Looking to publish? Meet your dream editor, designer and marketer on Reedsy.

Find the perfect editor for your next book

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy, come meet them.

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. 

FREE RESOURCE

FREE RESOURCE

Manuscript Format Template

Get your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers.

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

2rGBR99WtV8 Video Thumb

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.

FREE RESOURCE

Query Submissions Tracker

Stay organized on your journey to find the right agent or publisher.

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. 

FREE COURSE

FREE COURSE

How to Write a Query Letter

Learn to grab agents’ attention with 10 five-minute lessons.

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.

Continue reading

Recommended posts from the Reedsy Blog

what is book synopsis

5 Ways to Save on Your Self-Publishing Budget

If you want to self-publish a book without breaking the bank, here are 5 tips to ensure you still get the best result possible.

what is book synopsis

30 Great Book Dedication Examples to Inspire Your Own

A list of 30 of the best book dedications in the business, that'll have you crying, laughing, and crying laughing.

what is book synopsis

Expository Writing: The Craft of Sharing Information

Expository writing is a fundamental part of how we learn and make sense of the world. Learn all about it in this post.

what is book synopsis

Additional Reviews: Query Critique December 2024

Additional critiques from Reedsy's December 2024 query letter session.

what is book synopsis

How to Make Money by Writing Books: 8 Tips for Success

If you want to be an author who makes a living from books, here are eight tips to help you make money as a writer.

what is book synopsis

What is an Imprint? A Division of a Larger Publisher

We’ve asked three Reedsy editors with experience working for ‘Big 5’ publishers, and compiled everything you need to know about imprints in this post.

Join a community of over 1 million authors

Reedsy is more than just a blog. Become a member today to discover how we can help you publish a beautiful book.

Upgrade | Book Description Template (preview) | 2022-11

Book Description Template

Use our template to write a hook and synopsis that convince readers to pick up your book.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy, come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account:

Book Beaver Header Logo

How to write a great book synopsis

what is book synopsis

1. What is a book synopsis?

2. What is the purpose of a synopsis?

3. What’s the difference between a plot summary and a synopsis?

4. How long should a book synopsis be?

5. What should a book synopsis include?

6. What tense should a book synopsis be written in?

7. What is the format of a synopsis?

8. How to write a book synopsis

9. Tips for writing a great book synopsis

10. Common mistakes to avoid in your book synopsis

11. Submitting your synopsis

10. Advice from a published writer

➡️  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.

What is a book synopsis?

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.

What’s the purpose of a synopsis and why is it important?

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.

What’s 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.

Drop us a message, we'll be happy to help.

Jamal Shashore

"I'd like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the team for the exceptional book cover design!"

what is book synopsis

Should I start writing a book?

We're an independent website which is partly supported by ads and affiliate links. We may receive compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our author opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles.

what is book synopsis

How to write an author bio as a new writer

what is book synopsis

How much do authors make?

what is book synopsis

The best self-publishing companies

Order your book cover.

If you have any questions or if you're ready to go ahead, please fill out our short design enquiry form.

Professional book services for self-publishing and indie writers. Say hi: [email protected]

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.

SHARE THIS:

what is book synopsis

TAKE A BREAK FROM WRITING...

Read. learn. create..

what is book synopsis

Sensitivity writers are more prevalent than ever before, and for many authors, they're an essential part of the editing process. But what do they do exactly? And how do you know if you need one? We've got those answers right here.

what is book synopsis

When it comes to improving the quality of your prose and your story's readability, few are as capable as line editors. In this article, we discuss what line editing is, how it helps, and what working with a line editor is like.

what is book synopsis

Whether you're looking for a fresh fantasy story idea or just need a bit of prompting to unclog that writer's block, we've got your back with 50 different ideas spread across five different categories: worldbuilding, characters, plot, twists, and magic.

Jane Friedman

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 ( @JaneFriedman ) has 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet , the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses ( How to Publish Your Book ), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

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 […]

wpdiscuz

  • 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

Join our mailing list and receive your free eBook. You'll also receive great tips on story editing, our best blogs, and learn how to use Fictionary software to make your story unforgettable.

  • Comments This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Blogs / How to Write a Book Synopsis

How to Write a Book Synopsis

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 the 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.

Writing a Book 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.

Let’s look at an example…

Example of a Skeleton Book Synopsis: Divergent by Veronica Roth

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.

Book Synopsis Tips for Writers

How do i structure the synopsis of books.

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.

What Are Your Top Three Tips for Book Synopsis Writing?

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’!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Article Written by Shane Millar

Shane Millar is the Community and Customer Success Manager at Fictionary, and a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach Editor. He writes emotionally charged fantasy with flawed characters. Shane is also a podcaster, and the author of the Write Better Fiction Craft guides.

Shane holds a BA in journalism and is a member of  The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) . He lives in Buckinghamshire, England.

He has taken too many writing courses to count and enjoys reading as much as possible. Shane is obsessed with five things: the writing craft, mythology, personal development, food, and martial arts movies.

Want to hire Shane to edit your novel:  https://swmillar.com/contact/

Marissa Meyer

6 steps for writing a book synopsis.

Confession: I enjoy writing query letters. I know that most writers loathe them, but I always thought the query letter was kind of a fun challenge. The challenge of trying to distill your novel down to its essence, giving just enough information to draw the agent or editor in to the story, but without giving away so much that the manuscript loses all sense of mystery.

However, I feel quite differently about the second-most dreaded item of many submission packages: the Synopsis .

The book synopsis is that three- or four-page snapshot of the book, that essentially tells your story from beginning to end, while seemingly stripping it of any intrigue, humor, or emotional resonance. To me, writing a synopsis that could leave a reader still wanting to read the actual manuscript always seemed like a much bigger challenge than the query letter.

