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Blog • Understanding Publishing

Posted on Sep 12, 2018

How to Write an Incredible Synopsis in 4 Simple Steps

Your novel is fully written, edited, and polished to perfection — you’re ready to pitch it to agents! But you’re missing a critical piece of persuasion: the synopsis. Even after putting together your entire book, you may have no idea how to write one, or even how to approach it.

Luckily, we’ve got answers for you. Read on for our best tips on writing a synopsis that’s clear, concise, captivating… and may even lead to an all-out agent battle over your novel!

What is a synopsis?

A synopsis is a summary of a book that familiarizes the reader with the plot and how it unfolds. Although these kinds of summaries also appear on the pages of school book reports and Wikipedia, this guide will focus on constructing one that you can send out to agents (and eventually publishers).

Your novel synopsis should achieve two things: firstly, it should convey the contents of your book, and secondly, it should be intriguing!

While you don’t need to pull out all the marketing stops at this stage, you should have a brief hook at the beginning and a sense of urgency underlying the text that will keep your reader going. It should make potential agents want to devour your whole manuscript — even though they’ll already know what happens.

While writing your synopsis, make sure that it includes:

  • A complete narrative arc
  • Your own voice and unique elements of your story
  • The ending or resolution ( unlike in a blurb )

As for the ideal length for this piece, it varies from project to project. Some authors recommend keeping it to 500 words, while others might write thousands. However, the standard range is about one to two single-spaced pages (or two to five double-spaced pages). And if you're interested in knowing how to format the whole of your manuscript for submission, we recommend downloading this manuscript format template. 

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You may also want to have an additional “brief” summary prepared for agents who specifically request a single page or less. Remember: as hard as it will be to distill all your hard work into that minimal space, it’s crucial to keep your synopsis digestible and agent-friendly.

How to write a novel synopsis in 4 steps

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1. Get the basics down first

When it comes to writing a synopsis, substance is the name of the game. No matter how nicely you dress it up, an agent will disregard any piece that doesn’t demonstrate a fully fleshed out plot and strong narrative arc. So it stands to reason that as you begin writing, you should focus on the fundamentals.

Start with major plot points

Naturally, you want agents to be aware of your story's  major plot points . So the best way to start summarizing your story is to create a list of those plot points, including:

  • The inciting incident — what sparks the central conflict of your story?
  • The events of the rising action — what happens in the interlude between the inciting incident and the climax, and how does this build tension?
  • The height of the action, or climax , of your story — this one is the most important, as it should be the most exciting part of your book!
  • The resolution or ending — again, unlike a blurb, a synopsis doesn’t need to dangle the carrot of an unknown ending to the reader; you can and should reveal your story’s ending here, as this brings the plot and narrative arc to a close.

Listing these points effectively maps out the action and arc of your story, which will enable the reader to easily follow it from beginning to end.

Include character motivations

The key here is not to get too deep into characterization, since you don’t have much room to elaborate. Instead, simply emphasize character motivations at the beginning and end of your synopsis — first as justification for the inciting incident, then again to bring home the resolution. For example:

Beginning: “Sally has spent the past twenty years wondering who her birth parents are [motivation]. When a mysterious man offers her the chance to find them, she spontaneously buys a ticket to Florence to begin her journey [inciting action].”

Ending: “She returns to the US with the man who was her father all along [resolution], safe in the knowledge that she’ll never have to wonder about him again [restated motivation].”

Also note how the text here is written in third person, present tense, as it should be regardless of the tense or POV of your actual book. Writing a synopsis in first or second person doesn’t really work because it’s not meant to be narrated — just summarized. Basically, the present tense works to engage the reader while the third person allows the story to be told smoothly.

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2. Highlight what’s unique

Now it’s time to spice up your synopsis by highlighting the elements that make it unique. Agents need to know what’s so special about your book in particular — and moreover, is it special enough to get readers to pick it up? Below are some features you might employ to grab an agent’s attention and assure them of your book’s appeal.

Your writing voice is an essential tool here: it conveys your novel’s tone and is one of the most important factors in making your work stand out. However, it’s also one of the most difficult elements to evoke in such a small amount of space.

The best way to capture voice in a synopsis is through extremely deliberate word choice and sentence structure. So if you were Jane Austen, you’d use clever words to magnify your wit: “When Darcy proposes to her apropos of nothing, Elizabeth has the quite understandable reaction of rejecting him.” You may not be able to use all the elaborate prose of your novel, but your synopsis should still reflect its overall feeling.

Plot twists

Even though they’re one of the oldest tricks in the book, readers will never tire of juicy plot twists. If your novel contains one or more of these twists, especially at the climax, make sure your synopsis accentuates it. But don’t hint too much at the twist, as this will make it seem more dramatic when it comes; a couple of words in the intro will suffice as foreshadowing.

For instance, if you were writing a summary of Gone Girl , you might open with “Nick Dunne wakes up one morning to find that his wife, Amy, has apparently disappeared. ” This implies that she may not be as “gone” as we think she is, setting the stage for the later reveal.

how to write a synopsis

Point of view

Another aspect that might set your book apart is a distinctive point of view . Since you’ll be giving your synopsis in third person, you can limit this inclusion to an introductory sentence: “This book is narrated from the point of view of a mouse.”

Although this strategy works best for books with a highly unusual point of view (such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, in which the story is told by Death), it can also be very helpful to remember for seemingly bog-standard narrators. If one of your characters narrates in first person, make sure to address their individual narrative quirks as well as any biases or limitations; highlighting an unreliable narrator can really add to your novel’s intrigue!

3. Edit for clarity and excess

Don’t shroud your synopsis in mystery; this is very frustrating to agents who just want to know what happens in your book! With that in mind, after you’ve written the bulk of your summary, it’s time to edit for clarity. You also may have to delete some text, so you can get it right in that couple-page sweet spot.

Editing for clarity

The paramount rule of synopses is a real doozy: tell, don’t show. It’s the opposite of that classic adage that writers have heard their whole lives, and it’s exactly what you need to write a successful synopsis. 

As you return to what you’ve written, scan for sentences that are vague or unclear, especially toward the beginning. Many writers fall into the trap of trying to hook agents by opening with a sentence akin to the first murky line of a literary novel. Again, though you do want your intro to be intriguing, it has to cut to the chase pretty quickly.

When it comes to opening a synopsis, you need to think like Tolkien, not Tolstoy. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Crisp, clear, and to the point: one of the very few times you should tell, rather than show .

Editing excess words

If your synopsis is longer than a couple of pages at this point, you need make some serious cutbacks. Read through what you have, scrutinizing every sentence and word, even if you think you’ve chosen them carefully. Reduce any run-on sentences or subordinate clauses that unnecessarily lengthen your piece.

Finally, eliminate irrelevant details — anything that doesn’t lead to the next plot point or directly contribute to your voice or other distinctive elements. It’s unlikely you’ll have included any of these in the first place, but just in case they’ve slipped through, cut them. Save the frills for your book; remember, your synopsis is all about substance .

4. Make sure it flows

By the time it’s finished, your synopsis should read like a summary from an excellent book review — or at the very least SparkNotes or Shmoop. This means not only clearly and concisely hitting every important point, but also reading in a smooth manner, placing just the right amount of emphasis on the critical moments and unique aspects we’ve discussed.

Get test readers

A great way to ensure that your synopsis is paced precisely and flows well is to give it to test readers, either someone you know or a professional editor . You’ve spent way too much time with these words to be objective about them, so pay attention to what other people suggest: possible word substitutions, transitions, and which details to emphasize versus delete.

Use professional synopses as models

You don’t want to look at examples of other synopses too soon, otherwise yours will come out sounding formulaic and stale. That said, professional synopses can be a very valuable tool for refining toward the end of the process! Compare and contrast them to the synopsis you’ve written, and adapt any techniques or turns of phrase you feel would enhance it.

Here’s an example of a strong (albeit brief) synopsis of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens , courtesy of the Oxford Companion to English Literature:

Phillip Pirrip, more commonly known as “Pip,” has been brought up by his tyrannical sister, wife of the gentle Joe Gargery. He is introduced to the house of Miss Havisham who, half-crazed by the desertion of her lover on her bridal night, has brought up the girl Estella to use her beauty as a means of torturing men. Pip falls in love with Estella and aspires to become a gentleman.

Money and expectations of more wealth come to him from a mysterious source, which he believes to be Miss Havisham. He goes to London, and in his new mode of life meanly abandons the devoted Joe Gargery, a humble connection of whom he is now ashamed.

Misfortunes come upon him. His benefactor proves to be an escaped convict, Abel Magwich, whom he as a boy had helped. Pip’s great expectations fade away and he is penniless. Estella meanwhile marries his sulky enemy Bentley Drummle, by whom she is cruelly ill treated.

In the end, taught by adversity, Pip returns to Joe Gargery and honest labor. He and Estella, who has also learnt her lesson, are finally reunited.

how to write a synopsis

This synopsis works well because it includes:

  • The inciting incident (Pip moving in with Miss Havisham), the rising action (him being in London), the climax (returning to Joe Gargery), and the resolution (reuniting with Estella)
  • Character motivations (Miss Havisham wants to punish all men because her fiancé betrayed her; Pip wants to become a gentleman so Estella will fall in love with him)
  • A plot twist (Pip’s benefactor being a criminal — whom he knows from his childhood!)
  • Distinctive voice (formal yet engaging, doesn’t detract from the plot) and smoothly written style (events are chronological and progress quickly)

Your synopsis is one of the biggest deciding factors in whether an agent wants to see more from you or not. No matter how chipper your query letter , the bottom line is that this summary tells agents (and later publishers) what they really need to know: what your book is about, what makes it unique, and most importantly, if they can sell it. 

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That’s why it’s vital that you make your synopsis airtight. Fortunately, if you’ve followed these steps, yours will be chock full of plot details with a touch of your own special writing sauce: a synopsis that any agent (hopefully) won’t be able to resist. 

Many thanks to Reedsy editors (and former agents) Sam Brody and Rachel Stout  for consulting on this piece!

Do you have any tips for writing an irresistible synopsis? Leave them in the comments below!

2 responses

Elizabeth Westra says:

12/09/2018 – 22:10

This looks interesting, and I will read every word, but this would be different for a picture book. You only get one page to query for many children's books.

Dorothy Potter Snyder says:

14/10/2018 – 20:11

I am curious if anyone has ideas on how translators can write a synopsis for agents / publishers of works in translation? Might there be something about why this author is important in his/her country of origin and literary tradition? Which authors more known to English language readers might relate to this author (they've never heard of before)?

Comments are currently closed.

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  • Literary Terms
  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Write a Synopsis

I. What is a Synopsis?

A synopsis is a brief summary that gives audiences an idea of what a composition is about. It provides an overview of the storyline or main points and other defining factors of the work, which may include style, genre, persons or characters of note, setting, and so on. We write synopses for all kinds of things—any type of fiction or nonfiction book, academic papers, journal and newspaper articles, films, TV shows, and video games, just to name a few!

The amount of detail and information revealed in a synopsis depends on its purpose. For instance, authors often need to provide a lengthy synopsis when proposing a book, article, or work to potential publishers or editors —in that case, a synopsis will include a full plot overview (which includes revealing the ending), signs of character progression, detailed explanation of theme and tone, and so on. This article will mainly focus on the short synopses you see every day on websites and other media outlets.

II. Example of a Synopsis

Here’s an example of a short synopsis of the story of Jack and Jill:

Jack and Jill is the story of a boy and a girl who went up a hill together. They went to fetch a pail of water, but unfortunately, their plan is disrupted when Jack falls and hits his head, and rolls back down the hill. Then, Jill falls too, and comes tumbling down after Jack.

As you can see, the synopsis outlines what happens in the story. It introduces the main characters and the main plot points without being overly detailed or wordy.

III. Importance of Synopses

Synopses are extremely valuable and necessary pieces of writing for authors, film makers, TV producers, academic writers, and many others.

  • On one level, it’s what actually helps a book get published or a film or TV series get made—a successful, well-written synopsis can convince the person in charge of publication or production to bring a work to life
  • On the other hand, synopses grab the attention of potential audiences and can convince them to read, watch, or listen
  • Also, they help researchers find what they are looking for and decide if a piece is relevant to their field

Without them, audiences and readers would never know what something was about before reading or viewing it! Thus, the importance of synopses is twofold: it both helps works get made and then helps them reach the right audiences.

IV. Examples of Synopses in Literature

Example 1: synopsis of a novel.

When we want to choose a novel, it’s a common practice to read a synopsis of what it’s about. A short synopsis will give us just enough details to draw readers in and hopefully convince them to read the book! Here’s a brief synopsis from Cliff’s Notes of The Hunger Games :

In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the Capitol forces each of Panem’s 12 districts to choose two teenagers to participate in the Hunger Games, a gruesome, televised fight to the death. In the 12th district, Katniss Everdeen steps in for her little sister and enters the Games, where she is torn between her feelings for her hunting partner, Gale Hawthorne, and the district’s other tribute, Peeta Mellark, even as she fights to stay alive. The Hunger Games will change Katniss’ life forever, but her acts of humanity and defiance might just change the Games, too.

Example 2: Synopsis of an Academic Paper

Sometimes, teachers, professors, publications, or editors want a synopsis of an academic paper, lecture, or article, which is more formally called an abstract (See Related Terms ). Like with a work of fiction, it gives a summary of the main points of the papers or article and provides a snapshot of what issues will be discussed. Synopses of these types of work are particularly important for scholars and anyone doing research, because when searching, they need to be able to know what an article is about and whether it is relevant to their work.

During his career, J.R.R. Tolkien gave a lecture on the classic Beowulf , which became one of the most respected and most-consulted academic sources on the poem to date. Here is a synopsis:

Before Tolkien, general scholarly opinion held…that while the poem might after all be unified, it was nevertheless unfortunate that the poet had chosen to tell stories about a hero, ogres, and a dragon, instead of detailing the wars in the North to which he often provocatively alludes. Tolkien’s lecture strongly and sometimes ironically defends the poet’s decision and the poem itself. The poet had every right to choose fantasy rather than history as his subject; in doing so he universalized his theme; his many allusions to events not recounted gave his work depth; most of all, the poem offered a kind of negotiation between the poet’s own firmly Christian world and the world of his pagan ancestors, on whom he looked back with admiration and pity.

This synopsis shares the main focus of Tolkien’s famous lecture and outlines its purpose for those who may be interested in it and can benefit from his research.

V. Examples of Synopses in Popular Culture

Example 1: synopsis of a tv series.

Giving the audience a written preview of a subject or storyline is a standard practice for TV producers. Before the series Gotham premiered, Warner Brothers released a detailed synopsis of exactly what the show would be about, which was particularly important because the audience would want to know how it would be placed amongst other Batman storylines. Here is a selection from its official synopsis:

Gotham is the origin story of the great DC Comics Super- Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told. From executive producer/writer Bruno Heller (The Mentalist, Rome), this one-hour drama follows one cop’s rise through a dangerously corrupt city teetering on the edge of evil and chronicles the genesis of one of the most popular super heroes of our time. Brave, earnest and eager to prove himself, the newly minted detective Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is partnered with the brash, but shrewd police legend Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), as the two stumble upon the city’s highest-profile case ever: the murder of local billionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne.

This is only one piece of the synopsis provided by Warner Brothers, but it’s a good sample of the bigger picture. It introduces the main theme and major characters, giving us a taste of what the series has in store.

Example 2: Synopsis of a Film

The job of a film synopsis is to build excitement and anticipation in the audience. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a long-awaited addition to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe and the release of this synopsis and trailer was big news in the world of popular culture. Here’s the synopsis:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in 1926 as Newt Scamander has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident…were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.

When a new film is announced, producers usually release a written synopsis like this, as well as an official trailer. Truly, a movie trailer is just a visual form of a synopses. But, a trailer builds even more anticipation in the audience than a written summary, because it gives a true peek at what will unfold on screen.

VI. Related Terms

An abstract is a brief summary of a scholarly work. It does the same things as a synopsis, but goes by a different term—“synopsis” is the preferred term for creative writing, films, and television, “while abstract” is the preferred term for formal or academic works. Overall, they have the same purpose.

