Monday, April 11, 2011

A Comprehensive Guide on Writing Your Synopsis

When it comes to synopses, most people get a bit....neurotic. It's normal, don't worry, but it's really not necessary. Before I give you my list of tips, here's a bit of my true life experience to assure you my info is legit.

1) Looked up how to write a synopsis in my WD Guide to Geting Published book. I read both sample synopses.
2) Went online to and stalked 2 Guide to Literary Agents links on synopses.
3) Visited agent Jessica Faust's guide to synopses.
4) And Nathan Bransford's guide to synopses.
5) And Charlotte Dillon's guide to synopses.
6) Still unsatisfied, I read through many of the sample agent-getting synopses on Charlotte Dillon's site.
7) Then, of course, I went back to Writer's Digest's Guide to Geting Published.
8) Then, I wrote my synopsis, was totally proud of my six pages of awesomeness, and then realized I forgot to double space it...
9) Rechecked the above sites and wrote a badass (or so I hope) synopsis.

So, after all that, I would like to share with you the comprehensive wisdom of all of the sites I visited to save you from losing your mind. Are you ready? Yes. Yes, I believe you are.

1) First, in the top, right hand corner, put your contact info. Example:
Gina Blechman
Phone number: _______
E-mail address: ______
Home address:
1 Awesome Synopsis Street
Badass, US 00000

2) Below that, center the title of your story, the genre, and your name. Example:
Synesthis--A YA Dystopian Novel by Gina Blechman

3) Double space the body of your synopsis.
                      -Use a readable font (arial, times new roman, etc)
                      -Size 12 font, 1" margins

4) The body of your synopsis should be 3-4 pages for a short synopsis and 5-10 pages for a long synopsis (figure 1 double-spaced page per 25 single spaced pages of manuscript).
                       -The format is Setting, Characters, Plot
                       -ALWAYS write in the PRESENT TENSE

5) Setting- You should usually start with setting except for when the character actively chooses the setting for a specific reason. Then you'll probably want to at least introduce that character first and THEN the setting she chose.
                       -Make sure your first line pops. Your setting and characters should read like the back cover story on a book
       Example: "Sunny View Estates is a land where free thought dies. It is a place where citizens are physically transfigured and mentally altered."

6) Characters: All characters names should be CAPITALIZED when they are first introduced. Only use prominant characters in your synopsis.

7) Introduce as much of the character as you need as succinctly as you can.

For example, for Peter, my description is short: Peter, a twenty-four year old and one of the last free thinkers in Sunny View, spends his his time trying to show the public that freedom is worth fighting for. He has been tortured for his insurgence over and over again, but refuses to submit.

For Jade, the description is a bit longer, because the reader would normally learn the extras about Jade through flashbacks.Since the agent won't see these, it is important to add the most important facts.

8) Plot: You want to explain all of the important events in your story in chronological order. All your major twists should be included as well as your ending. Don't leave anything unexplained. Make sure every action you have is followed by it's purpose or reaction.

For example: When Jade pays witness to Peter’s attempted escape from police officer RONALD RIGLEY, she senses the refugee will be a good ally. He is stubborn and sarcastic and unafraid—all of the things that Sunny View hates and she desires.
This gives info about a new minor but prominant, reoccuring character and moves the plot forward. (Aren't two-in-one deals the best?) 

9) If you can lump similar things together try to.
I realized after a while that describing each meeting my characters had was too much, so I just ended up saying "Every meeting seems to bring ____. At the first meeting the characters______, and _____happened. At the next...." Though these events happen over a large amount of time, it saves space in the synopsis.

Other stuff to do, to know, and to avoid:
1) Write it in the same voice you write your story in. You're telling a story with your synopsis, not explaining one.
2) Make suspenseful events suspenseful.
3) Vary sentence structure. No short choppy sentences.
4) Never explain something outright to the agent. No "And then the story climaxes at this point."
5) This is just my own personal idea on the matter, BUT many agents I've looked up don't ask for a specific manuscript length. They say "whatever other agents have requested is fine" or "use what you've used for other agents, but if you haven't written one try for 3-4 pages."

I take this to mean: Shoot for three to four pages, but if you have a manuscript upwards of 90k and it's full of subplots and twists and you just can't force it into 3 or 4 pages, don't force it. The agent won't know that you didn't have the synopsis around from another agent's request, and many have said they're not too picky as long as the synopsis is good and it's the proper length for a long or short synopsis.

6) Most times, agents aren't going to toss out your synopsis because the margins are slightly off or you have a few misplaced commas or any minor formating errors. (This is just advice from what I've read, but make sure to check your agents' standards). They just want to make sure your story is good, your voice is good, and you can make the synopsis.

7) Use good transitions to make it flow.

8) Top your pages with the heading: Author/TITLE/Synopsis left justified and the page number right justified. Example:
Gina Blechman/SYNESTHESIS/Synopsis                                          1

9) Most importantly, don't stress. Pretend you're telling the story to a friend and write what you would tell that person. Don't overthink it. Just chill and do what you do best: write.



  1. Great post, Gina, and good advice. A couple other thoughts - a synopsis is usually in the present tense. That can be difficult to accomplish with consistency.

    And, a synopsis does not have the same function as a pitch. You do want it to grab the reader's interest, but it's more important for it to lay out the specifics of the story in a straightforward and understandable fashion.


  2. These are helpful tips! I'm not at this point yet but I'll bookmark this for when I need to write mine. :)