Unfortunately, it turns out that getting published does not necessarily mean we don’t ever have to write a synopsis again.

Last January, when it came time for my agent and I to start talking with my publisher about My Next Book (which was the Super Secret Project I wrote during NaNoWriMo last November), the submission package we pulled together was remarkably similar to the package we’d used to sell the Lunar Chronicles:

– A pitch letter (similar to a query), illustrating the concept and major conflict of the book.

– The first 50 pages, edited and polished to a glowy sheen.

– The synopsis of the book (although some plot points are subject to change).

So rather than whine and complain about how much I hate writing synopses, I decided to take the opportunity to embrace the synopsis writing challenge, and figure out a process for writing the synopsis that didn’t seem quite so painful and intimidating and, in the end, left me with something I was pleased to show my editor.

I’m not allowed to really talk about my new project,* so I’m going to use examples from the synopsis I wrote for CINDER way back when.

Step 0: Write the book!

If the book isn’t written yet, I feel like you’re writing an outline, not a synopsis, and I’ve talked about outline writing at length in previous blog posts. For the purpose of this synopsis-specific guide, let’s assume you have the book drafted out, or even completed.

Step 1: Skim through the manuscript, noting the important events of each chapter.

Try to boil every chapter down to just one or two sentences. What is the point of this chapter? What is the most important thing that happens?

Some chapters will be significantly longer than a sentence or two, particularly the opening chapters (as they tend to introduce a lot of information about the world and the main characters) and the climax (which could revolve around lots of complicated reveals and twists).

And yes, include the ending! From who wins the final battle to whether or not the protagonist hooks up with the love interest in the end. One of the main purposes of a synopsis is to show the full arcs of your plot and subplots, so don’t leave out those all-important resolutions.

Step 2. Embellish the beginning.

Just because you can’t use pages and pages to set up the world and protagonist’s character in the synopsis doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give the reader a little bit of foundation to stand on. The first paragraph of the synopsis should give the same basic information you convey through the book’s first chapter: where and when does this story take place, who is the protagonist, and what problem are they facing right off the bat?

Example: LINH CINDER is a cyborg, considered little more than a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother, ADRI. But her brain-machine interface has given her a unique skill with mechanics, making her, at sixteen, the best mechanic in New Beijing.

Step 3: String your short chapter summaries together, using standard synopsis formatting.

Here, it will begin to look like a story, but an incredibly sparse and drab one. Don’t worry about that. Just focus on getting all the technical formatting stuff figured out so you don’t have to re-write it all at the end.

Standard Synopsis Formatting

– Written in third person, present tense, regardless of what POV or tense the book is written in.

– The first mention of each character’s name is put in all-caps (so that they can be easily spotted).

Example: When she arrives home, she discovers her two stepsisters—arrogant PEARL and vivacious PEONY—being fitted in ball gowns.

Step 4: Read through, with a focus on plot.

Distilling each chapter down into just a sentence or two can lead to lots of apparent plot holes and lost information. Read through what you’ve written and check that every event in the story naturally leads into the next. Imagine beginning each sentence with a Because / Then structure, and insert further explanation or character motivations as necessary.

Example: Cinder is worried that if she doesn’t fix the hover, Adri will sell off IKO in order to pay for the repairs herself. That night, Cinder goes to the junkyard to find replacement parts…

(Could be read as: Because Cinder is worried . . . then she goes to the junkyard…)

Step 5. Read through, with a focus on character arc.

Now that the plot makes sense from beginning to end, check that you’re adequately showing how your protagonist evolves as a result of the events in the story. Do readers get a sense of who they are at the beginning and how they’ve changed by the end? Look for those Big Moments in the story that change your protagonist’s attitudes and goals. Indicate how those moments effect the protagonist emotionally, and show how their goals and motivations change as a result.

Example: Without Iko and Peony keeping her tied to Adri, Cinder vows to fix up the abandoned car she saw in the junkyard and run away.

Step 6. Trim and edit.

Now that you have all the necessary information, read through a few more times and trim it up as much as you can. Be ruthless when it comes to removing excess words and phrases that don’t help you tell the story. Choose your descriptive words carefully, ensuring that you’re using words that carry a lot of weight. My book synopses for CINDER and New Secret Project both came in around the 1,500-2,000 word range, and that’s not a lot of room to work with! So edit, edit, edit.

Happy synopsisizing, everyone!

* Okay, what I CAN tell you about my Super Secret NaNo 2012 Project is that YES, Macmillan did buy it, woot! That must have been one heck of a synopsis, right? 😉 More information to come… someday.

  • Let It Glow
  • Instant Karma
  • The Lunar Chronicles
  • Anthologies
  • International Editions
  • 30 Days of Creativity Challenge
  • Book Recommendations
  • Book Trailers
  • Discussion Questions
  • Inspiration Gallery
  • Music & Playlists
  • Free Downloads
  • Lunar History
  • Real-World Technology

Kindlepreneur

Book Marketing for Self-Publishing Authors

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 . 

Formatting Has Never Been Easier

Write and format professional books with ease.  Never before has creating formatted books been easier.

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. 

Better Keywords & Categories Fast

See why over 47,000+ authors and publishing companies use and love Rocket to help them sell more books.

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.

Related Posts

Book idea validation mastery: is your book idea a bestseller, the 3 best courses on selling books direct to readers, shopify vs woocommerce: which is the best for authors selling direct, sell more books on amazon, amazon kindle rankings e-book.

Learn how to rank your Kindle book #1 on Amazon with our collection of time-tested tips and tricks.

Join the community

Join 111,585 other authors who receive weekly emails from us to help them make more money selling books.

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.

The Scribe Crew

Read this next.