An outline is shorter, less defined plan of what you’re going to include in a piece of writing. It’s usually written in the brainstorming phase, and just “outlines” general things that the work will include, and may change as you get farther in your work. An outline comes before a work is written, and a synopsis is written after a work is complete.

VII. Conclusion

In conclusion, synopses are useful summaries that are written for the benefit of a potential reader or audience. It gives an overview and a “sneak peek” at a work, which lets them choose things that are interesting or useful to them personally and/or professionally.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Science Fiction
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Understatement
  • Urban Legend
  • Verisimilitude
  • Essay Guide
  • Cite This Website

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How to write a great book synopsis

what is book synopsis

  • A synopsis is important even if you’re self-publishing. Your synopsis allows you to see problems with your plot and characters so you can fix them before your book hits the market.
  • A book synopsis should be between 500 and 800 words. This works out at approximately 1 single-spaced page in a standard 12pt font.
  • Your synopsis should include 5 key elements. This includes the premise, a main plot and subplot overview, your main characters, and an implicit outline of the appeal of your book.

Writing a book synopsis is notoriously tricky for authors. Synopsis writing is generally much drier and less creative than novel writing - and it’s never going to be easy to condense a 90,000 word novel into 500 words. That’s why it’s important to understand how to write a book synopsis that’s concise, compelling, and follows convention.

Nearly all editors, agents, and publishers request a synopsis for your book when you submit your work to them. Self-published authors can also benefit from writing a novel synopsis - it helps you spot plot holes, structural issues, and underdeveloped characters, and identify the key selling points of your book for your marketing campaign.

Use this guide to writing a book synopsis to help you plan, structure, and write a great book summary.

Let's define what book synopsis is

A book synopsis is a summary of your novel from start to finish. It includes an outline of the main plot, your primary characters, any subplots and plot twists, and what happens at the end.

Many new authors baulk at giving away their carefully crafted ending, but there’s no need to worry - your book synopsis isn’t going to be published. After all, it’s not exactly in agents’ or publishers’ interests to spoil the ending of a book for readers. Instead, they’ll read your synopsis to help decide whether they think your book will sell, and whether to represent you as an author.

The synopsis has a very important role

For authors pursuing traditional publishing, the purpose of your book synopsis is to sell your novel to an agent or publisher. Before they request your full manuscript, they want to know exactly what happens in your book - which is where your novel synopsis comes in.

If you’re planning on self-publishing your book , your synopsis is a tool for laying out the saleability and structure of your novel. By writing a synopsis, you can see which plot points are unwieldy, and which characters are underdeveloped, so you can fix these things before your book hits the market.

The difference between a plot summary and a synopsis

A plot synopsis is a type of plot summary. There are also other types of book summary, each of which has a different function in the publication of your book. The most common book summary types include:

  • Synopsis - Your synopsis is a summary of all the major plot points, including the ending. This is used to sell your book to agents or publishers, or to cast a critical eye over your book content.
  • Blurb - A blurb is typically found on the back page or dust jacket of your book. The blurb should sell the book to potential readers, offering teasers and plot potential, without giving too much away.
  • Elevator pitch - Your elevator pitch is a sharp one-liner that captures the essence of your book in a compelling way. It should make the reader want to find out more.

There’s a lot of literary jargon around book summaries, which can make it difficult to pinpoint exactly what you need to write in your synopsis. Below, you’ll learn what you need to include in your book synopsis.

How long should a book synopsis be?

It’s generally agreed that a book synopsis should be between 500 and 800 words. This works out at approximately 1 single-spaced page in a standard 12pt font.

Many agents will have specific guidelines you need to follow in terms of synopsis word count, so tailor your submission for each agent. This could mean you need a synopsis that’s 500 words, and one that’s 700 words. The extra work will pay off - you’re way more likely to get a response from an agent if you’ve read and met their submission requirements.

What should a book synopsis include?

There are 5 key elements that every book synopsis should include:

1. The premise of your book

Your book’s premise comprises your overarching theme, setting, and conflict, forming a great hook designed to keep readers engaged.

2. A direct overview of the main plot

Go back to basics here. Show that your plot has all the key story elements in your novel synopsis, including an inciting incident, a climax, and a satisfying ending.

3. An introduction to your main characters

Make the reader care about your characters by offering compelling character motivations.

4. An outline of your major subplots

Your subplots probably converge with the main plot at some point, so it makes sense to include them in your book synopsis.

5. An implicit understanding of the appeal of your book

Synopses are notoriously dry - but if you care about your story, this should shine through in your book summary. Demonstrate why others will care about your book, too.

What tense should a book synopsis be written in?

Your book synopsis should be written in the present tense and the third person - even if your book isn’t. This automatically helps you write your synopsis in an appropriate, professional tone, without hyperbole or bias.

What is the format of a synopsis?

As well as using a standard tense and perspective, most book synopses follow a similar format. Here’s how you should structure your novel synopsis, including book synopsis examples from famous published works.

1. The premise

The premise is similar to your elevator pitch - the key piece of intrigue that makes the reader want to find out more. This opening line from the synopsis of Michelle Zink’s Prophecy Of The Sisters includes a fascinating hook: ‍

Sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe’s life is in danger from the person she loves most – her twin sister. ‍

Zink manages to introduce the main characters, a sense of peril, and a key area of conflict in a single line. It’s a great way to open the synopsis.

2. The plot

Don’t dilly-dally - when you’ve set the premise, dive straight into the plot of your book. This will form the bulk of your word count. You can find out how to write an expert plot summary below. In the meantime, take a look at this extract from J.K. Rowling’s synopsis for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone .

Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his parents died in a car crash - or so he has always been told. The Dursleys don’t like Harry asking questions; in fact, they don’t seem to like anything about him, especially the very odd things that keep happening around him (which Harry himself can’t explain).
The Dursleys’ greatest fear is that Harry will discover the truth about himself, so when letters start arriving for him near his eleventh birthday, he isn’t allowed to read them. However, the Dursleys aren’t dealing with an ordinary postman, and at midnight on Harry’s birthday the gigantic Rubeus Hagrid breaks down the door to make sure Harry gets to read his post at last.‍

Rowling splits her paragraphs into plot points. The first paragraph outlines the status quo - Harry’s unhappy home life - while the second goes on to state the inciting incident: Harry’s invitation to attend Hogwarts. Structuring your synopsis in this way is a great tactic for ensuring you don’t stray too far from the main arc of your story.

3. The ending

Spell out exactly what happens at the end of your book - your synopsis is no place for a cliffhanger. If you’ve chosen to leave your book open-ended, reflect this in your synopsis.

Here’s an example of a synopsis ending for Cinderella , written by literary agent Janet Reid: ‍

The heartbroken prince travels the kingdom to determine which lady fits the glass slipper. Her stepmother locks Cinderella in the attic but her mouse friends help her escape. The glass slipper fits her, and Cinderella and the prince live happily ever after. ‍

Reid removes the sense of anguish, fear, and ultimate relief that comes with the climax and resolution of Cinderella. Synopses are often deadpan and unemotive, so don’t be afraid to be forthright about the ending of your story.

How to write a book synopsis

It’s time to get writing. Follow these steps on how to write a plot synopsis to write a succinct, professional summary of your novel.

1. Write a single sentence for each major plot point

If you started your book with an outline, this will come in handy here. Using the following prompts, write one sentence for each of these points in your book:

  • Inciting incident
  • Plot action

Some writers mark the timeline of the story or map out the events to help them stay on track. Try to keep your word count below 300 words. This gives you leeway to fill in extra detail later.

2. Check on your characters

You’ve probably introduced all the characters you need to include in your synopsis in the 5 sentences you just wrote. That said, you may not have given enough detail about their motives or personalities to make your synopsis sing.

Note down any crucial character points you need to include, but be frugal with the details. Extraneous backstories are a waste of words in your synopsis, so don’t let your personal connection with your characters get the better of you here. Only include information that’s relevant to the plot.

3. Join the dots

Now you have a strong idea of the key plot points and character motivations you need to include, it’s time to craft the synopsis.

Build up your outline into a synopsis by filling in the gaps that will help the reader make the leap from one plot point to the next. If your story is solid, it will more or less tell itself at this stage - your job is to make it sound compelling. Don’t worry if your first draft is too long or a little messy.

4. Come back to it later

You wouldn’t submit your first draft of your novel to an agent - so you shouldn’t submit your synopsis first draft, either. Let it sit for a few days so you can get some distance from your work. When you come back to it, read it with a critical eye. Check it explores each of the elements in the section above. Perhaps most importantly, check it meets the word count and formatting requirements set by the agent.

5. Get feedback on your synopsis

Seeking peer feedback on your book synopsis is a great way to learn what works in a plot summary from other writers. If you can, find writers who have had their synopses accepted by agents or publishers and pick their brains about what worked well for them.

Some agents will also offer feedback on your synopsis if they think it has potential. This is invaluable, so take any of their comments on board.

Tips for writing a great book synopsis

Here are our top tips for writing the best possible book synopsis:

  • Be concise — Cut the fluff from your synopsis and keep your writing to the point, while maintaining your natural writing style. Agents don’t have time to wade through reams of description to find out what actually happens in your book.
  • Use action rather than description to portray characters — Instead of saying, “The doctor is kind and selfless”, use action to characterise your characters: “The doctor does everything she can to save him.”
  • Weave subplot points through the synopsis — Connect the dots of your main plot and subplot points seamlessly to avoid jarring character introductions or plot twists.
  • Write a second, third, and fourth draft — Your book synopsis can make or break your relationship with a literary agent, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right. Write multiple drafts until you’re happy it’s ready to send out.

Common mistakes to avoid in your book synopsis

Avoid these common errors in your synopsis to keep your summary well-structured and easy to read:

  • Muddying your narrative structure — The spine of your story is really important in your synopsis, so don’t compromise this with extra detail or flowery descriptions.
  • Giving too much detail — There are sure to be little details you love and want to include in your synopsis, but try to keep your summary top-level.
  • Introducing too many minor characters — We only need to meet your key characters in the synopsis, so keep the rest under wraps (this will help you keep your word count down, too).
  • Ignoring formatting requirements — It’s really important to stick to the requirements set out by the publisher or agent you’re submitting to. Triple check these before you click send.

Submitting your synopsis

Now you know how to write a book synopsis, you can start submitting your synopsis and query letter to agents. Before you hit send, double check the requirements from each agent to check you’re sending them what they want to see. You’re sure to increase your response rates - and maybe even receive a couple of manuscript requests. While you're at it, you should also start thinking about your author bio !

Alternatively, if you’re thinking of self-publishing, check out our advice for self-published authors . You’ll find tons of useful guides for writing and marketing your new novel.

Advice from a published writer

Alex Fisher , "Seadogs and Criminals"

Like the author bio, keep it short and sweet. It’s basically an invitation into your book. Describe the essential points and direction of the story without giving too much away. Introduce the main character, the plot, the motive/goal and finish with a question (if that works) and that’s all you need.

Dangle the story in front of the potential reader with enough information to grip them and ignite their curiosity, hook them in and make them want to know what this is all about, make them want to read on, without waffling. Too much information and you’ve lost them; the reader is smart and wants to discover the story for themselves in their own way. Keep it snappy, between 100 to 200 words. Be lethal.

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How to Write a Novel or Memoir Synopsis

how to write a novel synopsis

Note from Jane: The following post was published years ago, but I regularly revisit, revise, and expand it. I’ve also written a comprehensive post on writing query letters.

It’s probably the single most despised document you might be asked to prepare: the synopsis . 

The synopsis is sometimes necessary because an agent or publisher wants to see, from beginning to end, what happens in your story. Thus, the synopsis must convey a book’s entire narrative arc. It shows what happens and who changes, and it has to reveal the ending. Synopses may be required when you first query your work, or you may be asked for it later.

Don’t confuse the synopsis with sales copy, or the kind of marketing description that might appear on your back cover or in an Amazon description. You’re not writing a punchy piece for readers that builds excitement. It’s not an editorial about your book . Instead, it’s an industry document that helps an agent or editor quickly assess your story’s appeal and if it’s worth them reading the entire manuscript.

How long should a synopsis be?

You’ll find conflicting advice on this. However, I recommend keeping it short, or at least starting short. Write a one- or two-page synopsis—about 500-1000 words, single spaced—and use that as your default, unless the submission guidelines ask for something longer. If your synopsis runs longer, anything up to two pages (again, single spaced) is usually acceptable. Most agents/editors will not be interested in a synopsis longer than a few pages.

While this post is geared toward writers of fiction, the same principles can be applied to memoir and other narrative nonfiction works.

Why the synopsis is important to agents and editors

The synopsis ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. A synopsis will reveal any big problems in your story—e.g., “it was just a dream” endings, ridiculous acts of god, a category romance ending in divorce. It can reveal plot flaws, serious gaps in character motivation, or a lack of structure. Or it can reveal how fresh your story is; if there’s nothing surprising or the plot is hackneyed, your manuscript may not get read.

The good news: Some agents hate synopses and never read them; this is more typical for agents who represent literary work. Either way, agents aren’t expecting a work of art. You can impress with lean, clean, powerful language. An agent I admire, Janet Reid, has said that energy and vitality are key.

Synopses should usually be written in third person, present tense (even if your novel is written in first person). For memoirists, I recommend first person, but first or third is acceptable.

What the synopsis must accomplish

In most cases, you’ll start the synopsis with your protagonist. You’ll describe her mindset and motivations at the opening of the story, then explain what happens to change her situation (often known as the inciting incident ). Motivation is fairly critical here: we need to understand what drives this character to act.

Once the protagonist is established, each paragraph ideally moves the story forward (with events unfolding in exactly the same order as in the manuscript), with strong cause-effect storytelling, including the key scenes of your novel. We need to see how the story conflict plays out, who or what is driving that conflict, and how the protagonist succeeds or fails in dealing with it.

By the end, we should understand how that conflict is resolved and how the protagonist’s situation, both internally and externally, has changed. Think about your genre’s “formula,” if there is one, and be sure to include all major turning points associated with that formula. 

If you cover all these things, that won’t leave you much time for detail if you keep the synopsis to a single page. You won’t be able to mention every character or event or include every scene—only those that materially affect the protagonist’s decisions or our understanding of the story’s events. You may have to exclude some subplots, and you definitely have to stay out of the plotting weeds. If there’s a shootout at the story’s climax, for instance, or a big fight scene, it’s fairly useless to get into the details of the choreography and how many punches are thrown. Instead, you say there’s a big fight and make it clear who wins and who loses.

To decide what characters deserve space in the synopsis, you need to look at their role in influencing the protagonist or changing the direction of the story. We need to see how they enter the story, the quality of their relationship to the protagonist, and how their story resolves.  Any character that merits placement in a synopsis should have at least two to three mentions. If you can get away with only mentioning them once, they probably don’t belong at all.

A good rule of thumb for determining what stays and what goes: If the ending wouldn’t make sense without the character or plot point being mentioned, then it belongs in the synopsis.

A synopsis should get to the point—fast

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Very Wordy : At work, Elizabeth searches for Peter all over the office and finally finds him in the supply room, where she tells him she resents the remarks he made about her in the staff meeting.

Tight : At work, Elizabeth confronts Peter about his remarks at the staff meeting.

The most common synopsis mistake

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the synopsis just details the plot. That will end up reading like a mechanical account of your story (or the dreaded “synopsis speak”), without depth or texture.

Consider what it would sound like if you summarized a football game by saying. “Well, the Patriots scored. And then the Giants scored. Then the Patriots scored twice in a row.” That’s sterile and doesn’t give us the meaning behind how events are unfolding.

Instead, you would say something like, “The Patriots scored a touchdown after more than one hour of a no-score game, and the underdog of the team led the play. The crowd went wild.”

The secret to a great synopsis

A synopsis includes the characters’  emotions and reactions to what’s happening. That will help you avoid something that reads like a mechanic’s manual. Include both story advancement (plot stuff) and color (character stuff).

Incident (Story Advancement) + Reaction (Color) = Decision (Story Advancement)

For stories with considerable world building or extensive historical settings

Some writers may need to open their synopsis with a paragraph or so that helps establish the world we’re entering and the rules of that world. This helps us better understand the characters and their motivations once introduced. For example, a synopsis of Harry Potter might clarify upfront that the world is divided into Muggles and wizards, and that the Muggles have no idea that a magical world exists. Or, this fact could be relayed in the synopsis once Harry Potter learns about it himself.

