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How to Tackle the Dreaded Synopsis

by Nina Romano

For those writers who are looking to attract a publisher or agent, writing a good synopsis is mandatory. While some agents might not ask for one, you’ll encounter plenty that will. Therefore, getting a handle on how to write a good one is crucial.

A synopsis is a one-page summary of your novel, single-spaced, and only one page in length, unless otherwise stipulated from an agent or editor. The entire synopsis is written in present tense—make sure not to switch tenses or indent paragraphs.

Keep it Simple

The title of the novel should be centered at the top of the page. Make sure you have your name on it either in the header or on the actual page. You may want to write what kind of synopsis this is, so you place that under the title and off to the right. For instance: “Literary Synopsis,” and underneath that you can write “Approximately” and the word count.

Keep it simple, make it clear, and utilize the same style of writing that is executed in the novel. For instance, I’m a literary, lyrical writer, and therefore, my language is elevated and poetic.

Introduce your Characters

When a character is first introduced, the character’s name is written in solid caps, and thereafter, written with only the first letter capitalized. Make sure if you use a pronoun that the reference is correct and refers back to the name of the character last written in the same sentence or the sentence before. Example: Mary told Jane to go to the supermarket. She went and bought a pineapple. She refers to Jane.

Establish What the Story Is About

The beginning of the synopsis should establish what the story is about in one sentence—an agent or editor will read the beginning sentence, and if it makes sense and is appealing, will continue reading or else the synopsis will go to the slush pile or the waste paper container.

Use strong verbs and avoid helping verbs or progressives; delete all adverbs (“ly” words!) Use a Find and Replace to rid the text of these words that merely weaken the prose.

Stick to the Plot

Only the plot, main events and major obligatory scenes should be written about—there is no space for subplots, and minor characters so don’t try to include them. Always include the ending of the novel.

The following is an example of the beginning of my synopsis for The Secret Language of Women. In order to save space of three lines, I wrote my name, Literary Synopsis, and the word count in a header.

The Secret Language of Women

Nina Romano

Literary Synopsis

Approximately 121,700 words

Set in China in the late 1800’s, The Secret Language of Women tells the story of star-crossed lovers, ZHOU BIN LIAN, a Eurasian healer, and GIACOMO SCIMENTI, an Italian sailor, driven apart by the Boxer Rebellion. When Lian is seventeen years old, she accompanies her Swiss father, DR. GIANLUCA BRASOLIN, to tend the Italian ambassador at the Summer Palace of the EMPRESS DOWAGER, where she meets and falls in love with Giacomo.

Now You’re Ready

The best part of writing a synopsis is that it helps organize your book, chapter by chapter, and will give you an even better understanding of the story you’ve created. Good luck!

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