Very few people enjoy writing a synopsis. Wrangling a full-length story into a few hundred word summary is a skill in itself. Yet, it is a skill worth practicing and perfecting.
If you want to submit a manuscript, the majority of literary agents request a synopsis. But a synopsis is also helpful to you as the writer. Even before you start writing your book, summarising the story can be a useful tool to check if there is a clear story arc, a workable plot, and a good ending. Referring back to it as you write, even if it changes along the way, can keep your story on track and make editing at the other end easier. Plus, shaping a synopsis challenges your writing and editing skills, acting as a reminder of the old adage: make every word count.
Here are WriteMentor‘s 5 tips for writing a synopsis that catches an agent’s attention.
Skip the subplots
Subplots add engaging complexity to a full-length novel but, in a short synopsis, they can be confusing. Your synopsis is the plot in broad brush strokes, designed to reassure the agent that your story is on the right track.
Cut the characters
As with multiple subplots, a synopsis doesn’t need a full cast of characters. Keep the main character(s), but cull any secondary characters that don’t drive the main plot. If needed, refer to secondary characters by role e.g. the teacher, instead of by name, for clarity.
Reveal the ending
No one likes to be told the ending of a story they haven’t yet read – except agents! A synopsis isn’t the same as a blurb, so pack in those plot twists, and don’t forget the ending.
Focus on formatting
Your synopsis needs just as much care and attention as your submitted chapters in terms of formatting. Some synopsis-specific formatting includes book title and your name at the start, not just the word ‘Synopsis’; all-capitalised names of mentioned characters e.g. LUKE SKYWALKER; and always written in third person present tense, regardless of the point of view in your manuscript.
Show off your writing
A synopsis may seem functional, but it’s also another opportunity to show the agent that you can write. Writing succinctly and to a strict word count demonstrates good control of your language, but you also need to convey a sense of voice and style. This is the tricky bit, so make every word count, be as precise as possible with your word choice, and play around with sentence and paragraph structure. Edit, edit, edit until your synopsis shines.
Want to learn more about writing a synopsis? WriteMentor runs a 6-week Preparing for Submission course led by author Aisha Bushby. Find out about this and our other courses.