Friday, June 7, 2013

Synopsis: What it is and Isn't

You’ve pitched to an agent or editor at a conference, or you’ve queried an editor or agent about your book, and they request a full submission.

That can mean many things, but most often for fiction books, a submission requires some of your actually-written-edited-best-it-can-be chapters. Their request can also ask for the dreaded synopsis.

“Yikes,” you say, “what’s a synopsis?”

When I began writing, I wrote a synopsis as the final task and worried myself silly over it. I admit I still don't like them.

Multi-published author, Karen Kelley,
set me straight. “Write your synopsis first when you have the idea in your head. This avoids deciding what’s important and what’s not. In the beginning, we only know the important part. 

Her words of wisdom proved correct. When the book was completed with all the problems I threw at my protagonist, my synopsis was too long. Every plot twist seemed important. I couldn’t delete anything. When I wrote the synopsis first, I hit only the main plot themes.
Now, let's look at what a synopsis really is and what's it's not.

What a synopsis is not:

    It’s not a summary.

    It’s not a chapter by chapter outline.

    It’s not a query.

    It’s not a back-cover blurb.

What a synopsis does:

     It gives the reader the essence of the story.

     It tells who and what with a light touch on when, where, and

     It answers the questions:

         What’s so different about this story?
         Why should I care about this person or their problems?
         What does the protagonist want? Why? Why can’t he get it?

     Instead of saying what happened next, it should tell the reader
           what impact it has on the characters.

 Important reminders when we write a synopsis:

     Those who read it judge our writing.

     Find out what the agent or editor that’s the target of your submission wants in a synopsis. Requirements run from one page to ten pages, and formatting desires may differ.

     A synopsis is IMPORTANT.

Good websites on writing synopsis:

Good examples of synopsis: 


  1. Janet, this is such a helpful post on writing a synopsis. I'll be sharing it. And, thanks for the links!

    1. Thanks for sharing it, Karen. I'm glad it was helpful.

  2. Excellent post, Janet. I have to admit I find this aspect of writing a bit confusing at times. Love the links.

    1. Me, too, Cheryl, I find more people who struggle with synopsis than anything. I think writers want to tell it all.

  3. A synopsis does cover the whole book, including the ending. It does concentrate the whole story. Unless an agent or publishers says differently, the author is expected to cover everything, in summary form, in such a way that the agent or publisher wants to see and read the manuscript.

    1. So true, Vivian. A synopsis does tell the story beginning to end. Different publishers do have different requirements, but I find that most don't want a play-by-play description but instead want more of any overview. You are so right that no publisher wants a big surprise & they DO want to know the ending.

  4. That pretty well sums it up: What a synopsis is and what it is not. Precise. Nice job.