How to write a (fiction) synopsis

By popular* demand, this post is designed to help you write every author’s nightmare – the synopsis.

It’s a necessary evil: agents, mentors, and publishers ask for a synopsis of your novel (usually along with a few chapters and a kick-ass cover letter) when you submit your novel for their consideration. It’s one of those terrible tasks which is both highly stressful and also intensely boring. However, unlike summing your novel up in a sentence – I always find this faintly ridiculous. If I could have written it in a sentence, I wouldn’t have needed to write a whole novel! – it’s a possible task, at least. Difficulty might stem from the focus on plot, especially if, like me, you see your book more in terms of character development than actual events.

You can prepare. Planners, this is where you have the advantage but, Pantsers, stick with me, I have other tips. If you have planned out your novel, as I do, by summarising what will happen in each chapter, this can form the basis of the synopsis, because it has all the development and events already there. You just need to make it a more readable (and, hopefully entertaining) version of your notes.

Get inspiration. Look on websites like IMDB to see synopses of films you’ve seen, because this will give you an idea of what to include and what isn’t necessary to your basic story. Obviously not all scenes are described but knowing which ones were considered essential can help you pick out the important parts of your story.

Be mechanical. If you are really stuck, read the first chapter of your book and summarise it in a sentence or two. Then move on to chapter two and do the same thing. Work your way through each chapter, repeating ad nauseum.

Tell the story to yourself as you did before you wrote it. When you had the original idea for your novel – I usually get good ideas in the shower – how did you tell the story to yourself? If you can capture this again or (better yet. Can you tell I love planning?) write it down when you have the original idea then you have a sense of the shape of your story. Obviously, with a novel you will have fleshed out the scenes, but this original idea is probably still the backbone of your entire work and, as such, should form the basis of your synopsis.

Give it to someone else to read. This will help it not be so boring. You are a storyteller after all, that’s how you got into this mess of having to write a synopsis. Imagining telling the story again to an audience can help you think about the important parts to include in the synopsis and will also enable you to do that in an entertaining (or rather non-boring) way.

Look, I haven’t got a magic wand. Writing a synopsis will never be fun, but perhaps I have given you some ideas to take away some of the pain. Think of this as a palliative post.

*Okay, one person mentioned it might be helpful.


2 thoughts on “How to write a (fiction) synopsis

  1. Thank you for this great post. I find it really difficult explaining to people what my graphic novel is about but reading your post makes it seem so simple. I’m sure with your tips I’ll be able to make it sound much better.

    Thank you again

    Liked by 1 person

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