Monday, May 28, 2012


I've had a couple of discussions recently about writing a synopsis.

Synopses are much more difficult than we imagine, but they need not be a chore. The first things to get sorted are: 
  • who is the synopsis for? (A publisher, an agent, to go with a publicity pack)
  • what is the next action you want the reader to take after reading the synopsis? (ask for more chapters, the whole manuscript, take highlights out for a press release, use as an intro for a public talk about the story)
Publishers and agents will have their own parameters about word count but generally a synopsis is somewhere between 300-600words. 

When crafting the synopsis, remember to regard it as a piece of creative writing, not just as a piece of information to accompany your work. In that sense it's often effective to write the synopsis in a voice close to the voice of the story itself. Don't write about the story in objective terms, e.g. This is a story about... It's unnecessary and just takes up wordcount space. 

Regarding the structure, you could think about it in the following terms:

  • start by identifying the central conflicts in the world of the story - what is missing, what is in trouble, at stake, in jeopardy? 
  • introduce your protagonist, very brief sketch
  • describe how the central conflict impacts on your protagonist, on the other key characters around them. What specific challenges to the characters face
  • what agency does your protagonist have to do something about their challenges. What gifts do they have, what abilities (even if they're dormant.) 
  • what obstacles are in their way (may - and should - be both external and internal. Internal obstacles would included baggage and unfinished business from the past that still haunts them in the present (backstory.)
  • who are their allies, if any. What are their key relationships and how will they be effected by the story's events
  • who and what are their enemies
  • what is the first step to be taken on the road to meet the challenge
  • what are their responses to the first couple of challenges. How do their challenges escalate. What more is put at stake and how. (Their physical safety, their emotional and psychological safety, their morality or ethics)
  • what is at stake in the final challenges towards the story's end. What is line up against them (again both external and internal.)
  • you can give a hint of the climax, or describe it directly (depending on who the synopsis is for, and what you want that reader to do next). Resist the urge to get too cute, e.g. 'But to find out how it ends, you'll have to read the whole story.' There's no need for that and the voice might put people off.


  1. Hi James

    Thanks for this synopsis of a synopsis. :)

    Elaine k

  2. helpful...I'm rewriting the synopsis for my YA novel with attention to some of the above points.

  3. Synopses are difficult to write. You're writing ABOUT the story, but don't want it to sound too much like you are. A mix of getting inside and outside of the story, so it doesn't feel too divorced.

    Back cover blurbs are a further paring down of the process above, and well written ones give you just enough to prompt the next action, ie: buy the book.