Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 3, 2011

Synopsis Tips and Questions

This past weekend held our Annual Writer’s Retreat at the Princeton Hyatt. The novel people worked on refining their manuscripts and synopses. Here are some of the things we discussed in my presentation:

Why do you need a synopsis?

1. To help you sell your book.
2. To use as a writing too.
3. To help start a discussion with an editor or agent.

What are the industry standards?

1. One to three pages.
2. Written in present tense or 3rd person POV.

What is the first thing I should do?

1. Capture the reader’s attention.
2. Start with your hook – the set-up – what you might read on the back or inside cover of the book.
3. Convey the tone of your book.

Okay, so that what I would do in the first paragraph, but what do I do after that?

1. In the body of the synopsis you should lay out the general plot developments in chronological order.
2. Share the escalating series of turning points.
3. Define conflicts.

    a. What does the main character(s) want?
    b. What needs is he trying to fulfill?
    c. State the crisis.

4. What issues drive the main character(s) forward?
5. What personal issues hold the main character(s) back?
5. Include any points that take the reader in a different direction before climax.
6. What is the point where the main character changes, moves forward against all odds, etc.
7. What decision must he make?
8. Build to the end resolution
9. Make sure you give-a-way the ending resolution – no cliffhangers.

Is there anything I shouldn’t do?

1. Don’t waste words
2. Don’t tell every plot point.
3. Don’t include unimportant details.
4. Don’t include secondary characters.
5. Don’t over describe setting.
6. Don’t include back story.
7. Don’t keep secrets.

Things to check:

1. Is your synopsis between one and three pages? Double spaced if more than one page?
2. Does the opening paragraph have a hook to keep the reader reading?
3. Is there good flow between paragraphs.
4. How you gotten to the who, what, where, when and why in your synopsis?
5. Do you think you captured the flavor of your manuscript?
6. Are your main characters’ conflicts clearly defined?
7. Did you show your characters goal, motivation, motivation, conflict?

    Your synopsis should give a clear idea as to what your book is about, what characters we will care about (or dislike), what is at stake for your heroes, what they stand to lose, and how it all turns out.

8. Did you indicate the setting?
9. Did you show character growth?
10. Have you hit on the major scenes, the major plot points of your book?
11. Did you resolve all important conflicts?
12. Have you avoided all grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes?

Other things to think about:

1. Are your characters sympathetic?
2. Can the reader relate to them and worry about them?
3. Is this story marketable? Hint: Look at publisher catalogues. How does your story stack up? Are they publishing books similiar to what you have written? If, so how succeesful were those books?

Hope this helps you as much as it helps the writers at the retreat. Our editors –
Connie Hsu and Heather Alexander were GREAT! Everyone wlked out with so much knowledge.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. The Retreat gave us inspiration as well as concrete information about our writing. Thank you, Kathy, and Laurie for your devoted hard work.


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