In a historical novel, a writer might have to establish cultural attitudes or facts that might not be known to contemporary readers, so that the characters’ actions make sense and the weight of the conflict is clear.

In science fiction and fantasy, try to avoid proper terms or nouns that have to be defined or explained unless such terms are central to your story (like “Muggles” above). Instead, try to get the point across in language that anyone can understand but still gets the point across. The goal here is to focus on telling the story rather than increasing the mental workload of the agent/editor, who has to decipher and remember the unfamiliar vocabulary.

Avoid splitting the synopsis into sections

In most cases, the synopsis should start and end without any breaks, sections, or other subheadings. However, on occasion, there might be a reason to add “sign posts” to the synopsis, due to your book’s unique narrative structure. For example, if your novel has intertwining timelines, or if it jumps around in time and place, you may want to begin each paragraph with a bold lead-in (“Paris, 1893”), to establish where we are. Other than that, avoid sectioning out the story in any way, or listing a cast of characters upfront, as if you were writing a play. Characters should be introduced at the moment they enter the story or when they specifically contribute to the story moving forward.

Common novel synopsis pitfalls

  • Don’t get weighed down with the specifics of character names, places, and other proper names or terms. Stick to the basics. Use the name of your main characters, but if a waitress enters the story for just one scene, call her “the waitress.” Don’t say “Bonnie, the boisterous waitress who calls everyone hon and works seven days a week.” When you do mention specific names, it’s common to put the name in all caps in the first instance, so it’s easy for agents or editors to see at a glance who the key figures are.
  • Don’t spend time explaining or deconstructing your story’s meaning or themes.  This can be a particularly persistent problem with memoir. A synopsis tells the story, but it doesn’t try to offer an interpretatio n, e.g., saying something like, “This is the story of how many ordinary people like me tried to make a difference.”
  • Avoid talking about the story construction. This is where you add things that describe the book’s structure, such as “in the climax of the novel,” or “in a series of tense scenes.”
  • Avoid character backstory unless it’s tied to the character’s motivations and desires throughout the book. A phrase or two is plenty to indicate a character’s background; ideally, you should reference it when it affects how events unfold. If you’ve written a story with flashbacks, you probably won’t include much, if any, of that in the synopsis. 
  • Avoid including dialogue, and if you do, be sparing . Make sure the dialogue you include is absolutely iconic of the character or represents a linchpin moment in the book.
  • Don’t ask rhetorical or unanswered questions. Remember, your goal here isn’t to entice a reader.
  • While your synopsis will reflect your ability to write, it’s not the place to get pretty with your prose. That means you should leave out any attempts to impress through poetic description. You can’t take the time to show  everything in your synopsis. Often you have to tell, and sometimes this is confusing to writers who’ve been told for years to “show don’t tell.” For example, it’s OK to just come out and say your main character is a “hopeless romantic” rather than trying to show it.

Additional resources

  • How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel (one of the best advice articles I’ve seen)
  • How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis
  • The Anatomy of a Short Synopsis
  • The Synopsis: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Write It

If you’re looking for in-depth guidance, I offer a query letter master class that includes a 90-minute lecture on synopsis writing.

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman has spent nearly 25 years working in the book publishing industry, with a focus on author education and trend reporting. She is the editor of The Hot Sheet , the essential publishing industry newsletter for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2023. Her latest book is The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal. In addition to serving on grant panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund, she works with organizations such as The Authors Guild to bring transparency to the business of publishing.

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Veronica Scott

Thanks for the excellent tips! I can write the NOVEL itself no problem (well, not exactly that simple – go thru many drafts and late nights along the way) but the synopsis stops me cold. Wordiness, that’s me! Will definitely be referring to this blog posting when I have to write my next synopsis.

Jane Friedman

Excellent! Thanks for stopping by.

BellaVida

Fantastic. Loved the tip about adding the protagonists feelings.

Yes! A lot of people skip that part, but that really gives things texture, makes us care.

Nealwriter1

Sounds like I should start with my synopsis first and use it as a roadmap to write the novel.

That is, in fact, a fabulous idea.

Jean-Maré Gagliardi

That’s how I do it. When I have my idea I write a one-paragraph synopsis followed by the longer version. I’ve never had writer’s block and like to believe it’s because I have the biggest parts planned and that causes for less major revisions with the lack of plot holes.

But it doesn’t mean writing the synopsis was easy. Couldn’t have done it, once again, without Jane’s excellent advice!

Margaret Yang

To me, the most important parts are the inner stakes and outer stakes. I discussed them in my article on synopsis writing found here. http://www.help4writers.com/blog/?p=374 (Bonus: Wizard of Oz was my example synopsis.)

Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

christine fonseca

Great article! And thanks so much for including one of my articles on writing a short synopsis in your tips. I really appreciate it

A pleasure!

Lancelot

I figure if my 70-year old grandma who hates fantasy can understand a three-minute version of my whole story, I’ve synopsized well.

trackback

[…] Friedman returns to an oldie but goodie: How to write a synopsis that works; agent Jennifer Laughran answers word-count questions across most genres; Karen Dionne seeks an […]

[…] Back to Basics: Writing a Novel Synopsis | Jane Friedman The synopsis conveys the narrative arc of your  novel; it shows what happens and who changes, from beginning to end. (@saphirablue84 Did you see Jane Friedman's synopsis post? It lists additional resources too. Source: janefriedman.com […]

Livia Blackburne

And I’m late here, but thanks for linking to my list 🙂

[…] it or buy the rights to it, and to give you a nice fat contract for your trouble. Jane Friedman has exceptional how-to tips for writing a synopsis for your book that will make an agent drool. Pay attention to the part where she says you have to give away the […]

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How to write a book synopsis: 12 tips with examples.

  • March 19, 2024

Table of Contents:

What is a synopsis, how to write an outline for a book, conclusion:, write a book.

Crafting a book synopsis is a critical skill for any writer aiming to capture the interest of readers, agents, and publishers. This concise document bridges your manuscript and its potential audience, providing a clear, compelling summary of your story’s plot, characters, and thematic elements. 

However, it is not easy to  write a book synopsis  if you are not aware of all the do’s and don’ts. You must be brief yet comprehensive, engaging yet straightforward, and revealing enough to intrigue without revealing all your secrets. 

To write a book synopsis , try to add highlights and key story points and explain the book’s essential aspects. Its goal is to get a literary agent interested in the story so they can try to pitch the finished work to a publisher. Usually, it comes with a query letter and a manuscript sample in the submissions package.

To clarify your plot, a summary uses a neutral tone and shows the story’s main arc. It usually includes summarizing your main ideas, important character descriptions, and significant plot twists and endings. As a result, the reader is more likely to be captivated and finish reading the book.

Occasionally, the opening of a summary sets the stage for the book’s storyline. This can assist in illuminating the motivations and personality of the primary character. The features included in the summary could differ from one book to another, but they should consistently adhere to the novel’s narrative sequence.

The text found in the book’s back jacket differs from the synopsis. To grab the reader’s interest, book blurbs are typically only concise writing. 

To write a book synopsis , follow these steps:

Begin with a strong sentence:  First, when you write a book , talk about the main character and the major struggle or idea of the story. This makes things possible for what’s to come. Give readers a strong emotional reason to connect with the main character by introducing them in a way that shows their unique personality, goals, and problems.

Key characters and plot:  Briefly summarize the main characters and story points. Remember that the goal is to give a general idea of how the story goes without going into too much detail. Include character names, jobs, and beginning goals to help readers connect emotionally with the story’s main characters. 

Character growth and narrative arc:  Show how your figures change as the story progresses. Ghostwriters should bring attention to their problems and how they affect the story. Character growth is important because it gives your story more meaning. Readers feel connected to people who change and grow over time. Their problems let us see different sides of their personalities and move the story forward.

Have a powerful conclusion:  Synopses should indicate the finale, unlike book blurbs. In this way, the readers may see the narrative arc in its entirety. Remember that the summary should explain the ending without revealing every plot surprise, allowing readers to appreciate the book’s finer narrative complexities.

Get some feedback:  Before writing a book synopsis and sending your initial draft of the synopsis to an agent, have an alpha or beta reader look it over. Ask them what they think, and then make the changes you need to make to your book summary.

Three Crucial Elements of a Book Summary

Writing is an art form in its own right. According to book writing services , a summary should include the following elements:

  • Characters: Write a good story built around the main character. From the start, make sure the major and supporting characters are strong and easy to remember. Find out more about how characters grow here.
  • Conflict: The main thing that keeps people reading is conflict. When you write a book synopsis , include the main conflict idea. Get a better sense of the different kinds of battles here.
  • Narrative arc: The narrative arc is the structure of your story. It goes from the beginning to the end. The story of your book should have many layers, but for the summary, you should boil it down to five main parts.

Examples of Book Synopsis

Here are several book synopsis examples to help you learn the craft:

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a sad story set in the Deep South in the 1930s. It is also one of the best book synopsis examples that looks at racism and moral growth through the eyes of Scout Finch, a young girl. Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, is defending a black man who is wrongly accused of a crime. In their small town, Scout and her brother Jem are dealing with the hard truths of racism and the complicated nature of people. People love the book because it is warm, funny, and doesn’t shy away from discussing tough social problems.

Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”

Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is a famous story set in the 1920s. The book is about the mysterious and rich Jay Gatsby, known for throwing big, fancy parties. Gatsby is driven by his love for Daisy Buchanan, a beautiful woman married to Tom Buchanan but cheats on him. Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbor, tells the story. He sees the drama and sadness of Gatsby’s obsession with finding a lost love. The book looks at the American Dream, excess, and ideals.

A synopsis aims to succinctly convey your book’s plot, characters, and emotional journey while enticing readers, agents, and publishers. By starting with a clear introduction, outlining the inciting incident, highlighting key plot points, detailing the climax, revealing the resolution, and employing an active voice throughout, you create a roadmap to launch a book that is both informative and engaging.

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Blogs / Writing Tips / How to Write a Synopsis for a Book (with Examples)

How to Write a Synopsis for a Book (with Examples)

The phrase “write a book synopsis” used to give me the heebie-jeebies.

I’d rather sit through a root canal than attempt to shrink a complex, multi-layered novel into a one-page summary.

It felt like trying to stuff an elephant into your hand luggage.

Impossible, right? And it wasn’t just me. Chat with any author and you’ll find we’d rather face the empty page of a new novel than condense our just-finished masterpiece into a few hundred words.

But here’s the kicker…

Despite the mental mountain I had to climb, I knew writing a synopsis was non-negotiable. Every agent, every publisher, heck, even beta readers wanted a snapshot of the story. And who could blame them?

The synopsis is a vital tool for giving a bird’s-eye view of your narrative, setting, characters and‌ the plot twists and turns.

Then, a writer friend recommended Fictionary to me.

Talk about a game-changer. It was like somebody switched on a light in a dark room.

Fictionary made creating a synopsis feel less like a trip to the dentist and more like a strategy game. And guess what? I found out I kinda enjoy strategy games. Writing a synopsis, I discovered, is all about uncovering the skeleton of your story and then building upon it. Stick around, and I’ll show you how it’s done, Fictionary style.

What Is a Synopsis of a Book?

You know that feeling when someone asks you, “What’s your book about?” and suddenly your mind goes blank?

Yeah, we’ve all been there. A synopsis is the answer to that all-too-common question.

So, what exactly is a synopsis of a book? Let’s clear that up. A book synopsis is a condensed version of your entire novel. Think of it as your book on a diet, only keeping the essential nutrients, and trimming away the excess.

It includes your novel’s main events, key plot points, and the character arcs of your protagonist(s) – all wrapped up in a neat, digestible package.

It’s ‌your story’s play-by-play, the entire shebang from “Once upon a time” to “They lived happily ever after.”

But remember, a good synopsis doesn’t just relay your plot in a “this happened, then that happened” kind of way. No, siree. It goes deeper. It also needs to convey the emotional journey of your characters.

Are they falling in love? Wrestling with personal demons? Battling an alien invasion? These need to come out in your synopsis.

A book synopsis is more than just a summary. It’s the heart and soul of your novel, stripped bare and laid out for all to see. It’s not always easy to create, but it is crucial. And with Fictionary, it’s about to get a lot easier.

Stick with me, and you’ll see how.

Why is Writing a Book Synopsis so Difficult?

Okay, hands up if you’ve ever broken out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of writing a book synopsis.

Yep, me too.Condensing your masterpiece into a summary feels like an impossible task. But why is that?

Let’s start with the obvious.

You’ve got an epic story teeming with complex characters, surprising twists, emotional depth, and perhaps even a philosophical debate or two. And now, you’re being asked to shrink that down to a page or two? It feels like trying to stuff a king-size duvet into a matchbox.

It’s tough.

Then, there’s the emotional attachment. Your book is your baby. You’ve nurtured it from a mere idea into a full-grown novel. Cutting it down feels a bit like trimming the wings off a bird. How do you decide what to keep and what to let go?

It’s a real emotional roller coaster, folks.

Finally, a good synopsis needs to strike a delicate balance. It must reveal your plot without making it sound too simplistic, all while maintaining an air of intrigue. It’s like being both a magician and a member of the audience—you’ve got to give away the trick without losing the magic. Quite a paradox, isn’t it?

In short, writing a book synopsis is hard because it requires distillation, detachment, and a dab of deception. But fear not, friends, because there’s a method to the madness, and Fictionary is here to guide the way.

How to Write a Novel Synopsis the Fictionary Way

In my experience, the most effective way to write a synopsis is to break it down scene by scene. And there’s no better resource for understanding novel structure scene by scene than Fictionary.

Fictionary provides you with a skeleton synopsis tool to identify the pivotal scenes in their novel. This makes structuring your synopsis a breeze. Let me walk you through it step-by-step… How to Structure a Skeleton Book Synopsis

While every novel is unique, most follow a similar story structure containing five to seven pivotal scenes:

Inciting Incident

Plot point 1, plot point 2.

Fictionary analyses your manuscript and labels where each of these key scenes happens in your book.

To build your skeleton synopsis:

  • Identify which of your book’s scenes align with each plot point using the Fictionary beat sheet
  • Who is the POV character?
  • What is their goal?
  • What’s at stake if they fail?
  • String the scenes together in chronological order.

Following this simple formula gives you the bare bones synopsis containing all the pivotal plot points. You can then flesh out the skeleton into a polished, thorough synopsis.

How to Write a Summary of a Book Tips

How long is a synopsis.

Your book synopsis needs to be long enough to convey your story but concise enough to maintain your reader’s attention.

In general, a book synopsis should be between 500 words and 800 words. This translates to a maximum of two pages at a standard font.

If your book synopsis is too long, then an agent may not even pick it up. If it is too short, then they may not understand the brilliance of your story. But if you have the choice, we recommend choosing short and sweet over too long.

How to Structure the Synopsis of a Book?

I get this question a lot: “How on earth do I structure the synopsis of my book?” Well, dear writer, fret not, I’ve got your back!

First off, you’ve got to remember that a synopsis summarises your book’s plot. Now, this doesn’t mean you spill the beans on every tiny detail. Rather, it’s about focusing on the main points and how they connect to form the bigger picture.

Start with an opening that introduces your main character and their world. What’s their situation like when we first meet them? Then, swiftly move on to the inciting incident – the event that sets the story in motion.

Next, sketch out the major conflicts and plot points. Make sure you cover the critical turning points – those game-changing moments that force your protagonist to grow and change. This includes the midpoint, plot points, and of course, the climax.

Then, reveal the resolution. Yes, you’ve got to divulge how the story ends. Remember, a synopsis isn’t a back cover blurb – the purpose is to inform, not to tease.

Finally, keep it concise and stick to the point. Avoid unnecessary subplots, characters, or backstory. Your goal is to give a clear and accurate picture of your story arc. In short: introduce, incite, outline, resolve, and keep it neat! It’s easier said than done, I know, but with a little practice and a sprinkle of Fictionary magic, you’ll master it in no time.