How to Choose the Best Book Ghostwriting Package for Your Book

How to Choose the Best Ghostwriting Company for Your Nonfiction Book

How to Choose a Ghostwriter for a Finance Book

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
  • How to Write a Great Book Report
  • How to Write an Abstract
  • Genres in Literature
  • Interior Monologues
  • Defining Nonfiction Writing
  • How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech
  • Book Report: Definition, Guidelines, and Advice
  • Creative Nonfiction
  • How to Write Feature Stories
  • A Guide to All Types of Narration, With Examples
  • The Difference Between an Article and an Essay
  • What Is a Written Summary?
  • How to Find Trustworthy Sources
  • 50 General Book Club Questions for Study and Discussion
  • AP English Exam: 101 Key Terms

Writing Academy Blog

Writing Tips & Links

Writing Academy Blog

How to Write a Book Synopsis that Makes Agents or Publishers say, “Show Me More!”

To convince an agent or publisher your manuscript is one they should pay attention to, you need to have a great synopsis.

Specific guidelines may vary, but as a rule of thumb, a synopsis is a one-page, double-spaced description of your entire story. It should be about 450 words. The goal is to give your reader the “big idea” of your story. 

What Goes into a Synopsis

You should include the beginning, middle, and end of your story. You must give away the ending, otherwise, the synopsis is incomplete. This document is typically read by agents or editors, so you have to lay all your cards on the table.

That said, you should NOT include every plot twist and turn. Even if there are multiple subplots, you should focus on the main storyline and exclude B and C plots that aren’t as important.

Writing a good synopsis is challenging. You know your story inside and out; it’s tough to be objective about what to include and what to leave out. 

Writing a Great Synopsis

Susan Dennard, a novelist and former marine biologist, penned one of the best articles I’ve ever encountered about writing a one-page synopsis. She describes the 11 key moments that should be plucked from your manuscript and included in a synopsis.

1. Opening image

Begin with an image, setting, or concept that sets the stage for the screenplay to come. 

It can set the tone. It can set the place. It can give us a clue about whether we’re in the present, the past, or the distant future. The opening image should only be about a sentence long.

2. Protagonist introduction

Introduce your hero with one or two descriptive words and say what they want. 

This answers the question of who we’re following in the story. What are they like? And more importantly, what do they want? What they want becomes their goal. Their goal shapes the rest of what’s to come.

3. Inciting incident

Include the event, decision, or change that spurs the protagonist to take their first meaningful action. 

This jumpstarts the story. It’s a moment out of the ordinary, where the protagonist does something (or something happens to them) that kicks off the beginning of your tale. 

4. Plot point 1

Describe the act or decision the protagonist makes at the end of Act 1 that changes the story’s direction.  

This is the most important thing that happens in Act 1. It commits the protagonist to the path, and there’s no going back. It’s the point of no return. 

5. Conflicts & character encounters

Describe the initial struggles your protagonist faces on their journey. 

This is where you introduce the antagonist (if they’re not already onstage) and describe what’s happening around the protagonist.

6. Midpoint

Describe the change your protagonist undergoes in the middle of the story that alters the direction they’re heading. 

This is the middle of your synopsis and the middle of your screenplay. The midpoint is pivotal in terms of the emotional state of your protagonist.

7. Winning seems imminent, but…

Include the moment where it seems your protagonist will triumph, only to be defeated by the antagonist, who it turns out is stronger and more powerful than ever before. 

In this moment, the protagonist thinks they’re about to win, but then everything goes wrong. The antagonist is able to defeat the protagonist in this moment. 

8. Black moment and epiphany

Describe the protagonist’s lowest moment and how they fight through their emotions, realize their flaw, and change. 

The protagonist’s epiphany is the key to their emotional journey. With this new realization in hand, they are able to create a plan to defeat the antagonist.

Briefly describe the final showdown between your protagonist and antagonist. 

Your protagonist takes action that causes the defeat of the antagonist. This is the moment of highest tension, but can probably be summed up in just a couple of sentences.

10. Resolution

Describe how things wrap up.

This is where you’ll answer the question of whether or not everyone lives happily ever after. What happens to tie up all the loose ends?

11. Final image

Describe the final image you’ll leave readers with that shows how the protagonist feels after being changed along their journey.

This mirrors the opening image and describes the takeaway audiences will get from your story.

Example: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

(Opening image) A boy sleeps in the closet under the stairs at Number 4 Privet Drive, a quiet and, above all, ordinary neighborhood. (Protagonist introduction) Harry Potter, an orphan around whom extraordinary things often happen, dreams of escaping his draconian Aunt and Uncle.

(Inciting incident) A few days before his eleventh birthday he receives a letter. His Uncle steals it. Soon, hundreds of letters a day pour into the house, all delivered by owls. The family takes refuge in a leaky cabin on the coast and, the night before Harry’s birthday, he makes a wish. 

(Plot point 1) An enormous bearded giant knocks on the cabin door. He tells Harry he’s a wizard and he’s been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which he’ll attend like his parents before him. Harry can’t believe he’s really a wizard ⏤ a famous wizard!

(Conflicts & character encounters) Harry goes to Hogwarts, making friends and enemies. He discovers new wonders: ghosts, moving staircases, and a mirror that shows his heart’s desire. Yet his celebrity makes things difficult until he discovers a talent for Quidditch, a sport played on broomsticks. 

All that sullies Harry’s new life is Professor Snape, the brooding and spiteful potions master. 

Harry and his two best friends discover the locked door in the forbidden corridor houses a monstrous three-headed dog guarding a trapdoor.

(Midpoint) Harry is nearly killed during a Quidditch match by a faulty broomstick. Did Snape curse it? His friends think so because they believe Snape is trying to steal the powerful Sorcerer’s Stone, which lies beyond the three-headed dog. 

