Many authors of long-form fiction dread writing book synopses and blurbs: We have a hard time narrowing down our meticulously crafted, finely detailed book babies into just a few paragraphs for a blurb, or a page or two for a synopsis. Also, writing synopses and blurbs is essentially copy writing, a skill that is very different from writing novels. In addition, many authors, especially new authors and self-published authors, are unclear on what a book synopsis is and why they would need one.
Simply put, a synopsis is a summary of your story. It is usually 1 to 2 pages in length but can be longer. Check the submission requirements of the person, agency, or organization to whom/to which you are submitting to be sure. If you are submitting to more than one, make sure each synopsis adheres to the standards of the person or organization you are sending it to. In many cases, this information can be found online by going to the appropriate website.
A synopsis is a summary of a story that outlines all the important details: the central character(s), the central conflict, the setting, the stakes, the main plot points, and the ending. It leaves no unanswered questions and uses language that evokes interest and emotion in the reader and that hints at the voice of the writer and the tone of the book.
The synopsis has many jobs to do in order for it to be successful.
A synopsis must:
- summarize your story in an interesting and engaging manner
- hook the reader
- evoke reader emotions
- introduce your central character(s), central conflict, what’s at stake, the setting, and the theme and/or premise
- include all the major plot points/key scenes for your story (this is the story arc or narrative arc), but no plot points outside of these (i.e. do not include minor plot points)
- conform to the standards, including that for length, of the person or body to whom you will submit it
- convey your voice, writing style, and the tone of your book (to some degree—opinions seem to vary on this)
- convey your genre
- answer every question it raises
- reveal the ending
Tips for Writing an Effective Synopsis
As you can see above, your synopsis has a lot of work to do, and very little space to do it in. And it is up to you, as the author, to make sure it does these jobs well. Here are some tips to help you along the way.
- Write the book synopsis in the third person present tense, even if this is not the narrative point of view or verb tense that you’ve used in the book.
- When possible, keep paragraphs short.
- Stick to the word limit given by the agent, editor, publisher, or organization you are querying. Consider having a couple of different versions of varying lengths ready to go that you can tweak to fit.
- Try to build information about the setting/world-building, genre, and central conflict into your character introduction. In Fictionary StoryTeller terms, your introductory paragraph should anchor the reader in time and location in addition to clearly introducing the protagonist.Below is the second paragraph in a synopsis I wrote for one of my fantasy novels (the first paragraph was a brief overview of the story as a whole). As you read it, think about how it introduces the main character while also giving information about the setting, the genre, and the conflict.
Character: The main character is an 18-year-old girl named Shendahli who is a princess and a Dragon Flightmaster. She is under pressure due to her many responsibilities, she is heartbroken, and she has a strained relationship with her father.
Setting: The mention of dragons, betrothals, princesses, and kings inform us this is a fantasy world set in a medieval-like era.
Genre: Since it is set in a fantasy world with at least one mythical creature that we know of, we know this is the fantasy genre, and the medieval-like era suggests it is epic fantasy.
Conflict: Internally, the protagonist is battling with a lack of self-confidence and, externally, her roles are causing pressure, and her relationship with her father is a difficult one (more about the main conflict actually follows in the paragraph directly after this one in my synopsis).
- In addition to the introductory paragraph mentioned in #4, include all major plot points.
- As with the example in #4 above, as you are writing your paragraphs outlining the inciting incident, first plot point, midpoint, second plot point, climax, and resolution, include details that give significant insights into your story and your knowledge of story elements and story structure (make the details you give serve more than one purpose). The following shows what a story arc should look like (blue line) versus a story arc for a story that is quite right yet (orange line).
- Use strong verbs and adjectives. Avoid ‘ly’ words. For example, instead of saying “he ran quickly” or “he went quickly,” say “he dashed” or “he sprinted.” Instead of saying, “she looked pretty good,” say, “she looked magnificent.”
