Writing a Novel Synopsis

For the last eight months, I’ve sweated over and polished Believe with the help of Beta writers/readers from my critique group.  Now it’s time to  launch my baby into the publishing world with a synopsis and cover letter. I’m terrified and excited at the unknown and making that first important impression.

What is a Synopsis

Synopsis: is a brief summary of the major points of a  written work; a brief or condensed statement giving a general view of some subject. The synopsis conveys the narrative arc of your  novel; it shows what happens and who changes, from beginning to end.

Why the synopsis is important to agents and editors

Agents and editors are very busy people. They have lots of manuscripts crossing their desk daily. You should know a few of the questions they asks when reading a synopsis. Does it  lack of structure? Does it ensure character actions, are the motivations realistic and make sense? Does it reveal plot flaws? No one wants to read a genre romance that ends in divorce. Is this story fresh, is there anything surprising or unique, if not,your manuscript may not get read. So let them know you have a marketable plot by presenting them a killer synopsis.

The Novel Synopsis

How do you give a compendium of major points of your novel without making it unclear or confusing? How can you write, in a few sentences, your story which is lean, clean, with powerful language, and yet still be impressive?  I asked myself the same questions. So I took the time to research and learn how to create a compelling synopsis. I came away with a few tips and suggestions that I would like to share with you.

Ask Yourself these Eight Questions.

1. Who is your protagonist? Boast on their dreams, fears , struggles, challenges and final victory. Most importantly demonstrate what’s at stake for the main character. Identify your protagonist’s conflict, and the kind of setting in which they must achieve their goal. You want an interesting main character.

2. Who are your main characters? Show what characters we’ll care about, including the ones we’ll hate. How does their relationship stand at the beginning of the story with your protagonist, how does it develop or is tested through the course of the story. What’s the climax of their relationship and how is it different by the ending?

3What’s your Conflict? Focus on your story arc, especially major scenes and climaxes. Decide which major plot turns must be conveyed for everything to make sense. Think about your genre’s “formula,” if there is one, and be sure to include all major turning points associated with that formula.

4. What is your Story Goal? Does it build a world around your protagonist that includes many perspectives on the problem and makes the goal important to most, if not all the other characters? Is there a message or moral,then  add it, and any themes that’s addressed that could weight in to make your subject matter intriguing.

5. Do I need to start with the crisis? You want to start off strong! Probably with something similar to the hook of your query letter. It gives a clear idea of your book’s core conflict. Starting your synopsis with the inciting incident forces the what, when, where and why. Then finish with an ending that shows that the conflict is resolved. The events should build tension and lead to a satisfactory conclusion.

6. What will make my synopsis exciting? Writing in third person, present tense, using each word to the max. You have only a few sentences to create an enthusiastic and enticing synopsis, so make the best of every word. Also, vary the formation of each sentence so the words blast off the page with clarity. Remember, they are looking to see if your story has an original idea or premise-something they haven’t seen a million times before. As always, less is more.

7. Am I Weaving? Weaving is important. One paragraph should flow logically to the next. If you are switching ideas, you need to make sure you build in a transition to connect your paragraphs. Let the flow of your synopsis coincide with the flow of your manuscript.

8. Have I followed the Guidelines? Whether your synopsis is for an agent or publisher, ensure it’s written in the exact format described on their submission guidelines.  Don’t give them a reason to not read your synopsis because you couldn’t follow their guidelines.



Start off strong. Identify your protagonist, the conflict, and the setting by the end of the first paragraph. Decide which major plot turns must be conveyed, and which characters to mention.   Include all major turning points associated with your genre’s ‘formula’. The ending paragraph must show how major conflicts are resolved—And, you have to reveal the ending! No exceptions.

Common Pitfalls

Mentioning too many characters or events.

Including too much detail about plot twists and turns.

Unnecessary detail, description, or explanation; every word must earn its due.

Confusing, series of events and character interactions

Writing flap-copy rather than a synopsis (do not editorialize, e.g., “in a thrilling turn of events!”)


These are some of the lessons I’ve learned and applied to my synopsis for Believe. I hope they’ll help you too. Good luck and keep writing.

Additional resources

How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel

The Synopsis: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Write It

Miss Snark archive on synopses writing

How to Write a Synopsis Without Losing Your Mind

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