Writing a Synopsis

As previously stated, most agents and editors will request that an author submit a proposal, which is the first three consecutive chapters of their manuscript along with a synopsis. A synopsis is a summary of your novel. It is written in present tense using the same style and tone as your novel, and it explains the main characters, their conflict, the plot, and its resolution. In essence, a synopsis describes your book from first hook to HEA (Happily Ever After).

A great resource for writing a synopsis is Give 'Em What They Want: The Right Way to Pitch Your Novel to Editors and Agents, a Novelist's Complete Guide to: Query Letters, Synopses, Outlines by Blythe Camenson and Marshal J. Cook. Novelists Camenson and Cook offer practical advice on writing query letters and synopses and provide lots of examples of each in their book.

There are two basic types of a synopsis: the short synopsis, and the detailed synopsis. A short synopsis is usually one to two pages in length, while a detailed synopsis can be five to ten pages long. (A good rule of thumb for writing a detailed synopsis is to include one page for every 10,000 words of your novel.) Often, an editor or agent will specify the length of the synopsis you should submit; always follow the instructions of the agent or editor when submitting your manuscript.

Sometimes an agent or editor will use the term “outline” when referring to a synopsis. In nonfiction, an “outline” refers to a detailed synopsis that breaks the book down chapter by chapter. However, when most agents or editors ask for an “outline” of a romance novel, they are usually referring to a detailed synopsis, unless they specify “outline by chapter.”

Some authors write their synopses single-spaced while others prefer a double-spaced synopsis. Also, some synopses will start with brief character sketches and then move into the narrative of the story, while other writers prefer to keep their synopsis in narrative form throughout. Either method can work. Just as with the length of your synopsis, the method you should use is the one requested by the particular editor or agent. If none is specified, go with double-spaced and all narrative. The formatting should be the same as for your manuscript; that is one-inch margins on all sides with a header on each page that contains your name, the title of your book, and the page number. Use a standard, good-quality white copy paper if printing a hard copy.

Regardless of synopsis length or format, a good synopsis should focus on the following information:

  • The hook

  • The hero and heroine and their emotional response to each other

  • Their conflicts — internal, external, and romantic

  • The novel's main plot points

  • The resolution of the conflicts and the HEA

Depending upon the length of your synopsis and the complexity of your novel, a brief one- or two-line description of the following elements is also recommended:

  • Secondary characters and their purpose in the story

  • Subplots and their purpose in the story

Keep extraneous information to a minimum. Ideally, a synopsis should focus on the main plot points, the main characters, their feelings, and the development and resolution of their internal, external, and romantic conflicts.

To avoid a fast rejection, make sure your synopsis doesn't skimp when it comes to the romance between your main characters. Remember that the more emphasis you place on secondary characters and subplots, the more attention the agent or editor will assume you've paid to those elements in the novel itself. Keep the focus firmly placed on the romance.

Last but certainly not least, make sure your complete contact information is printed on your synopsis. Generally, the first page should contain your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address, along with the title of your book, its projected word count, and subgenre.

To read examples of a short synopsis and a detailed synopsis, visit the coauthors' Web site, Write with Us (www.writewithus.net).

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