(Winning seems imminent, but…) Harry tries to tell the headmaster Snape is planning to steal the Stone and give it to Voldemort, the dark wizard who killed Harry’s parents. But no one will listen.

(Black moment and epiphany) Harry must stop Snape himself.

(Climax) He and his friends get past the dog and go through the trapdoor. They navigate a series of obstacles but Harry must enter the final chamber alone. Inside, he finds the stuttering Professor Quirrell, puzzling over the mirror. He can’t get the Stone out of it. He unwraps his turban and reveals Voldemort’s face. Harry looks in the mirror and the Stone falls into Harry’s pocket. Voldemort tries to take it, but Harry’s skin burns him. Harry holds on to Voldemort until Harry passes out.  

(Resolution) He wakes in the hospital wing, the headmaster at his side. Voldemort escaped but didn’t get the Stone. The headmaster gives Harry some answers about his past but won’t reveal all. Harry suspects he’ll see Voldemort again. 

(Final image) The school year ends and Harry must return to Number 4 Privet Drive, spending the summer holidays away from his new friends. But at least this time he has something up his sleeve: magic.

Word Count: 443

what is book synopsis

What is a synopsis? Writing intriguing book summaries

What is a synopsis? It’s a summary which provides, in one quick read, the unique and compelling aspects of a story. How do you write a synopsis that you can submit with confidence to publishers? Read on for summary-writing tips and examples.

  • Post author By Jordan
  • 11 Comments on What is a synopsis? Writing intriguing book summaries

What is a Synopsis? | Now Novel

First: Beyond defining a synopsis – what should a synopsis include?

Yes, a synopsis is a summary and yes, the word means ‘seeing together’, but what does the typical synopsis for (for example) a typical mystery-thriller or fantasy epic include?

On their submissions page , Bloomsbury (who published J.K. Rowling’s mega-hit Harry Potter  series), specify what they require in a synopsis. It should include:

  • ‘The story’s subject matter’ – what it’s about
  • ‘Your intended market’ – for example, teenage fantasy genre lovers
  • ‘How your submission compares with the current competition’

This third item may seem confusing. Bloomsbury isn’t asking you to say ‘My novel is much better than the work of that George R. R. Martin guy’. Instead, the publishers want to know you understand your audience and genre. For example, you might say in a submission:

The Lost Throne , in the vein of George R. R. Martin’s  A Song of Ice and Fire Series , unpacks the feuds and allegiances between powerful families in a struggle for succession. Yet it is closer to Le Guin’s  Earthsea  novels, as the protagonist’s development demonstrates the relationship between power and responsibility.

This could be worded more succinctly – the main thing is it shows an awareness of both recent and older writing that has a similar target audience.

Why should I write a synopsis?

What is a synopsis used for? As described above, a synopsis is a crucial component of submitting your manuscript to most traditional publishers.

Publishers, before they even consider leafing through the first page of your manuscript, will want an overarching sense of the story. Synopses help publishers:

  • Tell apart submissions that explore fresh, exciting subject matter from cliched tropes (e.g. sparkly vampires)
  • Decide which manuscripts to prioritize (according to the quality and interest of the synopsis and what subject matter they’re presently most interested in producing)
  • Set expectations for your submission: If a synopsis is worded badly, clunky, uninteresting or disjointed, the odds are high the submission itself will have similar faults

Because of the above, it’s crucial to weed out inessential words and find ways to summarize the subject matter of your story (and your knowledge of your market) in a commanding, professional way.

Writing synopses is also a useful exercise for outlining a story idea , before you reach the publishing stage. Expanding your one-sentence idea into a trio of more detailed synopses is a key step in Week 2 of our 6-week  Kickstart your Novel course , designed to help you complete all that you need to pitch your best ideas to publishers.

So how do you write a book synopsis that will captivate professional and casual readers alike? Here are our top 9 tips:

1. When writing a book synopsis, make the opening good

Just as a first chapter should make the reader want to know more , a good synopsis opening makes the reader want to know more about the characters, events and potential conflict of your novel.

Published author Marissa Meyer provides the following advice on her  blog :

The first paragraph of the synopsis should give the same basic information you convey through the book’s first chapter: where and when does this story take place, who is the protagonist, and what problem are they facing right off the bat?

2. Stick to compelling essentials

Does your character wake up in one scene and have a full English breakfast? You might have a great way with describing food mouth-wateringly. Even so, leave out everything that doesn’t give the reader an idea of character development, key plot twists and turns, and any conflicts and resolutions. This will communicate that your book has a strong underlying creative purpose.

Purposeless waffle has no place in a synopsis or a strong final draft. For every line you write in your synopsis, ask, ‘What valuable information does this give the reader about my book? Why would it motivate a person to read more?’

3. Don’t give a dry account of the core plot events

Jane Friedman who’s had a successful career in the publishing industry makes this her number one ‘don’t’. Says Jane, ‘A synopsis includes the characters’ FEELINGS and EMOTIONS. That means it should not read like a mechanic’s manual to your novel’s plot. You must include both story advancement and color.’

Here’s a book synopsis example that does exactly this. It’s the summary for  An American Marriage  (2018) by Tayari Jones, an NYT  bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club pick:

‘Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding.’

The synopsis is  full  and  detailed  without giving away the core, pleasurable surprises of the story. We get the general gist, but not too much detail. We see the starting scenario – a couple’s marital bliss – as well as glimpsing the trouble ahead. This emotional and dramatic element – the promise of a changing situation – compels.