Structuring Your Book Synopsis:
There is a myriad of information and advice out there from professionals. In the article How to Write a Novel Synopsis: Step-by-Step Guide, the staff at Masterclass give advice similar to what I’ve given above. They say to 1. create a short overview; 2. develop an outline; and 3. fill in the details. For the short overview, think of something similar to the length and contents of an elevator pitch. The outline would be the bare-bones of the major plot points, to which you would add details that give or hint at as many of the important elements of the story as possible (like the example in #4 above).
In the article Writing a Synopsis, author Rebecca Smith suggests writing a brief summary of the entire novel of 30-75 words followed by the more detailed synopsis of 350-450 words. So, again, the summary would be that overview/elevator pitch briefly telling about the story, and the more detailed synopsis would be those major plot points with significant added details and evocative language that hints at your voice and the tone of your book.
In comparison, in the book Simply Synopsis (2017), the author, Michelle Somers, suggests crafting the opening of your synopsis using a HOOK TRANSITION STORY formula. What formulated the opening of the synopses of the examples she gives, then, could potentially be used as blurbs. However, she also states that the ending must be given in the synopsis: If not in the opening, then before the end of the synopsis.
Who Needs a Book Synopsis and Why?
- Traditionally published authors: It is generally accepted that traditionally published authors and those who wish to start querying for an agent or publisher will need a synopsis as part of the query process.
- New or aspiring authors who are preparing to query agents and publishing houses.
- Self-published authors may wish to apply for grants, or for competitions and awards, and a book synopsis may be needed as part of the application process.
- The ‘why’ for all types of author: No matter where you are in your writing career or how you plan to publish, writing out the book synopsis and including your plot points will let you, and any reader, know that your story has a solid story arc and premise, and that you understand story structure.
If you’ve used Fictionary StoryTeller to edit your manuscript and are part of the Fictionary Community, you’ll need a book synopsis to enter the Fictionary Book of the Year Award for best unpublished novel. See below for details.
Book synopses need to be both powerful and thorough within a short space. However, we may not know just how long to make it until we know where we will submit it. So it would, perhaps, be a good idea to have different versions of your synopsis in varying lengths: short, medium, and long. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared!
The Fictionary Community and Book of the Year Award
We’re super excited to announce the Fictionary Community, and I’d love for you to join. We’re here to support writers with more than software.
You’ve used StoryTeller to edit your manuscript, and now you can enter your manuscript in the Fictionary Book of the Year Award.
There are Two Categories:
- Best unpublished adult novel.
- Best unpublished Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel
The prizes include:
For the Winning Manuscripts
- Full StoryCoach edit by a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach editor including 3 hours of one-on-one consulting time.
- Full manuscript read-through by Lindsay Auld, Agent at Writers House Literary Agency for the Young Adult/Middle Grade category winner.
- Full manuscript read-through by Andrea Morrison, Agent at Writers House Literary Agency for the Adult category winner.
- One-year subscription of a StoryCoach client account (value $288 USD) or a one-year extension if you already have an account.
- Logo for book cover as the winner.
- And more…
Join the community to find out more about the Fictionary Book of the Year award and the great prizes we have for the shortlisted manuscripts.
You’ll also get to
- Meet other writers and editors
- Access live editing classes presented by experts
- Share your successes
- And much more!
Post Written by Sherry Leclerc
Sherry Leclerc is a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach editor, Fictionary content creator, Writer’s Digest certified copy editor, and independent author. She is a member of Editor’s Canada, the Canadian Authors Association (CAA), and The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Sherry holds a B.A. in English Language and Literature and a B.Ed. She is the sole proprietor of Ternias Publishing, through which she offers various editorial services. She also has a YouTube channel where she has a vlog about writing and editing, titled The Mythic Quill. You can find it on Youtube .
Masterclass Staff. (2021, September 8). How to Write a Novel Synopsis: Step-by-Step Guide. Masterclass.
Somers, Michelle. (2017). Simply Synopsis: A Simple Synopsis Strategy for Romance Writers (R. Kennedy, Ed.). Michelle Somers Pty Ltd.
Swift, R. (2019). Writing a Synopsis. The Literary Consultancy.