Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Writing a Synopsis

It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check outย #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

The Dreaded Synopsis

So, you’ve written an entire book. You’ve polished it until it shines. You dotted every i and crossed every t. The plot makes sense, the characters feel real, your beta readers absolutely love it, you’ve checked for mistakes a million times, and the book is as good as you’re going to make it. Now, it’s time to submit it. But wait–before you can do that, you have to do the really HARD part, the part that’s even harder than writing the book.

You have to write a synopsis.

*groaning from the audience*

If you’re like me, you can make the effort to write a book without batting an eye, but when the time comes to write the synopsis you fall down on the floor and whine and cry like a two-year-old who was just told they can’t have a fourth cup of chocolate pudding. Writing a synopsis is hard. It’s an art form as much as writing a book.

First of all, you have to condense your ENTIRE book down into–how many pages? Well, that depends. There’s no absolute standard “this is how many pages a synopsis is” largely because the editor/agent you’re submitting to makes this decision. Some want a short, one-page synopsis. Some want it to be longer, sometimes 5+ pages. One would think a longer synopsis would be easier to write, but it’s not, necessarily. Because a synopsis is also about telling a story, and yes, it needs to sound just as interesting as your book in order to sell it.

When editors and agents look a synopsis, they’re looking for a couple of things: they want to see if the plot works when it’s all pieced together and if it makes sense, and they want to know what happens in the book from beginning to end to find out if it’s original, engaging, and if it will sell. It sounds unfair, but these professional people don’t have time to read your book if the synopsis makes it sounds weak, disjointed, or just overall boring. The synopsis is a briefing of what’s to come, and it tells them if it’s worth their time to explore further.

So, what needs to go into a synopsis? Here are the key components:

  • The major characters. These should be introduced quickly and their role in the story should be sufficiently explained. Depending on the length of the synopsis you might also add in some of your minor characters, at the point where they come into the story.
  • The conflict. This should be presented immediately, so the person reading the synopsis will understand right away what this story is about.
  • The major plot points. When you have to write a short synopsis, it’s helpful sometimes to list all your major plot points, and then figure out which ones you don’t really need to mention, or can gloss over, because you’re going to have to be very, very succinct.
  • The climax. What happens at the pinnacle of the book? How are things resolved? What changes, and how do your characters deal with it?
  • The conclusion. Synopses are not spoiler-free zones. The editor/agent needs to see how you end the story, to know if it’s appropriate and satisfying.

Writing a synopsis is not a whole lot of fun–at least, not for me. And guess what I’m doing right now?

How do you go about writing a synopsis? Do you have any advice for other writers?

40 thoughts on “Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Writing a Synopsis

  1. I hear you! One of the most funny moment in my writing life has been when a friend of mine, who was to write her first synopsis, after looking at a list like the one you wrote above, told me, “Well, it looks pretty easy.”
    Let’s just say it took her a few months and many rounds of beta readers and revisions, she told me, “You know what I said the first time we talked about syopsis? What a sweet and naive me it was.”
    LOL!!!

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    1. Hahahahaha easy! That poor, naive thing. She learned quick! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  2. Excellent post. I use the names of my major scenes to help me write a synopsis. This always gives me a place to start this very difficult task ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. That’s a great idea! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think your tips are spot on, though Iโ€™m curious, was the order chosen intentionally?
    Do you find yourself consistently starting with main characters, and then expanding to include conflict, major plot points, and climax/conclusion, in that order?

    I tend to start with those few “key points” that represent the most fundamental and critical events in the story, and then ask myself “which characters are essential for understanding those events?”

    One technique I’ve found helpful is to practice with well-established novels; writing my own synopsis and then comparing it to the official one.

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    1. That’s the way I personally do it, introducing the main characters first–I’m sure it can be done other ways, especially if the setting/idea of the story is more important than the characters. Writing a synopsis of an already published novel is a great idea–sounds like good practice!

      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. These are great tips! I’m not looking forward to this step, especially since it’s “not spoiler-free” (I’ll live, though).