Book synopsis writing tips - Agent Heather Holden-Brown | Now Novel

4. Give situation and complication alike

As writers, we do sometimes like to waffle. But the only good waffle is a Belgian one. In your synopsis, you need to be concise. It’s important to give both the initial situation and a glimpse of complications that make your main plot line exciting. Instead of saying:

‘Robert Bluthe is a tough detective who has eggs Benedict for breakfast every day and is investigating a double homicide at the start of the book’, say:

‘Robert Bluthe, a tough detective and man of unswerving habit, investigates a double homicide that forces him to question everything he knows about investigative procedures.’

The second example gives not only the situation (the double homicide) but also the complication and stake for the character (a novel aspect to the crime that makes traditional problem-solving methods ineffective).

5. Stick to using active voice compellingly

Courtney Carpenter shares this tip in a useful post for Writer’s Digest, ‘ Learn How to Write a Synopsis like a Pro’. Rather than say ‘The protagonist is married by…’ say ‘The protagonist marries’. Make each action described in the summary of your story’s events seem a decisive event that drives the plot forward.

Carpenter also suggests sticking to the third person (‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’) since your synopsis should read as an author standing apart describing her character’s lives and developments as an observer.

6. Make every single word count

This follows on from point three. Besides keeping your synopsis concise, make sure that the words you do use carry emotive and imaginative weight. Don’t say ‘after the wedding there is some trouble during the honeymoon’ but ‘the honeymoon is disastrous. After the newlyweds miss their flight, they must [describe challenge action] and this tests their [positive state they wish to maintain]’.

Make sure each word creates a vivid emotional or descriptive pull. Make the reader curious to know more and expand their knowledge of how your story unfolds.

7. Read your book synopsis aloud

This is common advice for writing better narrative prose . It’s also equally good advice for writing a compelling book synopsis. While reading aloud, ask yourself:

  • Does each sentence communicate something that improves the reader’s overall grasp of what the story is about and what makes it interesting?
  • Does each sentence flow smoothly with no unnecessary words or awkward constructions?
  • Is there any part that feels boring or irrelevant to the overall story development?

8. Use the synopsis format your intended reader prefers

What is a synopsis that doesn’t stick to publishers’ preferred guidelines? Usually, an ignored synopsis. Formatting a book synopsis in a simple, elegant way is important.

Fiction Writer’s Connection provides this format:

  • In the upper left hand corner, writes ‘Synopsis of “[Title of your novel]”
  • This should be followed by a space and a description of your novel’s genre: ‘Genre: [Genre of your novel]’
  • This should be followed by ‘Word count: [Word count of your novel]
  • Finally, in the right-hand upper corner, you should put your name: ‘By: [Your pen name]’

The heading of a synopsis for J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book might look something like this:

Example of a novel synopsis - Harry Potter

If your synopsis only spans a single page, single space your lines. Ideally, it shouldn’t be longer than one page. If it is, double-space it.

See if you can find publishers’ preferred synopsis format on their website (or simply ask in an email or on social media). If they have a preferred format, they’ll share it.

9. Don’t include irrelevant cover material

Do you have a degree in linguistics? A favourite Abba song? Don’t include any personal or quirky information as an addendum to your synopsis – keep it professional.

Biographical information should be kept for author bio material if it is requested. A synopsis doesn’t need a cover page. Ideally it’s a single page that the eagle-eyed editor can wave at colleagues frantically while shouting, ‘You won’t believe how great this novel sounds!’

Get guidance creating your story’s synopsis (and detailed feedback on this and your first three chapters) when you complete  Kickstart your Novel . Learn more about Now Novel’s online writing courses here.

Related Posts:

  • What are loglines? 6 tips to write strong summaries
  • What makes a plot intriguing? 6 ideas
  • 6 intriguing conflict types in fiction: Man vs nature
  • Tags how to format a book synopsis , how to write a book synopsis , querying

what is book synopsis

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

11 replies on “What is a synopsis? Writing intriguing book summaries”

What are your top tips for writing a synopsis?

While it is important to be able to write a good review about a book you’ve read, it’s not germane to the above article. In my opinion, the more you read, the better you’ll write. The author of the article is asking readers to inform said writer if anything important was overlooked, nothing more.

Thank you, Dennis. The prior comment was actually spam it appears, it somehow slipped through the net. I’ve deleted it.

Excellent reference! Bookmarked it! One thought: perhaps bullet 9 should be the first bullet?

Thanks, Egan. Good suggestion. I’ll add it to my list of blog updates to do. Thank you for reading!

Wow! What a great site you have here with such useful information, I am just about to start the synopsis for my very first book and it is giving me angst, the info you have provided is extremely helpful. A huge thank you.

Hi Victoria, I’m so glad to hear that. I hope it’s all coming together well. Good luck with submission!

Thank you Bridget. ?

It’s difficult and Thanks! I just wrote one!! https://universeofmysecrets.blogspot.com/2018/09/secrets-synopsis.html

I’ve found it helpful to review the 5-W’s and add a “How”; (the) Who, What, Where, When, Why, & How. At a paragraph apiece, easily grants the 300/500-word format.

Good addition, the ‘how’. Thanks for sharing that, Jake.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

  • Skip to main content
  • Skip to primary sidebar

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!

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

Have you read the post?

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Editing Services
  • Blog Directory
  • Privacy Policy

Get a free course on writing and selling the book of your dreams.

  • Daily (3-5 posts per week)
  • Weekly on Fridays

Subscribe to the newsletter for free classes on writing craft, industry tips, and more.

Sign up for the newsletter for tips on advanced writing craft, querying, marketing, and more.

  • Share full article

The illustration depicts a series of differently shaped speech bubbles in a range of colors against a pale yellow background.

How to Speak New York

In “Language City,” the linguist Ross Perlin chronicles some of the precious traditions hanging on in the world’s most linguistically diverse metropolis.

