How to Write a Synopsis For Your Novel

Synopsis of Hamlet. This mind map gives a visual display of why it is so difficult to capture everything from a novel within the short length of a synopsis.

In my journey toward seeking representation, I have queried over 50 literary agents, all of which did not require a synopsis as part of the submission. I kept a reserve of ~20 other literary agents that I would submit to if my first round of submissions didn’t go so well. These 20 all require synopsis’s.  Unfortunately for authors, literary agents do not have standardized requests. Some ask for 1 page synopsis’s and others want 2 pages (a rare few even ask for a 3-5 page synopsis), which of course must be submitted along with your Query Letter and/or a sample of your work. While I do have one very promising agency reviewing my manuscript (fingers crossed!), I am preparing for round 2 (just in case) and just completed my synopsis.


At the top of the page (left or center) provide this info: Synopsis of “Title”. Genre: ____ Word Count: _____ By: “Your Name” (however, you can put your pen name if you wish).

Since most agents/publishers ask for either a 1 page or a “brief” synopsis, I think it’s best that you craft it to be within 1 page, single spaced. A synopsis is a narrative of your story, written with the same style and sense of excitement and wonder of your novel. Do not simply say, “Here is the main character, and this is what happens to him/her,” you must make the synopsis drool-worthy.

Synopses are always, ALWAYS, written in 3rd person and in the present tense. No exceptions! The synopsis must introduce your main characters. When you do so, you must make their full name in ALL CAPS, but only for the first time you mention their name. This makes it easy for a reader to locate the introduction of a character.

You do not have to detail all your sub-plots or all your characters, but the main story line must come across in your narrative. So it is best to ensure that you have captured all the major scenes and major plot elements and conflicts, and most importantly: The ending. Yes, you must give away your ending. How you conclude your story is especially important to agents and publishers.


Have a reader that is unfamiliar with your story read your synopsis and give you feedback. It can be difficult for you to be objective about your synopsis since you understand the meaning behind every sentence.


Think outside the box. You don’t have to write your synopsis in the same order of events as your novel. You can explain things out of order, which can help when you are trying to condense things down to one page.


Before writing your synopsis, bulletize the main points that you want to write about. This will help keep your novel at a high level and will help prevent you from diving into the details.


Don’t go down a rabbit hole. Beware of explaining one event/scene that forces you to explain another. Rabbit holes add additional details to your synopsis that only raise more questions than answers.


Less is more.


Why did I delay writing a synopsis, you ask? Because, summarizing your entire novel into one page is quite possibly the Achilles Heel of every author. Reducing my 100,000 word novel into an ~900 word page is difficult, to say the least. For most novels, there are so many complex sub-plots that hold a lot of weight to the overall story (as shown in the picture above), and not being able to fit them into your synopsis can be torturous.

When I joined NaNoWriMo this year, in order to fill out my profile, it made me write a synopsis of my novel before I even began writing it. I must say that writing the synopsis beforehand helped me identify character motivations that I hadn’t even considered in my outline. It was profound, and it helped me expand on my planning. However, if you were to write a synopsis before hand (which is similar to the Snowflake method of outlining, which I discuss here), you can bet, with a certainty, that you will need to revise it after you finish your novel.


In his novel, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King doesn’t touch on writing a synopsis, but what he does talk about is plot – which is what a synopsis is supposed to capture. Steven King’s novels are not born from the conception of a plot, but are based on a single situation instead (I wrote more about it here in my discussion of the 7 basic plots). He is able to reduce his entire novels down to one sentence. It struck me that when writing a novel using this approach, it would probably be a lot more friendly when it’s time to summarize your novel into a synopsis. And even more helpful for the purposes of writing a Query Letter (explained here with additional detail here).


How better to start my first blog post in November than to share my experience joining NaNoWriMo?! National Novel Writing Month is the talk of the town, and it sets a great goal for any author of writing 50,000 words in one month. Now, that is a bit steep for me given my current situation of a full time job, grad school at night (plus homework), and my wife is due to give birth to our second daughter in a matter of days. With all that on my plate, my participation would be minimal, at best. But, even with such a large goal of 50,000 words, I realized that joining the movement couldn’t hurt. After all, it’s free!

After signing up at I began filling out my profile. They even allowed me to claim participation in NaNoWriMo for previous years, so I logged THE SOUL SMITH as my composition for 2011. They asked for my synopsis, a sample of my work, and the book cover, all of which I copied over from my website. Then it asked me the same questions for the book I plan on writing for the 2012 NaNoWriMo. Fortunately, I knew I would be writing THE CHROMIUM SMITH, book 2 of my fantasy series. However, I found that the simple, yet complex question of asking for the synopsis of my unwritten book was profound. Trying to convert the story concept from my head into words really helped shape my character motivations, and I found this simple exercise as a very helpful tool for planning my novel.