3 Tips for How to Write a Synopsis for a Novel

So, you’re biting your nails and wondering, “What are the secret ingredients to whip up a riveting book synopsis?” Well, put on your author’s hat, because I’m about to spill my top three tips that are sure to take your synopsis game from ‘meh’ to ‘marvellous’!

Story Synopsis Tip 1: Know Your Key Players

Keep your synopsis centred on your main character(s) and their journey. The reader should understand who the protagonist is, what their goals are, and the obstacles they face. This doesn’t mean you have to name every character; stick to those who are crucial to the plot.

Story Synopsis Tip 2: Don’t Shy Away From Spoilers

Unlike a back cover blurb that entices, a synopsis informs. So, ‌reveal how the story ends. Include the resolution of the key conflicts and how the character arcs culminate.

Story Synopsis Tip 3: Keep it concise and engaging

A synopsis is a glimpse into your story, not a blow-by-blow account.

So, resist the temptation to explain every plot twist or character backstory. Stick to the significant events and how they drive the story forward.

In summary, focus on your key characters, embrace spoilers, and practise the art of being concise yet captivating. And remember, writing a great synopsis, like any writing skill, gets better with practice.

Now you know how to write a synopsis, let’s look at an example.

Story Synopsis Example

Here is the scene by scene skeleton synopsis for Veronica Roth’s young adult dystopian novel, Divergent:

  • POV Character: Beatrice
  • Must: Choose a faction at the Choosing Ceremony
  • Otherwise: She will become factionless

Why This Scene?

This event kicks off the main action of the novel. Beatrice’s choice will determine the course of her life within the world of the story.

  • Must: Pass Dauntless initiation.

Passing initiation is the immediate external goal Beatrice must accomplish after choosing Dauntless. Failure would unravel everything that follows.

  • Must: Go through her fear landscape simulation
  • Otherwise: She will fail Dauntless initiation

The fear simulation is the major turning point in the first half of the book. It’s an important milestone in Beatrice’s progression as an initiate.

  • Must: Stop the Erudite’s mind control plan
  • Otherwise: The Dauntless will massacre Abnegation

The plot forces Beatrice to face an impossible choice that will determine the fates of both her family and all Dauntless/Erudite.

  • Must: Release the video exposing the Erudite
  • Otherwise: Jeanine will continue manipulating the factions

This scene represents the final conflict where Beatrice exploits the Erudite’s lies and prevents further loss of life.

  • Must: Scatter her mother’s ashes
  • Otherwise: She cannot move on from her parents’ deaths

The Resolution ties up Beatrice’s emotional character arc regarding her grief over her family.

As you can see, answering those three simple questions about each key scene provides the bare bones plot summary. From here, you would flesh out the details to complete the full synopsis.

Is There a Particular Synopsis Book You Recommend?

If you’re like me, always on the hunt for resources that can help elevate your writing skills, then you’re in luck.

Today, I want to introduce you to a book that’s been a game-changer for me: “Secrets to Editing Success” by Kristina Stanley and Lucy Cooke.

Yes, it’s a bit of self-promotion here, but I genuinely believe this book can be a valuable asset to any writer’s toolkit.

“Secrets to Editing Success” isn’t just another book about writing or editing. It’s a comprehensive guide that demystifies the editing process. The book provides practical advice on how to take your manuscript from good to great.

Kristina and Lucy delve into the nuts and bolts of story editing, sharing tips and tricks gleaned from our years of experience in the field.

One section that I find useful is the one on crafting an interesting book synopsis. The book offers step-by-step guidance on how to structure a synopsis that captures the essence of your story while keeping it concise and engaging.

It breaks down the process into manageable chunks, making it less daunting and more achievable.

Kristina and Lucy packed the book with real-life examples, actionable tips, and practical exercises that help to cement the concepts. It’s like having a personal editing coach in your back pocket.

So, if you’re struggling with writing an interesting synopsis, or any part of the editing process, I highly recommend “Secrets to Editing Success”. It might just be the tool you need to unlock your editing prowess.

Conclusion: What is a Synopsis of a Book

As we bring this journey to a close, let’s circle back to our initial question.

What is a synopsis of a book?

A synopsis, as we’ve discussed, is a concise, interesting summary of your book’s plot. It’s like the appetiser agents, publishers, and readers. It teases them with the promise of an entrancing narrative feast to come.

Creating a book synopsis may seem like a Herculean task.

Trust me, I’ve been there. As a writer, you’ve spent months, possibly years, on your book. And now, you’re asked to shrink this vast, vibrant universe into a one-to-two-page summary. It’s like trying to pack a cruise ship into a toy boat.

Seems impossible, right?

Well, I’ve got good news: it’s not. Difficult? Absolutely. But impossible? Far from it.

We’ve explored why writing a book synopsis is so challenging. We’ve also offered practical advice on how to navigate these challenges the Fictionary way. And don’t forget the concept of a skeleton synopsis. A tool to help you identify and summarise the crucial scenes and moments in your narrative.

Remember, the goal of a synopsis isn’t to encapsulate every detail of your story/

It’s there to give the reader a taste of your plot, characters, and writing style. It’s about capturing the essence of your story and presenting it ‌so it leaves the reader yearning for more.

I would urge you to think of the book synopsis not as an ordeal but as an opportunity.

An opportunity to take a step back, to view your story from a bird’s-eye perspective, and to identify and highlight the aspects that make it truly unique. And as you do, remember that, like any skill, synopsis writing improves with practise.

Keep honing your craft, and who knows, you might just come to enjoy the book synopsis process. And, if you sign up for your 14 day free trial of the Fictionary Software, you’ll have your synopsis done in no time.

Table of Contents

What Is a Synopsis?

How to write a compelling synopsis, great synopsis examples, how to write a perfect synopsis for your book (complete guide).

what is book synopsis

Unless you’re writing a book proposal , there’s no reason you need a book synopsis.

And the only reason you need a book proposal is if you want to get your book picked up by a traditional publisher .

For most Authors, it’s better to skip traditional publishing and self-publish instead.

There are many good reasons for that:

  • You’ll need a literary agent
  • It’s nearly impossible to get a deal
  • You won’t own the rights to your book or have full creative control
  • It’ll take forever to hit the market
  • It’ll be a lot less lucrative
  • You can’t market your book in the ways that will help you get the best ROI

That said, there are some Authors whose books and goals are a better fit for a traditional publisher. If you’re one of those select few, you’ll need to write a good synopsis in order to sell your book.

This post will teach you how to write the overview section of the proposal, which gives potential agents and acquisitions editors a short synopsis of your book.

A synopsis is a brief summary of the content of your book, its target audience, and its major selling points.

People are more familiar with synopses when it comes to creative writing or movie synopses. Those kinds of summaries introduce you to the main characters, major plot points, subplots, and character motivations of a story.

With a nonfiction book, the overview works differently. It’s not primarily about the content or the “main plot” of the book. Instead, it’s designed to show a potential agent or acquisitions editor at a publishing house what your book will cover, what audience will want to read it, and why it’s appealing to that audience.

Think of the overview of your book proposal as a sales letter. You want to show the reader that there are a lot of people with an urgent problem and that the content of your book is going to help them solve it.

As I said above, not all Authors need a synopsis . But I should clarify: a synopsis is not the same as a book description .

The purpose of a book description is to hook readers’ attention and convince them to keep reading. It’s what goes on the back cover of your book. Every Author needs one of those.

A synopsis is designed to walk an editor through your argument and convince them that your book is worth writing and, ultimately, worth selling.

In other words, a synopsis doesn’t focus on your idea . It’s about your book’s commercial potential.

The biggest mistake Authors make in writing synopses is talking too much about the following:

  • how important the idea is
  • why they want to write the book
  • why they think people should want to read it.

All those things sound logical, right?

But publishers don’t want to know what you—the Author—cares about or wants.

They want to know what readers care about, and more importantly, what will make a reader buy the book.

The synopsis should focus on the content just enough for the editor to understand what your book will say. It’s more important to show how that content relates to the needs, problems, and desires of your target audience.

A book proposal includes many elements, including an Author bio , marketing plan, chapter outline, and writing sample. But out of the entire proposal, the two things that will sell it are the overview (a.k.a., synopsis) and the marketing plan.

It’s critical to get those right.

The goal of a synopsis is to convince an agent (and later, an acquisitions editor) that:

  • your audience exists, and they’re just waiting to buy your book
  • the reasons why they’re waiting to buy your book

It’s not enough to say, “I’m writing on such-and-such subject” (even if you have data that people are interested in that subject).

For example, just because people like ice cream, it doesn’t mean they will want to buy your book on ice cream.

Your synopsis should make a clear case for why people will buy your specific book .

A compelling synopsis doesn’t only provide information; it convinces. It has to answer all the questions in an editor’s mind, including:

  • Why are people going to care about what you have to say?
  • Why is anyone going to care about the book?
  • What need is it filling?
  • What problem does it solve?
  • What transformation will it create?
  • What hole in people’s lives does it fill?

Acquisitions editors at traditional publishing houses like to think of their job as cultivating and curating the national conversation.

So, synopsis writing is all about persuading editors that your book is going to be the next big thing. It has to make an editor feel like they’re ahead of the curve by discovering you and your idea.

Here’s the ideal situation: an acquisition editor reads your overview and thinks, “Wow, this is really obvious, but no one sees it yet—except for me. I’ll be the one who gets to unveil this book to the world!”

If your overview does that, potential agents will be interested in it because they know that acquisition editors will want it.

Here are 2 examples of great proposals:

  • This is the proposal for Author Steve Sims’ bestseller, Bluefishing: The Art of Making Things Happen . Scribe helped with this proposal, and Steve earned a low six-figure advance from an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
  • This is the proposal for my book with Geoffrey Miller, which we wrote with Nils Parker. We sold the book for low seven figures to Little, Brown. This book started off as Mate: Become the Man Women Want , but for the paperback, the publisher changed the name to What Women Want .

Those links will take you to the complete proposal, not just the overview. If you’re writing a book proposal, I recommend checking them out in their entirety.

But below, I’m only going to focus on the synopses. I’ll explain how each of them addresses the main questions in an editor’s mind.

1. Why Are People Going to Care About What You Have to Say?

In the proposal for Mate , Geoffrey and I didn’t just outline our credentials. We also explained how Mate would build on our pre-existing professional platforms.

Collectively, we had over 3 million subscribers to our email lists. We also had a clear, statistically supported breakdown of the audience who would benefit from the book: romantically frustrated young men.

We focused briefly on the origins of the idea, but when we talked about ourselves, it was mainly to show why our respective followings would care about this new collaboration.

An editor reading this would immediately know:

  • we were Authors with a huge following
  • our following had a problem
  • we knew how to solve it

2. Why Is Anyone Going to Care About the Book?

Steve’s proposal had an aspirational hook: he helps people make their wildest dreams come true.

As the founder of Bluefish, an exclusive luxury concierge service, Steve’s professional background gave him privileged insight.

He not only had access to the outrageous, impossible adventures of billionaires — he also understood the deeper psychological motivations behind them.

In other words, the book wasn’t just a riveting tell-all about journeys to the bottom of the sea or dining at the feet of Michelangelo’s David .

It was also a guide to happiness for the average person.

Steve explained how his book tapped into people’s desires for fantasy fulfillment and recognized the desire for personal growth and fulfillment.

He addressed this unique perspective with the line, “You don’t have to be a billionaire. All you need is this book.”

That’s what set his book apart and made his audience take notice.

3. What Need Is It Filling?

Geoffrey and I realized something strange was going on when a lot of my fans were looking to my drunk hook-up stories for advice.

Instead of writing these readers off, we wondered why that was happening.

What was the need they were trying to fill by reading my books? And how could we write a book that would fill that need better?

Here’s how we positioned that need in the proposal:

For Tucker, however, it was a revelation: for years he had struggled with the fact that many of his biggest fans were, to be kind, raging douchebags. At book signings, speaking engagements, parties, on the street, they would come up to him to take a picture or shake his hand and invariably their favorite parts of his books would be the parts they should be most ashamed of; the parts Tucker had included to make himself the butt of the joke.

It was no wonder so many of his male fans were such maladjusted idiots–they weren’t using those moments as cautionary tales, they were using them as a guide. But why??

The short answer: that’s all there was.

That was a turning point. It helped us understand what problem we needed to solve and what was at stake in writing Mate .

It was also crystal clear evidence for editors. It showed them how the book would fulfill an audience’s specific needs.

4. What Problem Does It Solve?

Steve’s book proposal started with a bang.

Who doesn’t want to hear about getting married by the Pope or getting chased by spies in a James Bond simulation?

That’s a great hook, but it’s not enough to sell a book. A good synopsis shows how the book will actually solve a problem.

As the proposal continued, readers learned that the real problem at the heart of the book was how to tap into the “pure joy that so many of us bury as we become successful grownups with jobs and families and responsibilities.”

Steve went on to show how those attention-grabbing stories could help solve that problem:

Money can’t buy you happiness. There’s the problem.

And here’s the solution: “Throughout the chapters, he shares his secrets for achieving the impossible and making your own bucket-list dreams come true.”

Steve’s synopsis was successful because he guided the reader through a clear story arc: hook, problem, and solution.

5. What Transformation Will It Create?

The proposal for Mate tackled the question of reader transformation head-on:

This brief passage explained the “who,” “how,” and “why,” while also including the pain point and benefits. In just a few sentences, we showed why readers would be interested in this material.

In another section of the proposal, we also broke the benefits down thematically—scientifically, what will readers learn? Ethically, what insights will they gain? And practically, what will they walk away with?

In the first paragraph, we also compared the book to ground-breaking books that created analogous transformations. That made it immediately evident to editors what kind of market space the book could fill.

6. What Hole in People’s Lives Does It Fill?

Steve took a common, relatable concept—”the bucket list”—and gave it a new cast.

He explained, “The words have a light, frivolous ring to them, but they hint at something deeper.”

That “something deeper” was the hole his book filled.

Steve showed the reader that his book wasn’t just about rich people looking for thrills. It was about tapping into a near-universal longing for childlike joy.

The stories in the book were about the rich and famous, but the psychological drive behind them was something his target audience would relate to.

This showed editors that the book had broader commercial potential. It wasn’t just “inside baseball” for an elite audience.

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How to Write a Compelling Synopsis Your Simple Guide

How to Write a Compelling Synopsis: Your Simple Guide

You know writing a book is going to be hard, even grueling. But synopsizing it should be easy.

So, why does it feel so intimidating?  

It’s not just because you must convince an agent or a publisher (in as few as 500 words) that your novel or nonfiction manuscript will succeed in the marketplace.

It’s because an effective, working synopsis should become your foundational document for the writing itself.

Getting this right can make the writing so much easier. Getting it wrong can expose even the smallest crack in your foundation.

Regardless, synopsis writing is crucial to your success .

You want to craft yours in such a way that it empowers an agent to sell your manuscript  to a publisher.

Writing your synopsis can also reveal fatal flaws in your outline , allowing you to make the fix before you invest months in the writing.

Below I detail everything I’ve learned about how to write a synopsis that works for you.

I also give you two synopsis templates — one for fiction and one for nonfiction, with real examples of each.

  • How to Write Compelling Synopses

I cover both fiction and nonfiction here, so feel free to jump straight to your genre. Just remember that each contains valuable training that applies to both.

Click here if you’re writing fiction .

Click here if you’re writing nonfiction .

How to Write a Compelling Synopsis Your Simple Guide

  • What Is a Synopsis?

For FICTION SYNOPSES , summarize the main beats of your story , chapter by chapter.

(Don’t worry — agents and publishers know fiction is organic and stories often take on lives of their own. You won’t be held rigidly to your synopsis, and many story beats will wind up in different chapters than you predicted.)

The point of your synopsis is to reveal the entire story in as few as 500 words, allowing an agent or a publisher to determine whether the premise and approach make it worthy of asking to see the eventual manuscript.

Yes, your synopsis should reveal how your story ends . 

A common mistake is to confuse your synopsis with back cover or advertising copy—which is full of teasers and questions designed to lure readers.

Your potential agent or publisher is not a buyer who needs to be lured. And they don’t want questions—they want answers. Tell what happens in your story and how it ends.

Your agent or publisher (hopefully both) will become your publishing partner.

Let them in on all the secrets and how you intend to tell the story. 

