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Writing a novel synopsis

I’m finally getting around to writing the dreaded novel synopsis. The synopsis is probably the most challenging item when putting together materials in order to be considered for publication. Not every agent I’ve found requests a synopsis. Everyone is different. Some want a query, synopsis, and the first few pages of your novel. Others do not require the synopsis, at least not initially. Everyone will ask for the query, however, so you’ll definitely need to write that.

I decided I would go ahead and write my synopsis even though not everyone requires it. And for those that do require it, I will now be ready to submit to them as well. What I have found is most everyone is different when it comes to advice for writing a synopsis. There does not seem to be a set formula for writing one. Some say to condense your novel down to one to three pages, others say five to ten pages, and still others say length does not matter. General consensus seems to be between two and three pages for the synopsis.

Most everyone also agrees that you should include your major plot points, major characters, and your character motivations. Beyond that, it’s pretty much up to you how you write it.

You also want to avoid simply writing in a chapter by chapter format where you say: in chapter one this happens, then in chapter two this happens. While I think that’s a good place to start, you likely do not want your final synopsis to read in that format. My plan is to start with the chapter by chapter format and then go back and pare it down to two to three pages, blending the major characters and plot points into a seamless summary that reads more like the copy you find on book jackets than in an instruction manual. The chapter by chapter format has also been helpful for me in determining the most important events and characters and giving me an idea of where something might be lacking.

Resources for writing a synopsis:

6 thoughts on “Writing a novel synopsis”

  1. I decided a while ago to use the the Glen Strathy outline on the link you have above. I also found a post on Writer’s Digest that had some interesting points –

    I like the basic idea that you should have a long one and a short one ready and waiting before queries, and that if there’s no preference stated by the agent, go with the one that you think will knock ’em dead!
    Good luck!

  2. I don’t think I had read the link at Writer’s Digest before. Thanks for sending it.

    Do you have a query letter written already, or are you working on that as well?

  3. I’m not nearly at the point for querying. I have some lit agents picked out. (Donald Maass is my no. 1 !!) The first act (about one third) of my manuscript is presentable. The problem is, I’ve never published my work besides in newsprint. I know I’m a good writer, have been since day one; I’ve been told by enough professional people in all walks to have let that sink in. Since I’m no spring chicken, I feel I want to come as close to the ten million in one chance of writing a classic as I can get. I’m in no hurry to get it published and end up at in the zero chance bin. Know what I mean?

  4. I know what you mean. I worked on my novel for 9 years before submitting it. Donald Maas is on my list as well. What’s your novel about?

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