Just when you thought you had finished your book and there was nothing left to write, along comes the book synopsis. Writers are often asked to include a book synopsis when they submit their work to a publisher or agent, and often find it harder than writing the novel itself.
How do you condense your entire work to one page? What do you include? What do you leave out? How do you write it?
It can be a challenge and writing a good book synopsis is an acquired skill set. But we’ll give you a few tips to get you underway and remember, you can always ask us for this as part of our additional editing services.
What is a synopsis?
Synopsis comes from an Ancient Greek work, synopsesthai, which means “a comprehensive view.” So, your book synopsis includes just that. It summarises your story’s main plot points, key points of interest, major characters, the ending, and any major themes. This means it covers your entire narrative arc, within reason, as it’s a much condensed version. It is not designed to hold anything back, so it does include a big reveal and any spoilers that your work contains.
What is the importance of the synopsis?
A synopsis is usually sent in with the query letter you send to an agent or publisher, and they use this to determine whether they want to continue reading your novel at all, but also the novel’s marketability and saleability.
It works like a teaser or movie trailer for them. Is it good enough to draw the professional in to want to read more? Hopefully it is, because this is the first stepping stone you have to cross. And it’s a big one, so you want it to be good.
How do you structure a good synopsis?
A synopsis should always be written in third person, present tense, single spaced and a single page or 500-800 words. That’s the nuts and bolts of the presentation, but how do you structure it? And what tone should you take?
Usually you start your synopsis by introducing your key protagonist, their motivations, and any key details about the setting or world of the story, before moving into the inciting incident (the event that changes things for the protagonist). From there, you would go about outlining the major plot points and how the conflict plays out, what drives it, the stakes involved and ultimately how it is resolved. At some point, you need to explain how this then changes things for the protagonist both internally and externally. There must be evidence of a character arc in the synopsis, and you must provide a resolution to the crisis. Remember, spoilers are required.
Usually this is enough to go on to explain a plot and doesn’t give you much leeway for detail or every character and event in your story. You may need to avoid subplots and summarise action and events succinctly.
If you want to summarise this further, you could list it as: the premise/introduction, rising action (the inciting incident), the conflict, climax, character growth and resolution.
In terms of tone and presentation, the synopsis is not designed to be full of sales language but neutral, concise and well written. It’s quite a bit drier than the book jacket, but is designed to tell the agent or publisher what your work contains. However, it should also have something of the author’s voice in it, and style. Remember, you want it to stand out and you may wish to use deliberate word choice and sentence structure that reflect the language of your story.
Just remember too, that unlike in your story, you tell, don’t show (the exact opposite of your story). You can be intriguing, but you also need to make it clear what is happening.
There are many examples of synopsis online that can help explain and show the process to writers.
Wikipedia has provided one on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novel. This is the first paragraph:
Bella Swan is a seventeen-year-old introvert girl who moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Forks, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula to live with her father, Charlie Swan, the town’s police chief. Her mother, Renee Dwyer, is traveling with her new husband, Phil Dwyer, a minor-league baseball player. Bella is admitted to Forks High School, where she easily settles in with a group of friends. A somewhat inexperienced and shy girl, Bella is dismayed by several boys competing for her attention.
In this the reader is immediately introduced to the protagonist (Bella Swan) and some of the other main characters that fill the premise of the story (her mother and father) and what her world is (moving to Forks). It’s not particularly exciting, but we get an idea of who she is (an introvert) and that she is inexperienced and shy.
Sparknotes provides a good conclusion of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in the last lines of its synopsis, which outline some of the resolution for the main protagonist and how his life has changed as a result of the story arc:
After the battle, Bilbo and Gandalf return to Hobbiton, where Bilbo continues to live. He is no longer accepted by respectable hobbit society, but he does not care. Bilbo now prefers to talk to elves and wizards, and he is deeply content to be back among the familiar comforts of home after his grand and harrowing adventures.
This is important in the book synopsis because it shows us that this character is far from linear. Their internal world has changed because of the journey they’ve been on.
There are many other examples of synopses online. Perhaps Google your favourite story and see how it has been summarised?
If you can’t quite fit the synopsis to one page on your first attempt, don’t worry. This is a common problem. Let it sit for a bit, then come back to it. Consider what could be removed and still have the story make sense. A synopsis can also be quite dry, so it doesn’t need all the colourful description you use in your book. Edit out excessive words, redundancies and scrutinize every sentence and word.
Once you think you’ve reduced it as much as you can, take another look, and then another look. Does it flow well? Is it clear? Have you told, not shown? Have you got someone else to read it? Did you look at some other professional synopsis for ideas and inspiration?
When you’ve done all you can with it and it meets all criteria and seems good, look at it one more time. You can never tweak it enough. It is crucial this is as good as it can be as it can be one of the deciding factors an agent uses to decide if they want to see more of your work or not. So, why not make it a doozy first time around?