Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 21, 2017

Preparing Your Synopsis: Questions – Format – Checklist

This illustration was created by Katherine Tillotson for NICE TRY TOOTH FAIRY. She was featured on Illustrator Saturday. Here’s the link:


1. Who is my main character. Do I have more than one Main Character? Is my main character a heroine/ hero. Do I have both a heroine and a hero?


2. What do they want? What do they need?


3. What brings the hero and heroine or the two main characters together?


4. What problem do they encounter at their first meeting or shortly thereafter?


5. How do they overcome their initial problems and achieve some measure of success?


6. What happens to spoil the initial success?


7. Where does this new problem lead?


8. What risk do they take to deal with this new challenge?


9. What is their ‘dark moment?’


10. How do they overcome this last obstacle?’

Asking these questions should help you structure your synopsis. Remember, standard format is 3rd person present tense.

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.   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 editor or agent reading?

3.   Did you use capital letters the first time you introduced a character?

4.   Did you show your characters goal, motivation, conflict, and growth?

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.

5.   Have you hit on the major scenes, the major plot points of your book, and include the ending?

6.   How you gotten to the who, what, where, when and why in your synopsis?

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

8.   Is there good flow between  paragraphs.

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

10. Do you think you captured the flavor of your manuscript?

Talk tomorrow,





  1. Hi,
    Good article, except I am confused…directions
    indicate conflicting advice in a couple places:
    advocates both present tense and past tense, at the top, then down in the heading list.
    Which is correct? Present or past?


    • Sarah,

      That for pointing that out. I have corrected it. It should always be third person, present tense. So sorry, I didn’t catch that error. Glad you are out there.



  2. This couldn’t have appeared at a better time – I am rewriting a synopsis for a story I’m working on. Thanks! (Hi Kathy) 🙂


  3. Great tips for synopsis. Thanks Kathy.


  4. Fabulous checklist! Thanks!


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