Agents and publishers are deluged with thousands of manuscripts annually. You help them do their jobs and set yourself apart from that sea of competition by giving them every reason to ask to see your manuscript.

A meaningful fiction synopsis briefly tells your story in present tense. You’ll see an example below.

Full disclosure: If you’re a new novelist, few agents or publishers will extend a contract offer based on your synopsis alone (it happens, but it’s rare). Lots of writers can dream up great premises, high enough stakes to justify a novel-length manuscript, and a great ending.

The question is whether they can finish and deliver. Most can’t. Just like employers are cautioned against “hiring a résumé” without a careful screening process, agents and publishers have learned to make sure a writer can deliver an entire manuscript before committing to a contract.

So why not just write the manuscript and submit it whole, if they’re going to insist on seeing it anyway? Admittedly, some require that. But most can tell from your synopsis whether they want to see the manuscript.

NONFICTION SYNOPSES

For memoirs , biographies, autobiographies, and narrative nonfiction, the fiction synopsis example below also applies. You merely lay out — in a sentence or two (in present tense) — what you plan to cover in each chapter. 

For nonfiction, a synopsis should reveal:

  • The intended audience
  • What you intend to teach readers 
  • Why you are qualified to write on the subject

Avoid hard-selling language. Of course you’re trying to sell your manuscript, but the approach and word choice must do the work. Agents and editors are not impressed with grandiose promises and predictions. 

Regardless whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser , you need to immerse yourself in your genre of fiction. You may intend to break a lot of rules, but you had better know the conventions.

Read dozens and dozens of books in your genre. Your job in writing a synopsis is to summarize a full-length manuscript in 500 words.

That may seem impossible, but it’s also for your benefit. You’ll be amazed at how your synopsis keeps you focused and on track during the writing.

Start with the main elements of your story and flesh out your synopsis from there. 

Step 1: Determine Your Premise

In my post How to Develop a Great Story Idea I walk you through coming up with a bullet-proof story idea.

You’ll know you’ve hit on a potential winner when you can summarize your novel idea in one sentence. Despite that it’s only one sentence, it deserves the time it takes to make it just right.

Moviemakers refer to this as the logline .

In Blake Snyder’s classic book on screenwriting, Save the Cat , he says a good logline must have irony , and then uses this example for the movie Die Hard : “A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife, and finds her office building taken over by terrorists.” 

That may look simple, but it’s not easy. 

If someone asked you to tell them, in one sentence, what your novel is about, could you do it? Most can’t, and until they can, they’re not ready to write it.

Step 2: Reveal Your Story Structure 

Novels will have some version of the following main beats:

1. An riveting opener

2. An inciting incident that changes everything

3. A series of crises that build tension

4. A climax where everything comes a head and is resolved

5. A satisfying ending

For more detail on the above, read 7 Story Structures Any Writer Can Use . 

Step 3: Flesh Out the Details 

1. Start your synopsis by hooking your reader — in this case an agent or publisher. Your one-sentence premise is the most important line of all. Would you keep reading if the Die Hard logline was the premise? I would.

What if it was, “A man discovers his own brother is living a double life, teaching junior high biology under a different name”? I wouldn’t. Now maybe if the brother were a terrorist or some other kind of a criminal…

2. Next, map out the story, using your story structure as a base. Write a paragraph or two for each of the above five main story beats (or those of whatever structure you’ve settled on). Keep it brief and clear. Aim for no more than 500 words

3. Reveal your main character’s story arc . Who are they at the end compared to who they were in the beginning — both inwardly and outwardly?

 Do this as well for other major characters, like the villain . 

Synopsis-writing tips: 

  • Write in the third person , present tense, and as tightly as possible: “Jason learns his daughter has been kidnapped,” or “At the grocery store, Sally is riveted by the best-looking man she’s ever seen.”
  • Boldface or CAPITALIZE first mentions of characters’ names .
  • Include a brief character sketch : “ JON NELSON (38 — a retired mercenary and now a bodyguard) takes a call…”

Novel Synopsis Example

In Left Behind, millions of people throughout the world disappear in an instant in what turns out to be the Rapture of the Church at the end of the world. 

RAYFORD STEELE, an airline pilot, is flying to London when a third of his passengers disappear right out of their clothes.

Rayford fears his devout Christian wife has been right about the prophesied rapture, and if she was, she and his young son will be gone when he arrives home. His college-age daughter, CHLOE, a skeptic like him, will likely have been left behind.

Passenger CAMERON WILLIAMS (a newswriter of international renown) follows the rise of NICOLAE CARPATHIA, a powerful political figure who is eventually revealed as the antichrist. 

[The synopsis continues with what happens in every subsequent chapter, again with no mysteries, teasers, or questions raised. Rather, everything is spelled out and explained so the agent or publisher knows what to expect.]

  • 2. Nonfiction

Steven Pressfield, a successful novelist ( The Legend of Bagger Vance ) and nonfiction author ( The War of Art , Turning Pro , and The Artist’s Journey ) advises synopsizing a nonfiction book the same way you would a novel. 

According to Pressfield, a nonfiction work also has a hero, a journey, a villain, an inciting incident, a climax, and the tension between wanted and unwanted outcomes typically found in novels.

Below I share a template for a solid nonfiction synopsis.

Step 1: Promise Reader Benefits

A successful nonfiction book should empower readers to either solve a problem or to achieve a goal, e.g., “To learn to better manage their time.”  

Such a premise statement answers two questions:

  • Who the book is for, and
  • What it offers them 

Step 2: Establish Yourself as an Authority 

Steven Pressfield writes:

“If you’re a woman writing a book about weight loss for women, you’d better be a size two with washboard abs and have photos of yourself displayed throughout the book. Otherwise we readers will have trouble accepting you as an authority.”

But it’s not readers you need to convince in your synopsis—it’s an agent or publisher. It’s up to them whether your book makes it to the marketplace .

So, sell them on why you’re the person to write this book . 

Example: “I write a time management blog with a monthly readership of more than 100,000. I’ve sold over 5,000 memberships to a productivity course I created, and I coach Fortune 500 executives on performance.”

Step 3: Share the Recipe

Devote a short paragraph to every chapter in the book,  describing in third person, present tense, the content, purpose, and reader takeaway for each. 

Aim for up to 800 words .

Nonfiction Synopsis Example

In Writing for the Soul , I impart experience and wisdom gained from a nearly half-century writing career. I  reveal the rewards that can come to writers who work hard, commit to lifelong learning, and maintain their family priorities. I’ve written nearly 200 books with sales of more than 71 million copies, including 21 New York Times bestsellers.

I share how to find writing success through lifelong learning and polishing the craft.

I also include practical advice and share behind-the-scenes anecdotes of working with well-known biographical subjects (Billy Graham, Walter Payton, Hank Aaron, Meadowlark Lemon, Nolan Ryan, et al). 

In 13 chapters (designed for group study as well), I discuss:

  • The requirements to make a career of writing
  • Breaking into the industry through reporting and writing for small markets,
  • Establishing a professional image
  • Lifelong learning

Then I list all 13 chapter titles and synopsize each in a sentence or two. 

  • Writing a synopsis…

…doesn’t have to be daunting. There’s no need to be paralyzed by the fear of producing this tool so critical to both the writing of your manuscript and pitching it to agents or publishers. 

You no longer have to dread the process. My simple, proven approach to writing synopses for both novels and nonfiction books should put you on a path to success.

All the best with yours! 

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Nathan Bransford | Writing, Book Editing, Publishing

Helping authors achieve their dreams

How to write a synopsis for a novel

August 8, 2022 by Nathan Bransford 12 Comments

Of all the things you will write throughout the publishing process, a synopsis may be what you dread the most.

It’s not fun to have to shoehorn an entire novel into a relatively brief one-four page summary. But if you follow just a few relatively simple steps and follow the guidance in this post, it may still be a pain, but it won’t be endlessly hard.

Writing a synopsis: Not as terrible as you might think!

If you need personalized help with your synopsis: REACH OUT TO ME FOR EDITING!

In this post I’ll cover:

What is a synopsis for a novel?

What about a nonfiction synopsis, how to write a good synopsis, why it’s important to summarize through specificity, use a consistent voice, don’t worry about spoilers, how to format a synopsis, a sample synopsis for jacob wonderbar and the cosmic space kapow, why you shouldn’t overthink a synopsis.

A synopsis is a 1.5 to 4 page single-spaced summary of what happens in your novel. That’s it. It’s an end-to-end summary of the plot from start to finish.

Don’t worry about spoilers. And do include how it ends.

Agents and editors typically use synopses as reference documents. They use them to get a sense of the overall plot. They also sometimes use them later on as handy refreshers when their memories fade about character names and plot points. Agents don’t typically rely on them to decide whether to pass on a book project barring significant red flags. The query letter is typically far more important, so I’d devote most of your energy there.

If a publisher is considering a multi-book deal, you may also have to write synopses for future installments of your series to give an editor a sense of where you want to take the narrative.

Authors sometimes feel like they shouldn’t have to be bothered summarizing their work. And sometimes they want to pay someone else to write their synopsis.

“It’s a different skill!” they yelp to me. “I’m a good writer but I’m a bad summarizer!”

But think about how many times you’re going to have to summarize your work during the book publishing process:

  • When you friends ask you about your book, you have to summarize your book.
  • When you talk with people in the book business, you have to summarize your book.
  • When you stand up at a reading, you have to summarize your book.
  • When you become massively famous and are on a talk show, you have to summarize your book.

Get used to summarizing your book. Better yet: get good at it . Take responsibility for this part of the process. Make other people want to read your book.

While I’m more than happy to help you edit your synopsis , I refuse to write first drafts for authors out of principle. You need to take ownership over this step and take the first crack at synthesizing the plot.

For memoirs, the “rules” of writing a synopsis are typically the same as for a novel. Because memoirs unfold like novels, you can apply the guidance for fiction and just give an end-to-end summary of what happens.

For other types of nonfiction, in book proposals there is usually a chapter-by-chapter summary that essentially functions as a synopsis.

However, there aren’t universal standards for synopses within the industry and an agent may still ask you for a synopsis for nonfiction. If they do, just remember that the goal is to provide an end-to-end summary of what’s in the book (or what’s going to be in the book if you’ve just written a book proposal).

How do you do that?

Start by writing your query letter. I have a query letter template that is a good place to start, and those same key ingredients (setting, complicating incident, villain, protagonist’s quest) should be present in the synopsis.

Think of a synopsis as a longer query letter that includes how the book ends. You have more room to include more detail and depth about the plot and key subplots, but the synopsis should still cover the arc of the book in a relatively succinct way.

As in a query letter, ditch all discussion of themes and what the novel  means . Focus on what  happens . You don’t need a meta-summary or log-line at the start of the synopsis. Just start where the novel starts and end where it ends.

Here are some key elements that set snappy synopses apart from dreary ones.

Just as in a query , the more detail and specificity you can infuse into the synopsis, the more it will come to life and the clearer it will be. “Nathan was over-caffeinated” and “Nathan was so amped he scraped the silver off the Red Bull” may describe the same moment, but one has a lot more life to it than the other. (And uh. No. That didn’t happen why do you ask.)

Some summarizing will be necessary, but those little moments where you show what makes your characters, events, and setting unique will make the synopsis sparkle. Don’t devolve into generalities and largely-meaningless abstractions like “A fight ensues.” Be very specific about who is doing what and why, and describe action with precision. Swap out “A fight ensued” with “Nathan swats the mutant bat invader with a tennis racquet and banishes it from the apartment.”

Don’t pre-package the events into abstract psychologizing where you’ve already digested the events for the agent and tell them what it means, like “Nathan’s fear of intimacy rears its head.” Instead, show what that zoomed out summary is actually describing: “Nathan leaves three of his crush’s texts on read.”

Particularly for science fiction and fantasy, make sure you’re pausing to provide crisp, clear context for any concepts a reader would be unfamiliar with. Don’t just drop in a mention of a Silver Thingamabob without telling us what that means in the world of your novel. You must find a way to see what is and isn’t on the page and what the reader has sufficient context to understand.

And above all: Make sure your protagonist’s motivations and the stakes are clear. What happens if the protagonist succeeds or fails? Infuse the synopsis with that information so the agent knows why they should care about the events of the novel.

If you wrote a novel with multiple POVs or if it has a unique or nonlinear structure , it may be difficult to figure out how to organize a synopsis. You don’t want to write a synopsis that constantly zigzags between different plot lines and characters or you’re going to bewilder the reader.

Instead, don’t be beholden to the precise sequence in which events unfold in your novel . You don’t have to follow an alternating-character structure in the synopsis that mimics the novel. Try as much as possible to “get above it” and focus on describing the essential events in a way that’s clear to the reader. Err on the side of being clear rather than constraining yourself to how the novel precisely unfolds.

That could mean sticking to one character per paragraph, or it could mean describing the plot from a gods-eye perspective.

Write your synopsis in third person present tense even if your novel is written in first person or past tense. (First or third person is acceptable for memoirs, but I usually prefer third person for memoirs too).

Whatever you do, optimize for clarity and cohesion rather than being a stickler for mimicking how the novel is structured.

Agents and editors know they’re going to read your book many times over the course of the publication process. They’re not worried about spoilers.

In fact, agents and editors read so many books and are so well-acquainted with the sausage-making of writing that…

  • They probably aren’t going to be surprised by even the surprise-iest of endings. Surprises are for mortal readers.
  • They are experienced enough to do the mental jujitsu of judging whether an ending will be surprising to someone who has never read the book even though the agent/editor knows exactly how it ends . They can put themselves in another reader’s shoes and judge it that way.

So yeah. Spoil away.

Unlike the way manuscripts are formatted , synopses are single-spaced, and are 1.5 to 4 pages long depending on the length and complexity of the novel. The sweet spot is usually on the shorter side: 1.5 to 2.5 pages.

Sometimes agents will ask for a “short” or “brief” synopsis, and unfortunately there isn’t really a universal standard on what they mean by that. Short synopses are typically less than a page, and some authors decide to write short and long versions of their synopses to accommodate individual agents’ preferences.

Unless otherwise specified, the default is 1.5 to 2.5 pages.

Put your book title and your name at the top and include the word “Synopsis” so an agent can easily see what it is.

As with manuscripts , Times New Roman 12pt font is standard. Use 0.5″ indents and, again, single -space the rest. Don’t include any extra spacing before or after paragraphs, and it’s not necessary to break up the synopsis into chapters or parts.

Make sure you have a footer with your name and the page number in case the agent prints the synopsis out.

Sometimes authors capitalize character names the first time they’re mentioned, but in my experience that’s optional.

Fun fact: I never actually wrote a synopsis for my middle grade novel Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow , which went on to be published by Dial Books for Young Readers at Penguin. Like many authors, I dreaded writing a synopsis. So I decided I would write one only if an agent asked for one. No one did!

But in order to give you a sense of how I would approach writing a synopsis, I wrote one anyway. You’re welcome haha.

Here it is: My synopsis for Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow

To download it to use as a template, go through the File menu within the doc and download it as a .docx file. Please do not ask me for Edit permissions on the Google Doc.

At the end of the day, it is highly unlikely that an your book is going to be made or broken by how well you write a synopsis. It’s not something that will likely see the light of day beyond your agent or editor. Compared to a query letter or, ya know, the actual manuscript, it’s not likely to factor highly into whether you book sinks or swims.

So don’t spend months on it.

Still: have fun with your synopsis and use it as valuable practice for summarizing your book in a most-awesome way.

Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching ! For my best advice, check out my online classes , my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book . And if you like this post: subscribe to my newsletter !

Art: A Vanitas by Evert Collier

Reader Interactions

October 31, 2017 at 1:12 pm

This is wonderful! I am in the camp of “it is as terrible as you might think” though, I find it super painful and never feel like I have it just right. Up there with writing cover letters. But this helps.

October 31, 2017 at 3:39 pm

“Agents and editors will use synopses to get a sense of the overall plot of the novel (and also as a handy refresher when memories start to fade through time on certain character names and plot points).” Handy for us authors too! Forgetting one’s characters’ names might seem a terrible faux pas, but Stan Lee, for example, gave his comic book characters alliterative names like ‘Peter Parker’ so he could remember them more easily.