While Massachusetts and Virginia were English-only colonies, from its founding New York has been a haven for different languages. Credit... Public/Official

Supported by

By Deirdre Mask

Deirdre Mask is the author of “The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power.”

  • Feb. 19, 2024
  • Apple Books
  • Barnes and Noble
  • Books-A-Million

When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.

LANGUAGE CITY: The Fight to Preserve Endangered Mother Tongues in New York, by Ross Perlin

“Up on the sixth floor of an old commercial building along the sunless canyon of 18th Street, there is a room where languages from all over the world converge.” It makes sense that the Endangered Language Alliance, the only organization in the world focused on “the linguistic diversity of cities,” lives here, in a donated office in the most linguistically diverse metropolis on earth. It is also here that Ross Perlin begins “Language City,” his gorgeous new narrative of New York, as told through the hundreds of languages spoken in its five boroughs.

On any given day, the E.L.A.’s cramped office bursts with people singing in Bishnupriya Manipuri (originally from Bangladesh), writing in Tsou (Taiwan) and recording in Ikota (Gabon). A caller from the Bronx, with a voice “full of longing,” seeks recordings of the language he left at the Mali-Burkina Faso border when he was 7.

Perlin, the co-director of the E.L.A. and an accomplished linguist himself, explains that up to half of the world’s 7,000 languages are likely to die over the next few centuries. But his book is less a lament for the deaths of endangered languages than an account of how, like their speakers, they have built new lives in a place where half the residents speak a language other than English at home.

Perlin retells the familiar story of the city through the lens of its exceptional linguistic history, beginning with Indigenous languages like Lenape (in which Manaháhtaan means “the place where we get bows”). Early settlers included the first 32 Walloon families to live permanently in New Amsterdam and enslaved Kikongo speakers from the Kingdom of the Kongo.

While Massachusetts and Virginia were “fanatically intolerant English-only colonies,” New Amsterdam did not seem to care; in 1643, a priest wrote of finding 18 languages among just a few hundred men. New Yorke soon boasted not just languages like English, Spanish, French and Russian, but also Basque and Breton, Catalan and Maltese. Some 200 years later, the Hart-Celler Act of 1965, which ended longstanding national-origin immigration quotas, helped make Bengali and Urdu two of the city’s most widely spoken languages.

Throughout, Perlin never misses the chance to reinforce a key point: The history of New York’s lesser-known languages is also that of the traumas of many speakers. Some fled genocide (as in the cases of Western Armenian and Judeo-Greek), others mass deportation (languages of the North Caucuses), racial violence (Gullah, an English-based Creole) or starvation (Irish). Linguistic minorities “have been overrepresented in diaspora,” Perlin points out, because they are “hit hardest by conflict, catastrophe and privation and thus impelled to leave.”

what is book synopsis

Perlin’s excellent account of the present-day city chronicles six New Yorkers all working, in some way, to extend the lives of their languages. This includes Rasmina, who takes Perlin to “380,” a six-story apartment building in Flatbush that has housed over 100 of the world’s 700 speakers of Seke, a Tibetan-Burman language. Ibrahima runs a website in N’ko, a West African alphabet created in 1949, and Irwin writes poetry in Nahuatl, an Indigenous language he absorbed while listening in at his grandfather’s grocery store in Mexico.

Husniya plans children’s books in Wakhi, a Pamiri language spoken where Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China meet. Dianne, probably the last native speaker of Lenape, tells Perlin wistfully, “Now there’s nowhere to hear the language outside the walls of my head.”

It’s hard to be hopeful. Intergenerational transfer of endangered languages is particularly difficult. Still, Perlin builds a compelling case for why preserving them matters not just for the speakers, but for humanity itself. It’s an argument he lives in his own life. (I invite you, too, to binge-watch Perlin’s fascinating YouTube dispatches from China — in Yiddish. ) But change is inevitable. As Perlin says, “Someday English, too, will be down to its last speaker.”

About halfway through reading “Language City,” I reached for the Bible, looking for the story of the Tower of Babel. I knew the basics of the Genesis story: At a time when the world had “one language and a common speech,” the people of Babel decided to build a city, with a tower reaching to heaven. God disapproved and “confused” their language “so they would not understand each other.” Work on the city — and the tower — halted.

But I’d forgotten what happened next: God scattered the people of Babel over the face of the earth. “Language City” is a deft refutation of this parable’s moral. Far from scattering, people have instead converged on the city, bringing their words with them. And New York’s towers have never risen higher.

LANGUAGE CITY : The Fight to Preserve Endangered Mother Tongues in New York | By Ross Perlin | Atlantic Monthly Press | 415 pp. | $28

The Migrant Crisis in New York City

The arrival of more than 100,000 migrants over the past year has become a crisis for the city’s shelter system, schools and budget..

The Crisis, Explained: Why are large numbers of migrants coming to New York City? And how is the city responding? Here is what to know .

A ‘Migrant Crime Wave’?: Several well-publicized acts of violence by migrants in New York have unsettled some city leaders, but police statistics do not point toward a surge in crime .

Waiting in Line: New York City is required to give a bed to anyone who asks. But as the city reaches a new phase in its homelessness crisis, officials are telling people they have to wait for a place in a shelter .

Low Prices and High Hopes: An ecosystem of barbers, vendors and chefs has sprung up on Randall’s Island , as migrants at one of the city’s largest migrant shelters try to take their fate into their own hands.

Help From the Neighbors:  Many New Yorkers are stepping up to help migrants. Among them, a group of Brooklyn parents raised money for three families evicted  from their shelter and helped them find temporary homes.

Advertisement

  • Skip to main content
  • Keyboard shortcuts for audio player

Book Reviews

'splinters' is a tribute to the love of a mother for a daughter.

