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Monday, April 06, 2009

How to Write a Compelling Synopsis for Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Most literary agents and publishers require an author to submit a 3-5 page synopsis. Some want a longer synopsis, while others want a one-pager or a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline. My advice is to create a 3-page synopsis since that will suffice most requests and customize it as needed, but always keep the original 3-pager as a template. 

The format should be much like the manuscript itself, double-spaced, one-inch margins, a header with page numbers, and a font in Times Roman Numeral or Courrier. The entire synopsis must be written in present tense. 

The first lines should contain a hook, introducing who the hero is and what he wants, and who the heroine is and what she wants. Then the next few lines should explain why they can't have what they want, making the external conflict immediately clear. 

Note: The synopsis is one place where you can tell the story rather than show the story. Do not use dialogue unless you have a great reason for using a character's quote to drive a point home or to help the editor feel the impact. Even then, I would only suggest no more than one line.

Give a brief overview of the setting, which would include time period, location, and culture. You don't need to get into specific details, but flavor the synopsis with enough sensory to make the editor imagine the story and feel the setting.

Concentrate on the two main characters' personalities and reveal their inner conflict. I usually alternate paragraphs that indicate each character's point of view. Try to only mention the hero and heroine, however, if you must mention a third or fourth character whose influence is essential to understanding the story, try to only mention them by their profession (doctor, lawyer), or relationship (mother, sister, brother). Introducing too many characters in so few pages can be overwhelming and increases the chance of confusion, a perfect reason to reject your proposal without requesting the full manuscript.

Show the development of the plot regarding the genre you're writing, whether it be romance, suspense, mystery, fantasy, etc. If it's a romance, this is where you tell about the characters' physical attraction, how they fight the attraction and for whatever reason, and how they admit the attraction. Then discuss the progression of the relationship to the caring phase and the love phase.

In an Inspirational romance or Christian fiction, make sure you indicate what kind of spiritual state both characters are in at the beginning of the story. Are they believers? If they are, what are their spiritual flaws? What are their weaknesses? Talk about new realizations and discoveries that begin to change their mind. End on how they've changed as a result. Either the characters must find salvation, or if they were already believers, then they must have grown in a spiritual area. Think about the different fruits of the Spirit for areas to improve upon your characters.

Just like in your story, build the synopsis to the climatic point. Bring the inner and external conflict to a head, relate the spiritual tension, and make the situation look impossible to resolve.

Tell how the characters resolve their conflict and what plot changes occurred to enable them to achieve their goals or remove the problem. Be sure to include how the story ends. Editors and agents won't appreciate being teased. They want to know that you can bring the book to a satisfying end before they'll be willing to invest more time in reading the rest of it, or before they will consider advocating it to their team in consideration of buying it. 


Thank you, this excellent advice for the aspiring.Like me.

Thanks for stopping my blog--it's so good to "meet" another writer. I'll be visiting you often!

Thank you. What an insightful outline for a synopsis!

Thats a wonderful outline and description of the process. I've never tried one, yet, but the day will come and I hope my finished work falls in line with your guidence.
Thank you~

Great advice. You nailed it!

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog and leave a comment. I love to read just about anything and would love to be considered as a book blogger to receive an ARC of your debut novel. I would review it and do an interview/some type of giveaway, or what ever you would like.

Thanks everyone. I'm glad you thought it was helpful.

Staci, I'd be honored to have you review my book and/or host an interview. I'll be posting updates as I receive them. We've been working on the cover, so I hope to have a final cover approved in the next few months.

Thanks for stopping by Jennifer; you have valuable information here!

I'll be recommending others friends to pass by and leave some comments.

A useful post here. I'll be adding you to my reader and starring this one so that it shows up in the sidebar over at my blog. I'm always looking for good writing resources so I'm glad that you stopped by so that I could follow you back here. :o)

Kim and David, Thank you! That's so inspiring to hear.

This is amazingly helpful! Writing a synopsis is something I always struggle with. Thanks also for visiting my blog. Your comments were great!

Kaitlin, I'm glad you found it to be helpful. A lot of writers struggle with the synopsis. It's so hard to get a 300-page book down into a 3-pager.

Great tips. The synopsis is my kryptonite lately. Thanks for stopping by my blog, I always apprecaite comments from other writers. Congratulations on the debut novel! :)