And thinking of the synopsis as an expended query more than a shrunken novel sounds like a good approach.

Surprises are for mortal readers? So agents and editors are immortal, like vampires? How very seasonal!

Thanks for this, Nathan, and Happy Halloween!

November 1, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Thanks for this post. I’ve been struggling with writing a synopsis to use as a guideline for finishing my manuscript.

November 7, 2017 at 9:43 am

Nathan – Three words, ‘Dread the Most’. Yes I do. Nathan – Four words, ‘Get Good at it’. Yes I will.

November 7, 2017 at 9:45 am

[Thumbs up emoji]

November 29, 2017 at 9:16 am

I hardly ever comment on the same article twice but this is the exception. I have a question: It looks like you have a forum. Would my synopsis be a good place to take it to? I think I have a good one but I’ve been wrong on these gut feelings before. I’m kind of on the fence with this.

February 2, 2022 at 10:23 pm

I am grateful for what you do for writers seeking publication. I’d started checking out agents, and discovered agents want more than 10 pages and a query. A synopsis, and it all goes into an online form, OMG.

Thank you for your guidance on how to…

I have subscribed to your newsletter. For backstory, I found your post on Facebook. Thank you.

June 14, 2022 at 2:37 pm

You mention that we don’t “need” a log line at the beginning of a query, but should we avoid it? I always come up with one and wonder if it’s a good or bad idea to start a query with it between the salutation and body of the query. Since I’m querying 2 novels at the moment, I’d really be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

June 29, 2022 at 11:20 pm

Part of my confusion with a synopsis is some publishers/agents are specific about length while others make no mention of it. Sometimes it’s one page, and at other times it’s five. Many publishers/agents make no mention of length which leaves me wondering what to do.

June 30, 2022 at 12:58 pm

1.5-2.5 single-spaced pages is the “default,” if other agents ask for a different length you may need to adapt accordingly.

April 5, 2023 at 2:00 pm

This was written a while ago, but I was hoping you might be able to answer a question.

I keep getting confused about the synopsis, because some people say it’s basically what you’d read on the book jacket, and others say it’s literally a full length synopsis. Which is it really? How can I know which one the agent is asking for?

My book follows three protagonists who, though largely connected, spend time apart, obviously, so I feel like it would be difficult summarizing the overlap, and the word count would extend significantly.

April 5, 2023 at 2:15 pm

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How To Write Synopsis With Examples

A synopsis is a brief and general view of a storyline and other defining factors of a literary work. Also known as a summary or an outline, its a condensed statement of a large piece of work to the point and in an effective manner. It tells us about the plot , style , genre , characters , tone , theme , the story from the beginning, climax , and anti-climax . It gives a reliable preview of writing skills. It is mostly written in active voice and third person. The impression of emotions and feelings is also included in it. In short, it is less, and yet we can understand the critical parts of a story or a poem . It can be of any type – fictional and non-fictional setting . When writing a synopsis, we shouldn’t be over-detailed and wordy. It helps in grabbing the attention and convincing the readers. A synopsis should be long enough to pack in everything good about the story or any writing piece.

Synopsis of Cinderella

Cinderella, a kind and thoughtful girl, lives with her stepsisters; Clorinda and Tisbe. Her cruel stepmother makes her work all day long. Three of them are jealous of her beauty , so enslaved her and kept her in rags. One day they get the invitation from the king. He wants to throw a ball to find a bride for his some, the prince. Cinderella’s stepmother refuses to take her with them. There, the Fairy godmother helps her in getting a beautiful dress, slippers, and carriage. She tells her to come back before the stroke of 12, midnight. If she didn’t return, the spell would be broken. When Cinderella arrives at the ball, the prince falls in love with her instantly. No doubt Cinderella, enchants the prince but must face the anger of her stepmother when the spell wears off. She runs before the clock strikes but leaves her slipper in the rush. Later the prince finds her with the help of this glass slipper and confesses his love. They are reunited and embark on their lives together.

Synopsis of “The Bear”

The play takes place in the drawing-room of Elena Ivanovna Popova’s estate on the seven month anniversary of her husband’s death. She was leading a mournful life after his death. Her servant Luka tried to convince her for second marriage but all in vain. Smirnov comes to collect his debt to Popova, which her husband had borrowed. At first, Popova refuses to meet him but later sees Smirnov and tells him that she has no money, and she will pay back in a few days. This really annoys Smirnov, and he acts rudely and calls all women selfish and faithless. Popova also calls him a bear, and this is how the fight begins. Luka calls gardener and servant to stop them from fighting. Later their fight ends with love and brings them close. This play is a direct criticism of the hypocrisy of Russian society.

Synopsis of poem ‘After Apple Picking’

After Apple Picking is a poem by Robert Frost , which is set in a rural New England. The poem talks about the speaker and how he’s finishing his work of apple picking. He is now on his way to everyday sleep. Then he starts dreaming of massive apple harvesting. He is getting sick of this apple picking. In the end, he let the reader confused about his idea of sleep.

Synopsis of poem ‘ Little Miss Muffet ’

Poor little girl Miss Muffet wants to eat her curd and whey in peace. Meantime a spider comes, and she desperately dashes away. So she runs away, leaving the food behind.

Synopsis of short story ‘The Little Willow’

The Little Willow is a story of silent love that is set in the heart of London during the Second World War. Lisby and Simon both love each other, but they don’t express their love to each other. Now the army officer Simon comes to the courthouse to say goodbye to Lisby. She gives him a little willow tree as a token of his love. Her other sisters Charlotte and Brenda are different; outwardly beautiful but thoughtless; they both are engaged to other army officers. Later Simon is killed in the war. The war ends, and the lovers of her sisters return safely. A guest tells her that he was with Simon at the time of death. He tells her that Simon loved that girl who gave him the willow tree. Lisby discloses her love to that man. She feels very satisfying in knowing that. When her sisters tell her that there is no letter for her, she says that she has received her letter. This story is very profound at the same time, very compulsive.

Synopsis of the essay ‘Bachelor’s Dilemma ’:

The essay “Bachelor’s Dilemma” by Herbert Gold throws light on the problems faced by a bachelor in American society. The real dilemma lies in the confusion that a bachelor faces about his position in the civilized society. He is like an acrobat in a circus of life who is always staggering between love and marriage. A wife has tender feelings for him, whereas the husband takes him as a rival. A young girl looks at him as a possible catch. The other bachelors take him as an enemy who snatches away their love and bore him with his complaints. A confirmed bachelor is, in fact leading an abnormal life and so come across many difficulties.

Synopsis of Bird Box

This is a synopsis of the film, Bird Box. Amid a nightmarish new reality where an unseen evil force removes the global population. So, the mother , Malorie, and her two children embark on a life-threatening quest to find a safe place on earth. The real enemy is their eyesight—and as the defenseless blindfolded protector summons up the courage to follow a faint hope, hidden deep in a refuge down through the river. To be blind is the only thing that can save them. Their unsighted voyage led them to many difficulties. It and also creates a strong relationship with her children. No matter how dark times are, there is always a beam of light at the end of the tunnel.

Synopsis of Harry Potter

The story begins at the eleventh birthday of Harry when he comes to know that his parents were wizards. He receives a letter from Hagrid for the acceptance and invitation to study at Hogwarts. He leaves his uncle Vernon, aunt Petunia, and his cousin Dudley. He makes new friends Hermione and Ron. He learns many techniques at Hogwarts, taught by his professors and the headmaster, Dumbledore. His friends help him through the most challenging years in Hogwart. He comes to know about the reality of his parent’s death. The wizard practicing dark magic: Voldemort. His scar and mirror alarm him of Voldemort. Every experience Harry, Hermione, and Ron find themselves in dangerous situations. However, it brings them closer to Harry as his fight with Voldemort begins.

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what is book synopsis

what is book synopsis

What is a book synopsis?

what is book synopsis

How to Write a Great Book Synopsis

The book synopsis is a mighty tool in your agent submission packet.

And yet, I know exactly zero writers who look forward to writing their synopsis. If you’re a first-time novelist, you may be especially resistant to the task.

After all, you spent months—or more likely years — crafting this masterpiece . You have workshopped your book within an inch of its life so you can offer agents a spellbinding tale they’ll be proud to shop to publishers.

But they want a book synopsis ? A mere shadow of the literary voyage you wrenched loose from the depths of your soul?

Yep! That’s exactly what they want. And the better you understand the purpose of the synopsis, the more you realize that it’s actually a pretty fair request. You also come to appreciate that this summary isn’t just a way to earn the trust of an agent. It’s a form of storytelling unto itself. If you’ve been sweating your summary, tearing through book synopsis examples looking for the secret formula, I can help. Let’s start with the basics. What is a book synopsis, anyway?

Close-up of a typewriter with the words "Something worth reading" typed onto a sheet of paper.

What is a Book Synopsis?

A book synopsis is a 1-3 page telling of your story. Or, in the case of non-narrative nonfiction, it’s a short description of what you cover in your book.

This is different from a blurb , the short description on the back of the book that lures the reader in. Your goal with a book synopsis is not to leave the reader desperate to learn what happens next. Rather, a synopsis shows an agent or publisher that you have crafted (or will craft) a compelling, marketable book.

‍ If your book is fiction or narrative nonfiction (like a memoir or biography), your book synopsis tells an agent or publisher:

  • Who your protagonist is.
  • The time and place of your story.
  • Major beats and twists.
  • How the story ends.

If your book is non-narrative nonfiction (like a self-help book or a how-to), your synopsis explains:

  • What problem your book solves.
  • Who your readers are.
  • Why you are qualified to write this book.
  • A chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the topics covered.

Why do you need a whole new document to share this information? Why can’t your book just speak for itself?

Great question.

Multiple stacks of paper side by side and overlapping.

Why Do You Need a Book Synopsis?

For one thing, nonfiction writers who plan to publish traditionally don’t typically submit a completed manuscript to agents. Instead, they pitch their idea and only write the full manuscript after they’ve gotten an agent and that agent has sold the book.

If you write nonfiction, the document you use to pitch your book (and yourself), is called a book proposal . Your book proposal must include— ta-da! —a book synopsis.

If you write fiction , you’re trying to sell a completed manuscript. That manuscript is probably 70,000+ words long. And while you know those are 70,000+ words of pure genius, the agent considering you doesn’t know that.

This agent gets 100 queries a day, and the quality of those queries varies dramatically. You have to convince them that your manuscript is worth their time. You do this by sending:

  • a query that promises a strong premise,
  • opening pages that demonstrate a clear voice and engaging storytelling, and
  • a book synopsis that proves you know how to craft a character and story.

Once the agent (and eventually publisher) sees that you know what you’re doing, then they’ll invest the time to read the full manuscript.

A person writing in a notebook at a desk beside a laptop computer and a blue teacup.

How to Structure a Good Book Synopsis

Your book synopsis structure depends on the type of book. For fiction and narrative nonfiction , present the following information in this order:

  • State your genre and subgenre.
  • Write the pitch line —a one-sentence summary of your overall concept and hook.
  • Note: These first two ingredients often go together. (“Frankenstein is a gothic science fiction novel about an ambitious young scientist who reanimates a human corpse, only to create a vengeful monster he must now destroy.”)
  • Introduce your protagonist and setting as they are when your book opens. Keep it simple. (“A curious and defiant orphan, Jane Eyre (10) struggles through life at her late uncle’s dreary estate, where she is unwanted, abused, and neglected.”)
  • Continue telling your story through to the end. If your story jumps back and forth between timelines, present story beats in the order they appear in your book.

As for nonfiction :

  • Introduce the problem your book solves. Make sure the benefit to the readers is super clear.
  • Introduce yourself. Why are you the person to fix this problem?
  • Provide a short description of each chapter. This should give the reader a clear understanding of how this book follows through on its promise to guide readers.

A screenshot of the first few lines of a book synopsis.

How to Format a Good Book Synopsis

Now to make this thing look professional.

‍ Typically , your book synopsis format should include:

  • The title + “Synopsis” at the top. (Ex: “LORD OF THE FLIES Synopsis”)
  • “By” + your name beneath the title. (“By William Golding”)
  • Double spacing.
  • Times new roman font, 12 pt.
  • 1-inch margins.
  • Indented paragraphs.
  • Character names in either bold or all caps when first introduced.
  • Protagonist’s age in parentheses behind their name upon introduction.
  • Page numbers in the top right-hand corner (unless it’s a one-page synopsis).
  • Correct grammar and punctuation .

Finally: check the agent or publisher’s requirements for formatting and length. At the very least, they will ask for a specific word or page count. Give the people what they want.

A yes or no checklist.

What to Include when Writing Your Book Synopsis

How are you supposed to boil this great masterpiece of yours down to one or two pages? What do you keep and what do you discard? For fiction and narrative nonfiction , your reader wants to know:

  • The category and genre of your book.
  • What motivates your protagonist.
  • The world of your story.
  • Who the major side characters are. (Try to keep the number of side characters you introduce to a minimum. Major players only.)
  • The central conflict.
  • The narrative arc.
  • Major twists or reveals.
  • How the story ends and how your character has changed through their journey.

Nonfiction authors, you want to include:

  • The problem you are solving or knowledge gap your book fills.
  • Why this information is life-changing, relevant, or timely.
  • Who this book is for.
  • Why you are the best person to write this book.
  • A broad overview of each chapter.

Ideally, your book synopsis also provides a sense of tone and narrative voice.

A wrong way street sign.

What to Avoid When Writing a Book Synopsis

Heads-up: any of the following missteps could make an agent think you’re not a serious candidate:

  • You write your novel synopsis in first person. Even if your novel is written in first person point of view , the novel synopsis is always in third.
  • You write in past tense. A book synopsis should be written in present tense. The only exception is for memoir.
  • You talk about your book instead of telling the story. (Don’t do this: “The book then transitions to act three where Burt storms the castle.” Do this: “Newly motivated, Burt storms the castle.” )
  • You add too much —a dozen side characters, a lot of details about the trees wavering the breeze, an in-depth psychological profile of your protagonist, etc.
  • You disregard the preferred word count. Keep two or three synopses of varying lengths on file to meet differing guidelines.
  • You leave them with unanswered questions. Agents and publishers need to know the surprise twist, the powerful resolution, or your secret to making seven figures on Etsy.
  • You give your file a vague name, like synopsis.doc . Slap a title on there. Maybe your last name. Don’t let it get lost in their download file.
  • You praise your own book. Don’t call your book a “tour de force.” Don’t promise a bestseller, envision film options, or claim to be the next JK Rowling. It’s the agent’s job to imagine those possibilities. Your job is to tell a great story with the potential to fulfill their professional fantasies.

A sailboat on glassy water at sundown with clouds illuminated on the horizon and bright stars overhead.

How to Write a Book Synopsis for a Fiction Book or a Narrative Nonfiction Book

Now you know all the do’s and all the don’t-you-dares. How do you actually make it happen? Like all things writing, time and practice will reveal the best methods for you. In the meantime, I recommend tackling your novel or narrative nonfiction book synopsis by shifting your perspective.

Stop thinking about your book synopsis as an abbreviated version of your book. Instead, start from the core concept and build out.

This is what I mean:

Write your pitch line

Example: “(Title) is a (genre/subgenre) about a (protagonist) in a (setting) who has a (motivation) to achieve a (goal) despite an (obstacle.)”

Write an outline of your major beats

Flesh that outline into a synopsis that meets your reader’s word count requirements.

The trick is to add details that make the major beats more vivid. Help the reader understand how the protagonist evolves through each twist and reveal. Pro tip: Dabble’s plot grid is a great tool for nailing down those major beats . If you used Dabble to write your novel, return to your original plot grid, identify the big plot points, and use your notes to create a synopsis. If you haven’t created a plot grid for your story, make one now!

A scattered pile of nonfiction books.

How to Write a Book Synopsis for a Nonfiction Book

The nice thing about writing a nonfiction book synopsis is that you haven’t written the book itself yet. You’re still planning; you don’t have the novelist’s struggle of getting hung up on minor details that now feel essential to the telling of the story.The challenge you do have as a non-narrative nonfiction writer is that you have to make an argument for the book’s marketability. This means you need to do a lot of research on your readership, your topic, your field, competing books, or anything else that helps you answer the questions:

  • Why this topic?
  • And why me?

