Once you have finished writing your novel or book, it’s time to prepare your work for the submission process. While each literary agent has their own specific guidelines, it’s useful to know how to write a synopsis. Presented by Jane Friedman, publisher and editorial director for Writer’s Digest, this OnDemand Webinar, The Dreaded Synopsis, takes you through the steps of writing a synopsis, gives helpful tips on what to include, and synopsis examples.
5 Tips on How to Write a Synopsis
Before sending your book proposal out to potential literary agents, here are some suggested elements you should include while writing a synopsis:
- Narrative Arc. A synopsis conveys the narrative arc, an explanation of the problem or plot, the characters, and how the book or novel ends. It ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. It summarizes what happens and who changes from beginning to end of the story. It gives agents a good and reliable preview of your writing skills.
- Active Voice. Agents look for good writing skills. Let yours shine in your synopsis by using active voice and third person.
- Unique Point of View. An agent is usually looking for an idea of fresh or unique elements. Is your plot cliche or predictable? Have elements that set your story apart from other things they have seen.
- Story Advancement. A synopsis should include the characters’ feelings and emotions. Use these elements to advance your plot and story.
- Write Clearly. Focus on clarity in your writing and avoid wordiness. Remember, less is more.
What to Avoid When Writing a Synopsis
While there is no universal standard for the length of a book or novel synopsis, agents usually favor one to two pages, single-spaced. Sometimes an agent might ask for a chapter outline instead, which is a synopsis of each chapter. Here are some tips on what to avoid when writing a synopsis:
- Mentioning too many characters or events.
- Including too much detail about plot twists and turns. You don’t want to tell the entire story. What you want to do is write a book summary with enough detail about the plot to intrigue the reader or agent.
- Unnecessary detail, description, or explanation. Make each word in your synopsis count.
- Editorializing your novel or book. Don’t use “…in a flashback,” or “…in a poignant scene.” If you have a confusing series of events and character interactions, not only will your reader be confused, but a potential agent will be too.
- Writing back cover copy instead of a synopsis. Don’t go astray and write a hook to intrigue a reader to buy a book or an agent to request a manuscript. Focus on summarizing your novel or book.
The Synopsis Format
Friedman gives some of the best tips for formatting a synopsis. She recommends beginning with a strong paragraph identifying your protagonist, problem or conflict, and setting. The next paragraph should convey any major plot turns or conflicts necessary and any characters that should be mentioned in order for your book summary to make sense to whomever is reading it. Lastly, she recommends indicating how major conflicts are resolved in the last paragraph. This ensures a clear presentation of your book or novel and doesn’t leave the reader confused.
Download The Dreaded Synopsis today and see synopsis examples for paranormal suspense, international thriller, fantasy, and mystery novels. Be sure to read more about writing and their favorite products from the WD Editors.
Want to get your synopsis critiqued? Use our writing critique service and get personalized feedback on your own synopsis!
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Writing the Summary Essay:
A summary essay should be organized so that others can understand the source or evaluate your comprehension of it. The following format works well:
Introduction (usually one paragraph)
1. Contains a one-sentence thesis statement that sums up the main point of the source.
This thesis statement is not your main point; it is the main point of your source. Usually, though, you have to write this statement rather than quote it from the source text. It is a one-sentence summary of the entire text that your essay summarizes.
2. Also introduces the text to be summarized:
(i) Gives the title of the source (following the citation guidelines of whatever style sheet you are using);
(ii) Provides the name of the author of the source;
(ii) Sometimes also provides pertinent background information about the author of the source or about the text to be summarized.
The introduction should not offer your own opinions or evaluation of the text you are summarizing.
Body (one or more paragraphs):
This paraphrases and condenses the original piece. In your summary, be sure that you:
1. Include important data but omit minor points;
2. Include one or more of the author’s examples or illustrations (these will bring your summary to life);
3. Do not include your own ideas, illustrations, metaphors, or interpretations. Look
upon yourself as a summarizing machine; you are simply repeating what the source text says, in fewer words and in your own words. But the fact that you are using your own words does not mean that you are including your own ideas.
There is customarily no conclusion to a summary essay.
When you have summarized the source text, your summary essay is finished. Do not add your own concluding paragraph unless your teacher specifically tells you to.
Summaries identify the source of original text.
Summaries demonstrate your understanding of a text's subject matter.
Summaries are shorter (at least 60% shorter) than the original text--they omit the original text's "examples, asides, analogies, and rhetorical strategies.
Summaries differ from paraphrases--paraphrases more closely follow the original text's presentation (they still use your words, but they are longer than summaries).
Summaries focus exclusively on the presentation of the writer's main ideas--they do not include your interpretations or opinions.
Summaries normally are written in your own words--they do not contain extended quotes or paraphrases.
Summaries rely on the use of standard signal phrases ("According to the author..."; "The author believes..."; etc.).
Tips on Writing Summaries
Step One (Prewriting):
Read the article quickly.
Try to get a sense of the article's general focus and content.
Step Two (Drafting):
Restate the article's thesis simply and in your own words.
Restate each paragraph's topic simply and in your own words.
Step Three (Revising):
Combine sentences in Step Two to form your summary; organize your summary sentences in the same order as the main ideas in the original text.
Edit very carefully for neatness and correctness.