Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 31, 2010

Writing a Synopsis For Your Manuscript

A few of you have asked for information about writing a synopsis for your manuscript.  Let’s start with how to format your synopsis.

Use a one inch margins on the top, bottom and sides. Justify text at the left margin only.  Use Times New Roman 12 pt. font.  Type your name, address, phone number, fax number and e-mail address, each on a separate line single-spaced at the top left margin on the first page of your synopsis.  

If you can fit your synopsis on one page, then you can single space the text with a space between paragraphs .  If it goes over one page, then double space your text.  Editors generally want one or two pages, but if you must go longer than you must – just keep it tight.  You should always check a publisher’s submission guidelines, just to make sure you are following their rules before submitting.  

Here are some things to help guide you through the synopsis writing process:

  • You want to briefly tell what happens. This is one place you can ignore Show, Don’t Tell.
  • Your goal should be to give an escalating series of turning points, a strong central crisis, a dramatic climax and a satisfying resolution.
  • Introduce your main character first.  Type a character’s name in all caps the first time you use it in the synopsis. Why? It helps the editor remember or find your character names.
  • Remember your synopsis should showcase your unique voice.
  • The synopsis should reflect your story.  If it is humorous, be funny, etc.
  • Start with a hook.  
  • Use present tense. This gives the story immediacy.
  • Write the high points of your story in chronological order.  Keep these paragraphs tight.
  • Always answer basic who, what, where, when, why–early in the synopsis.
  • Don’t waste words or time describing settings, unless crucial.  Sometimes it’s enough just to put the date and place at the top, then start your synopsis.
  • Omit unimportant details.
  • Only include backstory if it is necessary to give the editor the information they need about the character’s motives.
  • Always resolve the external plot question before you resolve the internal and/or relationship question.
  • If it’s not a turning point, it doesn’t belong in the synopsis.
  • Don’t use secondary characters in your synopsis, unless they are absolutely critical to the emotional turning points of the relationship. Even then, try to get by with the using the secondary’s relationship to the major characters (sister, teacher, boss.) They are too hard to keep up with and only add clutter. Only name them when necessary.
  • Clearly convey the central question of the story, and what the resolution looks like. And resolve it at the end — don’t leave the editor guessing. They hate that, so spell out the story, including the ending.
  • Rewrite your synopsis until each sentence is polished to the point of perfection.  Use strong adjectives and verbs.  Make every word count.

Synopsis Checklist:

1.  Does the opening paragraph have a hook to keep the editor or agent reading?

2.  Are your main characters’ conflicts clearly defined?

3.  Have you hit on the major scenes, the major plot points of your book?

4.  Do you keep the interest level up throughout the synopsis?

5.  Have you avoided all grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes?

Anita Nolan, Executive Editor of Sprouts magazine has an article on synopsis if you want to read more.  http://www.anitanolan.com/articles.htm

Please let me know if I missed something you think I should include.  Hope this helps.

Kathy


Responses

  1. Kathy,

    You haven’t missed anything. It’s nice to be reminded of all the little details that go into a synopsis. Just another hurdle to jump over.

    Like

    • Henya,

      I have a feeling that most of us are so happy when we finally finished our manuscripts, that we don’t focus the same effort on our synopsis. You are right. It is another hurdle to jump over.

      Kathy

      Like

  2. I also suggest considering who your synopsis is for. If it’s for a MG editor, and you reference a similar book or two, make sure they’re MG (and if the editor is seeking MG humor, and your manuscript is MG humor, reference a MG humor).

    I’ve also found that editors prefer a synopsis to touch on the beginning, middle and end of a story. I personally don’t like revealing the ending of a manuscript in a synopsis but some indication of how the primary conflict resolves seems to resonate with industry professionals.

    Hope this helps!

    Like

  3. This is a great post, thank you! A very good resource. 🙂

    Like

    • Lady,

      Thanks for the feedback. You can always leave suggestions for posts covering other writing areas. Hope you visit again.

      Kathy

      Like

  4. Kathy, touch on writing the short bio at the end.
    Thanks. Mary Nida

    Like

  5. Thanks on the mention Kathy! I’ll also be giving a workshop on synopsis writing (twice) at the NJ SCBWI conference in June.

    anita

    Like

    • Anita,

      How could I forget to mention that. I’m so glad you let everyone know.

      Kathy

      Like

  6. Great, informative post. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • Rebecca,

      Thanks! I have one question for you – Can your protagonist really walk in those heels?

      Kathy

      Like

  7. THANKS Kathy!
    Just what I needed. My only problem now is, I need to cut mine in half!
    I’ll go to the link to Anita’s now . . .
    Best,
    Mimi

    Like

    • Mimi,

      I am sure you will tackle that job as easily as you create your great music.

      Kathy

      Like

  8. This is a wonderful post and extremely utilitarian! Kathy, if you haven’t yet, you might want to check out Chuck Sambuchino’s blog for his examples of synopses, based on film synopses.

    Great stuff here!

    Like

    • Les,

      I hadn’t read his. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Kathy

      Like

  9. Forgot–here’s Chuck’s blog and in his archived posts are a lot of great examples of using films to write a fiction synopsis. It’s http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/

    Blue skies!

    Like

    • Les,

      Did I tell you I now have my very own copy of “Hooked”? It’s sitting right here on my desk. Can’t wait to dig in.

      Like

  10. Very helpful! Thank you.

    Like

  11. Thank you! this was so helpful!

    Like

  12. It is actually a great and useful piece of info. I am satisfied that you
    just shared this useful information with us.
    Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

  13. Hi,
    thank you for the pointers I am uncertain about one thing and was hoping you could help.
    Regarding sending in a manuscript do you attach a second pdf (not including the manuscript in pdf format) with the cover page and synopsis or do you simply add the synopsis to the end/beginning of the manuscript?

    Like


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