Once you can answer those questions, you want to pack them neatly into one paragraph. Remember to avoid gushing about your own genius. Don’t tell the agent or publisher this book will be a bestseller. Do tell them about your 500,000 newsletter subscribers.

Then, spill your secrets using the same structure you plan to use in your book. Will each chapter explain the next step in the reader’s roadmap to financial independence? Will your daily meditations be categorized into subtopics like gratitude and forgiveness?

If it helps, start with an outline, then add the most essential details, clarifying the contents of each chapter in a short paragraph.

Once you have it all down, read over your nonfiction book synopsis. Ask yourself: Am I convinced? Does this sound like a book that will stand out in its market? If not, workshop and revise. Lean on your writer friends to help you out.

A woman writing in a notebook at a table outside.

Above All, Write Well

Your book synopsis is not just a summary of your book.

It is the tool that helps you turn a file on your computer into a book on your local bookstore’s New Releases table. So take your time and write well. Consult great book synopsis examples and turn to your writing community for feedback. Even though you have to lose a lot of the details that make your book magical, you can still create a sense of narrative voice in your synopsis.

You can find ways to stir emotion, inject humor, or inspire connection. Easier said than done? For sure. But you pulled it off when you were writing your manuscript, and though the process is different, the purpose is the same.

You’re telling a story… a story only you can tell.

Give it all you’ve got.

‍ Need a little help structuring your story , writing your book, or keeping track of all seventeen versions of your synopsis? Dabble has all the features you need to simplify the authoring process. Click here to start your 14-day free trial.

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.

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Home / Book Publishing / What is a Synopsis? Definition and How to Write a Good One

What is a Synopsis? Definition and How to Write a Good One

There are many types of synopses (the plural of synopsis). If you're surfing Netflix looking for something to watch, the little description of each movie or show could be considered a synopsis. You could even say that the “blurb” you peruse when choosing something to read is a book synopsis.

But if you're looking to get published by a traditional or hybrid publisher , then you'll need to know all about a different type of synopsis. And that's just what we'll uncover as we answer the question: What is a synopsis?

  • What differentiates synopses.
  • What to include in your book synopsis.
  • Tips for writing a great synopsis.

Table of contents

  • What is a Synopsis?
  • What is a Blurb?
  • Why Would You Need to Write a Synopsis?
  • What to Include in Your Synopsis 
  • Step 1: Write it All Down
  • Step 2: Focus on Conflict
  • Synopsis Example
  • Step 3: Spend Some Time on RoadBlocks and Character
  • Step 4: Go For Broke
  • Step 5: Revise and Repeat
  • What is a Synopsis: Conclusion

Getting Your Synopses Straight

With all the different types of “blurbs” or synopses out there, it can be hard to figure out which one is right for you. After all, there are synopses for all kinds of things—books, video games, films, and even academic papers. And that's not even including things that many people think of when they think of a synopsis (like the Netflix analogy in the introduction). 

But in order to write a good synopsis, you first need to understand how they differ from a “blurb” or description.  

A synopsis is a brief yet thorough description of a piece of work. It includes the major conflict, plot points, character arc, story arc, setting, themes, major characters, genre, and style. A synopsis is designed to give the reader an accurate idea of what the story is about—and this includes major spoilers in works of fiction. In nonfiction, it outlines how the author goes about answering the overall question the book poses. 

A blurb or description is a brief summary or teaser of a book designed to get the potential reader to purchase it. Unlike a synopsis, it doesn't include major spoilers and provides no details on how the story shakes out. Essentially, a blurb is supposed to create intrigue, giving readers a hint at what awaits them in the pages.  

Pro Tip: Check out our article on writing a compelling blurb here . 

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A synopsis is a way for literary agents to determine what a book is about without actually reading the entire thing . In the movie-making world, a film synopsis does the same for producers, directors, or actors who may be interested in the project. 

As you can see, this is why a well-written synopsis will include major plot points, the entire narrative arc, and major spoilers. If a literary agent reads your synopsis and likes it, then they will probably go on to read the first several pages of the manuscript. And if they like that, they will read more. And before you know it, you may have an offer for representation from a literary agent!

After that, your synopsis will see more use as your agent shops your book around at publishing companies. But it all starts with the synopsis. This is why nailing it is very important if you want to take this publishing route.  

How to Write a Novel Synopsis

Writing a great synopsis is very different from writing a novel or even a blurb. But it's always important to check for specific requirements from literary agents , publishing companies, etc. Some require synopses to be as short as 500 words, while others expect around 800 to 1000 words. As a general rule, it's good to have both a shorter one and a longer one ready to go.  

To start off, you'll need to know what to include. 

Most literary professionals will expect to see a number of things in your synopsis. If you don't cover them all, then you decrease your chances of getting a publishing deal.  

  • The five W's – Who (protagonist/antagonist), What (genre), Where (setting), When (present tense?), and Why ( character motivation ). 
  • Major plot points – Inciting incident, roadblocks, rising action, climactic confrontation, and the resolution.
  • Character arc – How your protagonist is changed from beginning to end. A story without a character arc often lacks intrigue. 
  • Voice/Style – Although the synopsis is very different from writing a narrative, you should still convey your style and voice.  

Writing Your Synopsis

This may seem like a lot to include, but the steps below should help you make a plan and then write your own synopsis. 

Write down everything from the section above. The five Ws, the major plot points, and the character arc. They don’t have to be in any particular order. For that matter, you can type them in a blank document or write them freehand. You just want to have them down for easy reference so you don’t have to think about your whole novel as you write. 

The trick here is brevity. Write everything down, but only go into enough detail that someone who knows nothing of your story would be able to follow it . In a synopsis, the name of the game is tell, don’t show.  

Now that you have everything written down in as few words as possible, it’s time to start with the first paragraph of the actual synopsis. Within two or three sentences max, you want to tell about your main character’s “ ordinary world ” and then introduce the inciting incident. No matter what point of view your narrative is in, you’ll want to use third person and present tense for your synopsis. 

Using Die Hard as an example, it could start off something like this:

JOHN MCCLANE, a rough-around-the-edges NYC detective, is visiting his estranged wife in Los Angeles for a holiday party at her company’s headquarters. The Christmas Eve festivities are violently interrupted when a group of terrorists invade the skyscraper and take hostages, HOLLY MCCLANE among them.

In just the first sentence, we get a sense that the marriage is struggling and that McClane maybe isn’t the easiest person to be around. That’s all we need to know before getting into the inciting incident, which, in this case, is the terrorists taking over the building.  

You may also note that we get several of the Ws out of the way. Who: John McClane. Where: a skyscraper in Los Angeles. When: Christmas Even, present-day (because it’s not otherwise specified). We also get a glimpse at the protagonist’s character arc; in the end, John and Holly reconcile, which was why he flew out to LA in the first place.   

Pro Tip: Put character names in bold or capitalize them upon their first introduction in the synopsis. This helps the reader navigate.   

The bulk of your synopsis will be the stuff that happens between the inciting incident and the climax . This is where your protagonist and antagonist lock horns and the stakes increase. You can and should spend some time on this chunk of the main plot. Hit all the major plot points, including twists, if you have any.  

This is also where the antagonist’s power will become apparent (even if the antagonist is something like a harsh environment and not a “Big Bad.”) The bad guy puts up roadblocks and the good guy has to move past them. Tell about this, but gloss over the stuff that doesn’t really matter. Just make sure to include information about the character arc. 

Using the Die Hard synopsis example, I would include the fight John and Holly have right before they’re taken hostage and separated. This is important later because it weighs on John and he laments not getting to say he was sorry.

Pro Tip: Stick to only four or five named characters in the synopsis. Secondary characters can be referred to as the role they play (i.e. struggling actress or burly cop).  

Don’t forget to give everything away by the end of your synopsis. Every major plot point, every major plot twist, and the nitty-gritty of how the good guy wins (or loses, if it’s that kind of book). Don’t hold anything back.  

After you go for broke with the climax, provide a sentence or two on the resolution. Remember to add something about character development to round out the synopsis and put a nice bow on it.  

Once you’ve written your first draft, set it aside and try another version. Revise and edit. Play around with tone a bit to make sure your writing style is there (but not overpowering). Try writing the shorter synopsis. 

Once you think you’ve got a good one done, let it sit for a day or two before coming back to it and looking at it with a critical eye. Remember, if they don’t get past the synopsis, they won’t see how good the book is. 

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When you’re ready to start sending submission packages or query letters out, double-check that you’ve followed all of the agent’s (or publisher’s) submission guidelines . Some agents prefer single-spaced Times New Roman and 12-point font while others prefer double-spaced and 13-point font. Don’t forget to put [Title] Synopsis at the top of the page, along with your name. While getting a traditional publishing deal is a worthy way to go, consider self-publishing. Not only do you get to keep more royalties (like a lot more), but you also get to control your own destiny as an author. Check out this guide on the basics of self-publishing to learn more.

Dave Chesson

When I’m not sipping tea with princesses or lightsaber dueling with little Jedi, I’m a book marketing nut. Having consulted multiple publishing companies and NYT best-selling authors, I created Kindlepreneur to help authors sell more books. I’ve even been called “The Kindlepreneur” by Amazon publicly, and I’m here to help you with your author journey.

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What Is a Synopsis and How Do You Write One?

What to Put In and What to Leave Out

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

In the 19th century, a synopsis was a classroom exercise used for teaching traditional grammar but today, the accepted definition of a synopsis is a general overview of an article, essay, story, book, or other written work. In the field of publishing, a synopsis may serve as a proposal for an article or book. In feature writing and other forms of nonfiction, a synopsis may also refer to a concise summary of a polemic argument or event. You might also find a synopsis included in a review or report.

Fast Facts: Synopsis

Pronunciation: si-NOP-sis

Etymology From the Greek, "general view"

Plural : synopses

Adjective : synoptic

Synopsis vs. Outline

Some people use the terms outline and synopsis synonymously and they really are very similar. When it comes to fiction, however, the distinction is more clearcut. While each may contain similar information, a synopsis is an overview that summarizes the main plot points of the work, whereas an outline functions as a structural tool that breaks the plot down into its component parts.

If you think of it in terms of a novel, the synopsis would be similar to the book jacket copy that tells you who the characters are and what happens to them. It usually also gives readers a feeling for the tone, genre, and theme of the work. An outline would be more akin to a page of chapter listings (provided the author has titled the chapters rather than just numbering them) which functions as a map that leads the reader from the beginning of a literary journey to its final destination or denouement.

In addition to crucial information, a synopsis often includes a thematic statement. Again, thinking in terms of fiction, it would identify the genre and even subgenre, for example, a romance Western, a murder mystery, or a dystopic fantasy and would also reveal something of the tone of the work—whether dark or humorous, erotic or terrifying.

What to Include and What to Leave Out

Since a synopsis is a condensation of the original material, a writer must be sure to include the most important details so that the reader will be able to fully comprehend what the work is about. Sometimes, it's hard to know what to put in and what to leave out. Writing a summary requires critical thinking . You're going to have to analyze the original material and decide what the most important information is.

A synopsis isn't about style or details, it's about supplying enough information for your audience to easily understand and categorize the work. A few brief examples might be permissible, but numerous examples, dialogues, or extensive quotations have no place in a synopsis. Do, however, keep your synopsis true to the plot and timeline of the original story.

Synopses for Non-Fiction Stories

The purpose of a synopsis for a work of nonfiction is to serve as a condensed version of an event, a controversy, a point of view, or background report. Your job as a writer is to include enough basic information so that a reader can easily identify what the story is about and understand its tone. While detailed information is important when telling the larger story, only the information crucial to comprehending the "who, what, when, where, and why" of an event, proposal, or argument is necessary for the synopsis.

Again, as with fiction, the tone and the eventual outcome of your story will also likely come into play in your summary. Choose your phrasing judiciously. Your goal is to use as a few words as possible to achieve maximum impact without leaving out so much information that your reader ends up confused.

  • Fernando, Jovita N., Habana, Pacita I., and Cinco, Alicia L. "New Perspectives in English One." Rex, 2006
  • Kennedy, X.J., Kennedy, Dorothy M., and Muth, Marcia F. "The Bedford Guide for College Writers." Ninth Edition. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2011
  • Brooks, Terri. " Words' Worth: A Handbook on Writing and Selling Nonfiction ." St. Martin's Press, 1989
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Book Reviews

'women and children first' is a tale about how actions and choices affect others.

Kristen Martin

Cover of Women and Children First

Toward the beginning of Alina Grabowski's kaleidoscopic debut Women and Children First , 16-year-old Jane Ryder rides her bike through the rain-slicked streets of Nashquitten, a fictional town on the Massachusetts coast, south of Boston. It's a Saturday morning in May, and the smell of "seaweed and crab shells" hangs in the air — Jane's street has flooded due to a cracked seawall that the town won't repair "because it's on the side of the beach where people actually live, as opposed to the side where people 'summer.'"

As Jane bikes past the "Murder Merge" onto the town's single highway, where a thicket of white flags memorialize the teenagers who died in car wrecks, she thinks about the kids she's seen taking selfies there, "writing long captions about childhood and angels and the fragility of life...holding each other close...because they wondered what it would be like if they died, if they would be called funny or nice or smart or handsome or hot." Jane knows that in a town like Nashquitten, where a half a dozen high school students have died in the past five years, where opioids are easy to cop and people regularly disappear, no one is remembered for long.

What Jane doesn't know is that the night before, as the rain blew into town, her classmate Lucy Anderson died under mysterious circumstances at a house party, and that this tragedy will upend her community and form a testament to its interconnectedness.

The puzzle of Lucy's death propels Women and Children First , but Grabowski's novel is not a thriller or a whodunit. The novel unfolds in ten chapters, split down the middle between "Pre" and "Post" Lucy's death, each narrated in the first person by a different Nashquitten girl or woman linked in some way to the tragedy, from classmate Jane to college counselor Layla to best friend Sophia to mother Brynn. The narrators form a Greek chorus telling this tale of a fractured, grieving community, their constellation of perspectives gradually offering shards of how Lucy died and who she was. Through her pitch-perfect summoning of this intergenerational female cast, Grabowski explores the fickleness of truth, the fallibility of memory, how difficult it is to really see those closest to us, and how easy it is to betray one another.

Grabowski's choice to set Women and Children First in the fictional Nashquitten is a smart one. In this parochial community, everyone's lives overlap, creating perfect conditions for a novel that depends on a web of interwoven perspectives. Grabowski clearly drew on her own upbringing in Scituate, Mass. — another insular South Shore town battered by coastal erosion and flooding — in shaping her setting, though Nashquitten is more worn down at the heels. It's a heavily Catholic fishing town dominated by a withering middle class; those who remain are stuck there because of thwarted ambitions.

Through the shards of the narrators' stories and memories, we learn that Lucy had dreams of escape. Those who knew Lucy thought of her as an artist who painted on massive canvases with water from tide pools and turned her bedroom wall into a mural with "a swirl of ocean colors." Through Layla, we learn that Lucy had ambitions of going to school in New York; later, Sophia tells us that Lucy imagined the city as a place where "you can be whoever you want," unlike Nashquitten, where "anything you do becomes this stain that sticks to you forever." Lucy's stain was her epilepsy — she'd had a seizure on the floor of a school bus earlier that year, and one of her classmates filmed it and soundtracked the video "to an EDM song whose beat matched the shaking of her body."

The night Lucy died, she was at a party with the classmate she believed made the video, talking about him with two other girls before she fell to her death off an unfinished deck. Did she have another seizure? Was she pushed? Was it an accident? Was it suicide?

As Women and Children First unfolds, Grabowski gradually brings the reader closer to Lucy while planting seeds that any sense of the truth of what happened to her will ultimately be asymptotic. Her narrator's stories are at times contradictory, revealing how their perspectives and memories are blinkered by their own biases and experiences. As I read, I kept flipping back to earlier chapters, re-contextualizing each girl or woman's story, underlining the ringing moments of insight that Grabowski has a knack for, like, "We're always in the paths of others, but it can be disorienting to reconcile that proximity with the impenetrability of a stranger's choices," or, "when someone disappears without explanation, you have the power to determine what happened to them."

