When it comes to querying literary agencies you will notice that most, if not all, request that a one page synopsis of your work be sent alongside your query. It is this, believe it or not, that most authors struggle with, especially when it comes to their first query/novel.
What to include, what tone to write it in, and really what a synopsis is are common questions; you can find some answers here. But first, here’s the most common question;
Do I really need a synopsis?
In all honesty? Yes. There may be some agents that do not explicitly request a synopsis, though that is very rare, however even in these cases you will improve your chances greatly by including one.
What is a synopsis?
The synopsis is a one page sum up of your story and all the major plot points; it is your best, if not your only, tool for selling the story to an agent or publisher, and it could, in fact, be more important than your cover letter (though you will find advice on how to write one of those here, too).
What a synopsis is not is a jacket-blurb (you know, one of those high on drama, low on details, halfway breathless attention-getter statements designed to tell you next to nothing about the actual plot?), nor is it your thoughts on the symbolism, themes, and market for your novel.
A synopsis lets the agent know what they could have to work with; its the skeleton of your plot laid bare, so that the agent or publisher can decide if they want to see the full manuscript.
What should be in a synopsis?
A summary of the main plot points, main characters, and main character arcs that have a lasting effect on the direction and nature of the story. A simple synopsis will include the following; the premise, inciting incident, rising action of conflict, climax, character growth, and the resolution.
Please do not leave out the ending or main plot points; this isn’t about keeping the reader in suspense, it’s a skilful way to inform the agent or publisher of what you have made. Think of it as a recipe; include everything that was vital to creating the finished product.
How to write a synopsis
Before you start to write your synopsis, you need to prepare your plot points; if you work from an outline this will be easier for you, but pantsers still have hope (in fact the process of writing your synopsis may help you to identify plot holes if you write this way).
If you don’t have an outline to work from you should read through your novel and make a note of all the main plot points. Try making a short summary of the key events in each chapter. Once you’ve done this you’ll probably have four or five pages of notes. Some agents want a long synopsis, three to five pages, others a very short one. I would suggest you make your notes into a four or five page synopsis and keep a version of this in case an agent wants this long version. For those looking to receive a concise synopsis you can cut it down a little.
Once you have a sum up of your key plot points you can begin the four stage process of writing the synopsis;
- String together your main plot point summaries to make a coherent narrative; cut anything that is non-necessary to understanding the progression of the plot and character arcs. If you find it easier to write the character arcs and main plot points individually, do so. At this stage you should be thinking about having a functional sum up of your novel; polishing and embellishing can come later.
- Consider the beginning; you don’t have space for a huge amount of context during your, but you should built a short foundation. Talk about who your main characters are (CAPITALISE their names), what position they start in, and most importantly what problems they face from the start. Pick up the thread of this conflict and weave it through the summary you have already created.
- Focus on the end; read through what you have with a particular eye for plot points, character arcs, and trends, and reinforce your ending in a way that emphasises how your ending ties up the loose ends, or if it’s a trilogy/series which loose ends are tied up.
- Read and refine; cut the fat, add any missing plot points or characters, and of course proofread for spelling, grammar, and consistency. At this point you should also make sure that your synopsis is formatted correctly.
How to format your synopsis
- No matter how you write your story, e.g. in first person, third person, past or present tense, your synopsis should be written in third person, present tense.
- Unless stated otherwise any synopsis of more than one page should be double-spaced. A one page synopsis may be single spaced, or have 1.5 spacing, but check your chosen agency or publishers website to see if they specify. If they do specify always comply with their specification.
- Align left (do not justify text).
- One inch margins on every side.
- Indent first line of each paragraph by 1/2 inch.
- In the header, include; author last name, title or key words from title, and the word Synopsis.
- If you are sending this with a cover letter you may not need contact information in your synopsis, once again check for direction otherwise.
- Page one should have: header information (slug), a title one or two lines below the header (centred), the word Synopsis one or two lines below the title, and then the main body of the synopsis.
- If contact info is to be in the synopsis add it after the header information and the title.