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    1. Yes, it seems counterintuitive to spoil your own book!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is all great advice, and it all made me visibly tense. So not looking forward to writing my synopsis for my WIP. Nooooo!!!!

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  6. You did make it sound easy. Thanks for the excellent tips!

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    1. Ha, I’m glad I made it SOUND that way! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  7. Writing a synopsis is probably my least favorite part of the writing process, haha. These are great tips, though. Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. Thank you! I hope you find them helpful.

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  8. Thanks for the awesome breakdown of what goes into a synopsis. I haven’t written mine yet and am kind of dreading it. But who knows maybe I will find a secret love of writing synopses. It could happen. Right?
    Good luck on yours. I hope it is as painless an experience as possible.

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    1. I do find that once I get into it, it’s easier than I thought–it’s just the dreading of it that makes it seem so daunting! Thank you!

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  9. Use a reverse snowflake method. Keep reducing the synopsis from a page for every chapter to a paragraph to a sentence. Then reduce again to the character, her problem, what stands in the way, and the stakes if she doesnโ€™t get her goal.

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    1. That’s really good advice. I’m going to try that the next time I have to write one. Thank you!

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  10. Good tips! I find the synopsis for a publisher is easier than the one that goes on the back of the book.

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    1. I agree. At least the synopsis is longer!

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  11. You could hear me groaning couldn’t you? The dreaded synopsis writing. So tricky. Good luck with yours ๐Ÿ™‚

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  12. I agree that writing the synopsis is a tough job. I struggled with my recent WIP synopsis and then sent it to a professional for revisions. As it turned out she didn’t make too many changes, but set the format according to what agents/editors like. (character names in all caps, synopsis doubled spaced, written in the present tense, time shifts clearly noted in bold)

    Thanks for this nice post that reminds me of how much I dislike writing synopses!

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    1. Writing it in present tense is always what trips me up–but I realize that also makes it sound much more like you’re telling someone directly what it’s all about. And all the technical formatting details! Like it’s not hard enough!

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  13. You make it sound so easy. Thanks for the tips. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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    1. Hahaha yes, can’t you tell? It’s SUPER easy! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I hate having to write a synopsis in one page. I can do blurbs and enjoy them, but itโ€™s torture for me to create such a short synopsis for my stories, especially the more complicated storylines.

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    1. I feel your pain! It’s so hard to distill it down into a short explanation.

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  15. I relate to your agony. Being self-published, I don’t have an agent or a publisher. In fact, I’m not sure any synopsis I’ve written has ever been read, which makes the process even more grueling. I tend to think of a synopsis as the book blurb on steroids–at least it’s a place to start.

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    1. Ha! That’s a good way to describe it. It’s even harder to write a blurb, because that’s even shorter and has to sell it MORE.

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  16. Oh yes! Belly planted, Flailing arms and legs! I find itโ€™s the only thing I am able to write though under a tight deadline. If I think too much it tends to be awful ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Same here. I just have to jump in and do it, or I’m going to screw it all up!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Distilling a story down to a synopsis or even a back cover blurb is probably one of the most challenging tasks of writing! Thanks for these great tips. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Totally! Writing a WHOLE book and then shaving it down to such a small description…it seems insane! Yet, we do it.

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  18. “Because a synopsis is also about telling a story, and yes, it needs to sound just as interesting as your book in order to sell it.” Great point. I read somewhere that you should remember to add emotion to your synopsis, to make the reader sit up and take note. Easier said that done ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Ronel visiting from the Author Toolbox blog hop. Latest post at Ronel the Mythmaker

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    1. Exactly! It’s first and foremost an advertising tool. You want to get the agent/editor to go “oooh, I want to read THIS book!” Easier said than done.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I don’t have an agent (and am not currently looking for one), so at least this is one thing I don’t have to worry about. Writing a blurb, on the other hand …. *Sticks bottom lip out & taps foot*

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    1. I don’t have an agent either, but every publisher I’ve submitted directly to has required me to have a synopsis. Even my current publisher, whom I’m well established with and send almost everything to, makes me give them a one page synopsis with every new submission. I can’t escape it! Aaaaah!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, I didn’t think of the publisher angle.

        Like

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