Ultimately, the novel is less about the mystery of Lucy and more about how our actions impact one another, even when — especially when — we think we lack agency. The women and girls of Nashquitten tend toward self-preservation, even selfishness. The older women especially have learned how hard it is to hold men to account, and instead try to protect their daughters, even when it means hurting others. Maureen, the PTA president who seeks absolution at confession for choices she can't forgive herself for, believes that her daughter's generation will never understand "that we were never girls, not really. For a moment we were children, yes. But a girl and a child are not the same. A child is a pet. A girl is prey."

This is not to say that Women and Children First presents a bleak vision of human nature. At the center of the novel, a teenager named Marina retells a story that Grabowski herself grew up hearing, about Rebecca and Abigail Bates of Scituate, "the American Army of Two." "The duration of the tale reminds me that the actions of two girls can have a lasting effect on many," Grabowski writes in her acknowledgments. Rebecca and Abigail were the daughters of the lighthouse keeper, left in charge one day during the War of 1812; when they spotted a British warship approaching, they played their fife and drum so fiercely that the soldiers thought an army was awaiting them on the shore. When Marina's mother first told her the story, the girl called it fake. "And if I was lying? How does that change the story?" her mother quipped back. Women and Children First serves as a reminder that not only do our actions and choices effect change, but so too do our stories.

Kristen Martin is working on a book on American orphanhood for Bold Type Books. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Believer, The Baffler, and elsewhere. She tweets at @kwistent .

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Franz Kafka in Prague, circa 1910

Metamorphoses by Karolina Watroba; A Cage Went in Search of a Bird; Diaries review – Franz Kafka as more than just a prophet of malaise

To mark the centenary of Kafka’s death next month, three compelling books – including his unedited diaries – reveal the complexity of the author’s works and why ‘Kafkaesque’ is so reductive

T here is a scene in the American version of the sitcom The Office , one that achieves the buttock-clenching awkwardness of the original series, in which the protagonist, Michael Scott, breaks up in public with his girlfriend, who is also the mother of an employee. She is, he explains, just too worldly and cultured for him, filling their conversation with references that he cannot follow: “Who is Kafkaesque?” he asks. “I’ve never … I don’t know him.”

This year marks the centenary of Franz Kafka’s death, and the appearance of his name in a mainstream sitcom is a reminder that he is part of that tiny group of writers – along with Shakespeare and Dickens, certainly – whose overall style and manner is so identifiable that it has become an adjective. Just as a sooty-cheeked urchin or an exaggeratedly hearty paterfamilias is destined to be described as Dickensian, any situation characterised by over-elaborate and baffling bureaucracy that might induce manic despair when faced with its inhumane workings will summon up Kafka’s adjectival spectre, to the smug nodding of the initiated and the bafflement of the Michael Scotts of the world.

In very different ways, these three books simultaneously illuminate and complicate what we mean – or think we mean – if we are tempted to describe some phenomenon as Kafkaesque. They showcase the variousness and complexity that characterised the author and his writings, and that tend to get sidetracked or ignored when he is reduced to an all-purpose prophet of modern bureaucratised malaise. Karolina Watroba’s Metamorphoses: In Search of Franz Kafka is not – or not only – a biography; it economically combines a great deal of information about Kafka’s life and writings with a rich account of what modern readers have made of him.

Kafka, Watroba shows, was not straightforwardly Czech, or German, or Austrian, “or any other similar one-word label. His world cannot be neatly plotted on to the present map of German-speaking Europe.” “Even calling Kafka a German-speaking Jew,” she writes, “is more of an approximation than the full story.” He was not a practising Jew, but fascinated by other forms of Jewish life, especially the Yiddish theatre troupe that visited Prague; and he wrote in German but also spoke Czech and studied Hebrew intensively. Watroba acutely shows the difference that these multiple affiliations made to the tiniest details of Kafka’s writings: one of his eeriest and most captivating creations, a capering figure comprised of scraps and rags who appears in the short story The Cares of a Family Man, is called Odradek, a name whose resonances are “suspended between Slavonic and German etymologies … both are necessary, but neither is sufficient on its own”.

These compounds of language and nation have, Watroba compellingly argues, facilitated the making and remaking of countless posthumous Kafkas. This deft and generous book finds room not only for the many sides of him but for a whole smörgåsbord of legacies and afterlives that explode the cliche of the Kafkaesque: the Oxford don who collected the manuscripts of Kafka’s works – – from a bank in Zurich and drove them back to the Bodleian library in his Fiat; the use of Kafka’s name and legacy to understand virtual reality and AI; the engagement of all kinds of readers, from other novelists to Goodreads reading groups. Watroba is a good-humoured writer, and one feature of Kafka’s writing that she laudably accentuates is his sense of humour: not just a lonely, tortured genius – he often moved from yet another “display of obsessive self-pity into gentle comedy”. At times the capaciousness of the book feels like a limitation: its good cheer could have benefited from taking on intermittently a little more of Kafka’s spikiness and strangeness.

Franz Kafka with his fiancee Felice Bauer in Budapest, 1917

Watroba’s final chapter moves unexpectedly to South Korea, where, she shows, there have been both a huge number of translations of Kafka’s works into Korean, and a plethora of Korean books overtly influenced by Kafka, including many that have been translated into English, notably Han Kang’s International Booker prize-winning The Vegetarian , frequently compared to The Metamorphosis and another of Kafka’s greatest stories, A Hunger Artist. Watroba cannily shows that, on the one hand, Kafka’s writings have provided a potent resource by which Korean novelists can express alienation and ennui, while, on the other, the very existence of these novels in English translation is the result of a concerted, lavishly funded effort by the South Korean government to make the nation’s literature a global product in the manner of Korean cinema and K-pop.

Just as the image of Kafka as isolated and frustrated genius is a partial one – he was, she writes, “ both a cog in the bureaucratic machinery and its subject” – Korean Kafkaism is an apt paradox, an array of isolated and anguished voices made accessible to the English-speaking world by an elaborate bureaucratic machinery.

If Watroba wants us to rethink what we think we mean by Kafkaesque, the stories collected in A Cage Went in Search of a Bird take it largely for granted. There is something inescapably gimmicky and opportunistic about books of this sort, which inevitably proliferate in the anniversary year of a major author’s birth or death. The high-profile talent on display here – Ali Smith, Joshua Cohen, Elif Batuman, Helen Oyeyemi and others – goes some way towards redeeming the enterprise, even if it feels at times like a set of extended riffs on experiences that someone might describe as, like, totally Kafkaesque: buying an apartment; being treated in a hospital; online dating – all these and more are remodelled in line with the experiences of Josef K, protagonist of The Trial .

The least successful stories are those that attempt Kafkaesque sci-fi, such as Naomi Alderman’s God’s Doorbell; this is partly the limitations of the form, which restrict the space for expansive world-building and require blunt explanation of, for example, how technologised humans will think in the future: “Our interconnected networks show us millions of people’s thoughts every second. It’s very like telepathy.”

The most successful either make something new and important of the bureaucratised scenario – as with Leone Ross’s hospital story, Headache, which subtly shows how the dehumanising dimensions of treatment focus on the racialised body of its protagonist – or strive to match Kafka for sheer weirdness. The collection confirms that Kafka’s most electrifying effects often lie in incidental moments of disorientation rather than the more eye-catching scenarios, a fact best grasped by Batuman, whose somewhat predictable story The Board, about the trials of property-purchasing, is enlivened by quicksilver shifts of perception: what is thought to be a bush turns out to be the broker, “a young and emaciated man in a textured, shrubbery-coloured coat”; “a heap of dirty carpets” is revealed to be a sleeping figure; a dog bed contains a cashmere blanket that is in fact the seller, an “aged man with a long beard”.

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An illustration for Kafka’s The Trial

To gauge the fidelity of these sudden recalibrations of perception it is necessary to turn to Kafka’s own writings, and a welcome opportunity to do so is richly afforded by the publication in Penguin Classics of his diaries, in their entirety. Its significance lies in the fact that these writings, like much of Kafka’s work and legacy, reached the world in a form heavily curated by his close friend Max Brod, who notoriously ignored Kafka’s demand that they be burned after his death. The very notion that the word “Kafkaesque” could describe one, single mood and tone is in large part thanks to Brod, who gave us a Kafka streamlined and uniform.

The unedited diaries give us back a Kafka who, among other things, can be quite rude and cutting about Brod, and had a series of powerfully homoerotic experiences that his friend excised: where Brod’s edition included Kafka’s description of “Two handsome Swedish boys with long legs”, he omitted the rest of the sentence – “which are so formed and taut that one could really run one’s tongue along them.” While such deletions are especially loaded, they are just one facet of the general tidying up of Kafka that Brod effected, both literally – the diaries are a mess, an editor’s challenge – and figuratively, in sifting a single Kafka from the many possibilities that these works contain.

Ross Benjamin’s complete translation gives us back Kafka in all his sprawling and cranky glory. Often turgid and repetitious in their fevered writing of how impossible he found it to write (“1 June 1912: Wrote nothing. 2 June 1912: Wrote almost nothing.”), they are a fitting challenge to any glib attempt to distil the nature of the Kafkaesque, showing us instead the lightning shifts and transformations that have offered so much to later readers and writers, and the immense cost that these exacted upon him: “The tremendous world I have in my head. But how to free myself and free it without being torn to pieces.”

The most extraordinary moment, for me, in nearly 600 pages of entries, is when Kafka seizes on to a passing mention of two seamstresses who are glancingly mentioned in a play that he saw, but who never appear. He makes them a typically opaque symbol of those excluded from history, and what it means to peer at them while they peer in; as if anticipating his own posthumous place, at once central and marginal, and the rippling glimpses of contorted beings and worlds – his most of all – that his writings afford us:

“This pursuit of secondary characters I read about in novels, plays, etc. The sense of belonging together I then have! ... there’s mention of two seamstresses … How are these two girls doing? Where do they live? What have they done that they are not permitted to come along into the play but veritably drowning in the downpours outside Noah’s Ark are permitted only to press their faces one last time against a cabin window so that the patron in the orchestra sees something dark there for a moment.”

Metamorphoses: In Search of Franz Kafka by Karolina Watroba is published by Profile (£18.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com . Delivery charges may apply

A Cage Went in Search of a Bird: Ten Kafkaesque Stories by Various is published by Abacus (£18.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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  1. How to Write an Incredible Synopsis in 4 Simple Steps

    What is a synopsis? A synopsis is a summary of a book that familiarizes the reader with the plot and how it unfolds.Although these kinds of summaries also appear on the pages of school book reports and Wikipedia, this guide will focus on constructing one that you can send out to agents (and eventually publishers).. Your novel synopsis should achieve two things: firstly, it should convey the ...

  2. What Is a Novel Synopsis? 2 Examples of Novel Synopses

    One of the hardest things you'll have to do as a writer is synopsize your novel. Whether you're exploring story ideas, preparing for a reading, or querying literary agents, familiarizing yourself with synopsis examples can make the process a lot easier, especially if it's your first time writing one.

  3. A Guide on How to Write a Book Synopsis: Steps and Examples

    A book synopsis is a brief summary that encapsulates the main points, characters, and narrative arc of a book. It serves as an overview, giving readers a clear idea of what the book is about without divulging every detail or plot twist.

  4. Synopsis: Definition and Examples

    A synopsis is a brief summary that gives audiences an idea of what a composition is about. It provides an overview of the storyline or main points and other defining factors of the work, which may include style, genre, persons or characters of note, setting, and so on. We write synopses for all kinds of things—any type of fiction or ...

  5. How To Write A Book Synopsis

    The difference between a plot summary and a synopsis. A plot synopsis is a type of plot summary. There are also other types of book summary, each of which has a different function in the publication of your book. The most common book summary types include: Synopsis - Your synopsis is a summary of all the major plot points, including the ending ...

  6. How to Write a Novel or Memoir Synopsis

    However, I recommend keeping it short, or at least starting short. Write a one- or two-page synopsis—about 500-1000 words, single spaced—and use that as your default, unless the submission guidelines ask for something longer. If your synopsis runs longer, anything up to two pages (again, single spaced) is usually acceptable.

  7. How to Write a Novel Synopsis

    First of all, synopses have a specific format. They begin on a new page and should have all your contact information in the upper left corner of the first page. Just below your contact info, centered, should be the book's title, its genre and your name. The body of the synopsis is double-spaced. Use dialogue sparingly, if at all.

  8. What Is a Synopsis? Definition and How to Write One

    A book synopsis is a 1-to-2-page summary that gives all of the main, central information to agents, publishers, and editors. As mentioned above, it will introduce the protagonist, the story world, the main story goal, the central conflict, the stakes, and the genre.

  9. How to Write a Book Synopsis: 12 Tips with Examples?

    Here are several book synopsis examples to help you learn the craft: Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird". Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a sad story set in the Deep South in the 1930s. It is also one of the best book synopsis examples that looks at racism and moral growth through the eyes of Scout Finch, a young girl.

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    A book synopsis is a condensed version of your entire novel. Think of it as your book on a diet, only keeping the essential nutrients, and trimming away the excess. It includes your novel's main events, key plot points, and the character arcs of your protagonist(s) - all wrapped up in a neat, digestible package.

  11. How to Write a Synopsis for Your Book

    Writing a synopsis for fiction and nonfiction is fairly similar. A novel synopsis is generally submitted along with the first few sample chapters, while a nonfiction synopsis is a necessary component of the overall nonfiction book proposal. A nonfiction synopsis, or project overview, may be as short as a paragraph or may elaborate over a few pages.

  12. How To Write A Novel Synopsis (With An Example)

    A synopsis is: A short summary of your story, in its entirety, from beginning to end, soup to nuts, nose to tail. Written in fairly neutral, non-salesy language. Follows the same broad structure as your novel. So if, for example, you have a novel with two intertwining time-strands, your synopsis would follow the order of events as presented in ...

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  14. How to Write a Perfect Synopsis [Complete Guide]

    The synopsis should focus on the content just enough for the editor to understand what your book will say. It's more important to show how that content relates to the needs, problems, and desires of your target audience. A book proposal includes many elements, including an Author bio, marketing plan, chapter outline, and writing sample.

  15. How to Write a Compelling Synopsis for Your Book

    Step 1: Promise Reader Benefits. A successful nonfiction book should empower readers to either solve a problem or to achieve a goal, e.g., "To learn to better manage their time.". Such a premise statement answers two questions: Who the book is for, and. What it offers them.

  16. How to Write a Novel Synopsis: Step-by-Step Guide

    Last updated: Sep 8, 2021 • 4 min read. After writing a novel, condensing it down to a short synopsis may seem impossible. But the book synopsis is an integral part of the novel writing process. It is essential to the initial query letter you will send out, and later, a good sales tool that provides potential agents or publishers with a short ...

  17. Your Guide to an Effective Novel Synopsis

    Here we'll focus on what writers often find the most difficult component of their novel submission package: the synopsis. Your Guide to an Effective Novel Synopsis. Defining Synopsis. The synopsis supplies key information about your novel (plot, theme, characterization, setting), while also showing how these coalesce to form the big picture.

  18. How to write a synopsis for a novel

    Unless otherwise specified, the default is 1.5 to 2.5 pages. Put your book title and your name at the top and include the word "Synopsis" so an agent can easily see what it is. As with manuscripts, Times New Roman 12pt font is standard. Use 0.5″ indents and, again, single -space the rest.

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    A book synopsis is a 1-3 page telling of your story. Or, in the case of non-narrative nonfiction, it's a short description of what you cover in your book. This is different from a blurb, the short description on the back of the book that lures the reader in. Your goal with a book synopsis is not to leave the reader desperate to learn what ...

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    Include those things in your summary. 2. Take a Cue from the Tone of Your Book. Your summary should be an illustration of your writing prowess and style. You should be telling the reader about the book in a way that demonstrates what they can expect when they read the book itself.

  24. What Is a Synopsis and How Do You Write One?

    Updated on July 25, 2019. In the 19th century, a synopsis was a classroom exercise used for teaching traditional grammar but today, the accepted definition of a synopsis is a general overview of an article, essay, story, book, or other written work. In the field of publishing, a synopsis may serve as a proposal for an article or book.

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