Ilana Masad

Cover of Splinters

When Leslie Jamison's daughter was 13 months old, she and her husband, the baby's father, C, separated.

Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story , the famed essayist's newest book, follows this rupture — some of what preceded it but mostly what came after. The book has received plenty of advance buzz, much of which positions it as being about her relationship with C and their divorce, which I found puzzling; C is certainly a part of the book, but a small one, flitting in and out of view, never coming into full focus. His privacy is kept intact — Jamison mentions a child from his first marriage and acknowledges that she and C agreed she wouldn't write about them — to the point where he presents as somewhat of a cypher. Which is to say that readers looking for a juicy narrative mired in the throes of marital drama will be disappointed. Those who take the book's subtitle seriously, however, will find much to admire and enjoy in its pages, which are, more than anything else, a tribute to the rapturous love Jamison has for her daughter, as well as her attempts to love, or at least accept, the parts of herself that thrive in intensity and turmoil.

Jamison briefly narrates the whirlwind relationship she and C had, how he casually proposed to her while they were lying in bed in a garret in Paris. She's aware, at least in hindsight, that she agreed to the marriage less because she wanted to commit to him, specifically, or to the life that the two of them as particular individuals could build. Instead, she admits: "I said yes, because I was in love with him, and because I wanted my whole self to want something, no questions asked." When they married shortly thereafter in Las Vegas, she hoped she "could become a person who didn't change [her] mind. That sounds ridiculous when you say it plainly, but who hasn't yearned for it? Who hasn't wanted a binding contract with the self?" This is the book's second major thread — in addition to her daughter — the desire for consistency, and the stories the author tells herself or tries to fit herself into, in order to find it.

There is a circularity to Splinters ; over and over again, in different variations of her signature, beautifully frank language, Jamison writes about her fantasy of stability and her uncertainty as to whether it's a dream she actually wants fulfilled. Is it easier for her to simply want some kind of solidity? Is the yearning itself providing a steadiness all its own? The question becomes somewhat moot when her daughter is born; an infant and later a toddler's need for their parent is nothing if not consistent, ongoing, and inescapable.

Other aspects of Jamison's life don't remain particularly steady. Over the course of the book, she begins to date again and becomes completely infatuated with a man with whom she knows she will never settle down since he's not the settling type, a fact he makes clear early on. Later, once the intensity of this love affair is over, she begins dating someone who is in some ways the ideal of security, a man who works at a hedge fund and paints abstract art on the side. He also brings out Jamison's painful self-minimizing tendencies; she wants to impress him, to be the kind of person he wants her to be, to gain and keep his approval. She recognizes this — but self-awareness alone is rarely enough to get most of us to change behaviors we've become uncomfortably comfortable with.

Throughout the book, Jamison brings in the work of other artists and writers that she admires, merging her creative and parental roles by bringing her infant daughter to museums with her, or by discovering how other parent-artists brought their own children into their artwork — or didn't. There's no waxing poetic over the way having a child brings so much more inspiration into one's life, but there's also no doom-and-gloom prophecies about a child bringing to an end one's creative endeavors, a balance which I personally found especially pleasing as a writer and expecting parent myself. Elsewhere Jamison knows she has trouble dwelling in the gray areas, preferring the certainties of extremes, but in caring for her daughter, she finds — at least on the page — a way to live with it all, the sleeplessness and the joy, the rapture and the frustration, the immense love and the wish to have a single moment alone.

Splinters doesn't provide a unifying revelation, and even though it's relatively linear, Jamison doesn't end up in a place that's so different from where she started out. This can be easy to overlook, as she's a master at closing nearly every paragraph with what lands as an epiphany: "There was a clarity to him — to his passion, and even to his anger — that felt clean and stark, like a rugged landscape with all the fog burned off" or "The moral of the story was: Forget about the story. Just take care of your daughter" or "I wasn't sure anyone would root for me, if she wasn't my friend or my mom. I wasn't sure what narrative arc I was tracking, or what ending I deserved."

But in truth, Jamison knows from the very start of the book what she struggles with, and what the grand challenge of her life has been, and might well continue to be: "To stop fetishizing the delusion of pure feeling, or a love unpolluted by damage. To commit to the compromised version instead." It's easier said than done, of course; but Splinters is a beautiful tribute to the continued failure as well as the worthy ongoing attempt.

Ilana Masad is a fiction writer, book critic, and author of the novel All My Mother's Lovers.

  • Election 2024
  • Entertainment
  • Newsletters
  • Photography
  • Press Releases
  • Israel-Hamas War
  • Russia-Ukraine War
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Asia Pacific
  • AP Top 25 College Football Poll
  • Movie reviews
  • Book reviews
  • Financial Markets
  • Business Highlights
  • Financial wellness
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Social Media

Book Review: Melissa Albert’s ‘The Bad Ones’ is a gripping story of friendship and the supernatural

This cover image released by Flatiron shows "The Bad Ones" by Melissa Albert. (Flatiron via AP)

This cover image released by Flatiron shows “The Bad Ones” by Melissa Albert. (Flatiron via AP)

  • Copy Link copied

what is book synopsis

Four people have disappeared in a single night, and Nora’s best friend, Becca, is one of them. If they weren’t three months into a huge fight, maybe Nora would be able to parse out the clues Becca left for her.

Melissa Albert’s fifth young adult novel, “The Bad Ones,” is both chilling and heart-warming — a story of limitless friendship clashing with fantastical supernatural power in the cold winter of a little Illinois town.

On the surface, Palmetto is the kind of unremarkable place that 17-year-olds Becca and Nora dream of leaving. But if you dig a little deeper, you find a recurring pattern of strange disappearances, seemingly centered around the high school and dating back to the 1960s. The locals all know some version of the story, and that it birthed the “goddess game” that has been passed down through generations since.