Another benefit of joining are the forums and Regions which help you connect with other local authors. I have already found fellow SDSU students to meet up with and organize write-ins, etc. Connecting with other writers keeps you motivated, and it’s not just on the forum boards either. The authors I follow on Facebook and Twitter are constantly asking for everyone’s current word count. The peer pressure keeps you motivated toward writing more.

In addition, the website has a Word Tracker tool (shown below), that helps you visualize your progress and easily calculate your daily writing average to help you meet the goal of 50,000 words.

Upon becoming a fresh, new member of NaNoWriMo, they shared a few tips toward achieving the 50,000 word goal. For those of you that do not have a plan in place, or a story concept in mind, I’ve written a brief summary of their main points below:

  1. Just wing it. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Write every day and soon enough, a story will appear.
  2. Do not edit, just write. Get your 50,000 words on the page and use the rest of the year to edit it.
  3. Tell people that you’re writing a novel. Sure enough, they’ll ask you about your progress. Use that peer pressure of “not wanting to look like a failure in front of your friends” as something to motivate you to keep writing.
  4. It’s okay to feel the urge to quit; just know that it gets easier as time goes on.

Are There Only 7 Basic Plots?

According to Christopher Booker’s THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS, he has been able to reduce every fiction novel down to its most basic plot element and discovered that there are only 7 different plots possible.  I did not have the time to read such a voluminous book, so I read this article instead:

When my good friend showed me the article (which summarizes THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS), it left me disheartened. I felt a wave of discouragement, as if it’s all been done before. I felt like my goal of ‘being as original as possible’ had just been rendered null. However, I realized that despite the lack of variety in plot choices, every story is unique because it’s always about the story, and how the characters choose to overcome the specific challenges that face them. The story and their characters are what make each novel unique, not the plot.

THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS goes more in depth into the psychology as to why we are ‘programmed’ to imagine stories in these ways. Please read the article and/or book for a more in-depth look at what the seven basic plots consist of, but I have provided a short list below:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

On the flip side of this argument, I just finished reading On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and he talks about how you do not need a plot to write a book. When he writes a story, he conceives of a single situation and then a book is born.  For example, what if a girl that was bullied through high school had telekinesis? Carrie. However, in my opinion, the ending to a situation-based story can feel like it is lacking closure when compared to the ending of a plot-based story.

My story (as I’m sure many of you will also say) does not fall within one specific category listed. I have some of The Quest, but mostly my story falls into Overcoming the Monster. However, the “monster” in my novel does not fall into the 3 basic roles listed in the article. Regarding the Quest, while I do have a party of companions that follows my hero, they did not encounter obstacles on the actual journey… the obstacles they encountered (among discovering a runaway traitor or “monster”) happened to them at home and are the reason why they left to go on the journey.

So, are there really only 7 types of plots? I welcome all your thoughts and opinions on this subject. Please leave a comment.

Public Poll RE: Publishing a Series of Novels (Agent’s & Publisher’s Opinions Wanted)

When a proposed series of fiction novels are in the works, what caters better to the market: A continuous series or an independent series of novels? These are the things that keep me up at night. =) I would love for agents and publishers to cast a vote (and leave a comment to share their opinion) to see if there are any negative connotations associated with this subject. Authors and readers are also more than welcome to answer the poll as they represent the market.

Without being a published author myself (yet), I can only deduce the pros and cons of each with an outside perspective, and as such, my logic could be completely wrong (hence the need for this poll and for other’s professional opinions).

Composing A Continuous Series (1-2-3)

  1. Pro: This is the traditional form that I think the mass market is familiar with. You can follow the adventures of a single character from beginning to end
  2. Pro: You can lock in your audience with each installment as they immediately connect with your protagonist
  3. Pro: Having captured fans of your novel, you can begin to expect a certain amount of sales to follow
  4. Pro: Movies and TV series favor this type of format (which in turn sells more books)
  5. Con: Obtaining new fans requires that they “catch up” in the series before they read your newest release
  6. Con: Most of the time, a reader knows the protagonist lives at the end because there is a sequel

Composing A Non-Sequential Series (can read in any order)

  1. Pro: If trying to attract new fans, readers can feel comfortable purchasing & reading the newest novel without worrying about reading those released before it. I could be wrong, but I would imagine that in a long series of novels, sales of new books would trickle down over time as not all readers have read the installments before it. (Shouldn’t the first book of a series ALWAYS sell more than the last?)
  2. Pro: This type of series allows readers to engage with a range of colorful characters, and fosters an environment for the author that promotes new creative endings (as opposed to the good guy always wins)
  3. Pro: You can still capture fans in the same way as above, but they purchase your books because of the author’s storytelling ability as opposed to a connection with a particular character, and your connection with that fan ends with that character
  4. Con: Movie/TV deals might be off the table if there is no single character to follow
  5. Con: With sci-fi/fantasy genres, the author will have to continually re-introduce the world in every installment of the series

So cast your vote now! Or leave me a comment to tell me how far off base I am! =)