is such a good idea! I didn’t even occur to me that I would try to incorporate stuff that I deleted — because I totally would lol. Don’t be thematic is also a good tip, even for queries, too. It’s not really the time to show the theme, but I think if it’s woven into your plot and characters, it’ll still show up in a synopsis. 🙂 Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Suburban Syntax and commented:
    Awesome post from K.M. Allan with tips on Do’s and Don’ts when writing a Synopsis. I’m bookmarking this one for when I finish my current novel. Check it out, because the synopsis is one of the most maligned and misunderstood pieces of a proper book pitch.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  8. Love your opening paragraph…. ‘It was hard. It took years. It filled your soul, and it stretched your sanity. It was one of the best things you’ve ever done and one of the worst—or so you thought.’… until you tried writing the synopsis. It is so true and thanks so much for sharing, another very helpful post. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to B.L. Daniels Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s