There are two iterations of this game, both Palmetto exclusives: a schoolyard jump-rope rhyme, and a trust-fall-style game of teenage daredevilry.

This cover image released by Putnam shows "This Disaster Loves You" by Richard Roper. (Putnam via AP)

But Nora and Becca have their own connection with this supernatural side of Midwestern suburbia: a secret art series in which they’ve crafted dozens of goddesses. Nora, lifelong storyteller and the main narrator of the novel, researches mythos to create their lore. Becca fluently wields her camera to illustrate each goddess’ beauty and power.

The project started as a more grown-up way to carry on their childhood make-believe, but perhaps the Goddess Series holds as much power as Becca hoped and Nora feared.

Nora follows Becca’s clues like breadcrumbs around Palmetto, gathering stories shared by a population so realistically rendered that it’s sometimes tough to remember it’s fiction. Strange things are happening to Nora, including hyper-realistic dreams and an insatiable sweet tooth, ramping up the urgency until we finally learn the truth behind the town lore — and what really happened to the four who went missing without a trace — in a satisfying, epic whirlwind of an ending.

The novel is freckled with alluring metaphors and the kind of grand revelations that flow through a perceptive, open mind. Albert’s ethereal descriptions capture specific vibes as well as big-picture issues; the thickness of the air or the haunted way everything in the art wing of the old school seems slightly askew.

Albert’s talent for YA fiction is magical and undeniable. I was sucked right into “The Bad Ones” from the start, and on the edge of my seat until the end.

AP book reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/book-reviews

DONNA EDWARDS

IMAGES

  1. Synopsis Writing Service: Find Professional Writing Assistance Here!

    what is book synopsis

  2. How to Write A Synopsis Publishing Agents Will Love

    what is book synopsis

  3. How to Write a Book Synopsis?

    what is book synopsis

  4. Book You Should Have Known Synopsis

    what is book synopsis

  5. Outline and Synopsis Creation

    what is book synopsis

  6. Learn How to Write a Synopsis, Quick & Easy Format Tips & Examples

    what is book synopsis

VIDEO

  1. TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE

  2. why creating is important🤍💭 #novel #book

  3. Ikigai Book Summary. Appreciate the Process. Aristotle's Quote, Mind Motivation. #psychology #shorts

  4. Publishing a book is all good in theory…#writingabook #booktok #editingabook

  5. A Book Summary: The Intelligent Investor

  6. Short synopsis of the book "Diary of a CEO" by Shiv || A must read book || Life changing 33 laws

COMMENTS

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

    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).

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

    What Is a Novel Synopsis? The word "synopsis" comes from the Ancient Greek word synopsesthai which literally means "a comprehensive view." A novel synopsis includes a brief summary of your story's main plot, subplots, and the ending, a few character descriptions, and an overview of your major themes. Meet One of Your New Instructors

  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. How To Write A Book Synopsis

    What is a book synopsis? 2. What is the purpose of a synopsis? 3. What's the difference between a plot summary and a synopsis? 4. How long should a book synopsis be? 5. What should a book synopsis include? 6. What tense should a book synopsis be written in? 7. What is the format of a synopsis? 8. How to write a book synopsis 9.

  5. 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.

  6. How to Write a Novel or Memoir Synopsis

    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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. How to Write a Book Synopsis

    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.

  10. Learn How to Write a Synopsis Like a Pro

    A synopsis conveys the narrative arc, an explanation of the problem or plot, the characters, and how the book or novel ends. It ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. It summarizes what happens and who changes from beginning to end of the story. It gives agents a good and reliable preview of your writing skills.

  11. 6 Steps for Writing a Book Synopsis

    The book synopsis is that three- or four-page snapshot of the book, that essentially tells your story from beginning to end, while seemingly stripping it of any intrigue, humor, or emotional resonance. To me, writing a synopsis that could leave a reader still wanting to read the actual manuscript always seemed like a much bigger challenge than ...

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

    What is the synopsis? A synopsis is a 500-800 word summary of your book that forms part of your agent submission pack. It should outline your plot in neutral non-salesy language and demonstrate a clear narrative arc. Every character, any big turning point or climactic scene, and all plot twists should get a mention.

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

    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. In nonfiction, it outlines how the author goes about answering the overall question the book poses.

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

    Written by MasterClass 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.

  15. How To Write a Novel Synopsis (10 Proven Tips)

    A novel synopsis is a short summary of your story's main elements like plot, subplots, the ending, your main character arcs, and other fundamental pieces of the story.

  16. Your Guide to an Effective Novel Synopsis

    Writers often find that the synopsis is the most difficult component of their novel submission package. Here we break it down for you so you can spend less time stressing and more time writing. Feb 1, 2010. Before you submit your novel to an agent or publisher, there are things you need to do. First and foremost, you must finish the work.

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

    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.

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

    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

  19. How to Write a Book Synopsis that Makes Agents or Publishers say, "Show

    Writing a good synopsis is challenging. You know your story inside and out; it's tough to be objective about what to include and what to leave out. Writing a Great Synopsis. Susan Dennard, a novelist and former marine biologist, penned one of the best articles I've ever encountered about writing a one-page synopsis. She describes the 11 key ...

  20. 5 Steps to Writing a Captivating Nonfiction Book Synopsis

    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.

  21. What is a synopsis? Writing intriguing book summaries

    What is a synopsis? Writing intriguing book summaries What is a synopsis? It's a summary which provides, in one quick read, the unique and compelling aspects of a story. How do you write a synopsis that you can submit with confidence to publishers? Read on for summary-writing tips and examples. By Jordan 11 Comments What is a synopsis?

  22. 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.

  23. The Great Gatsby: Full Book Summary

    The Great Gatsby Full Book Summary. Nick Carraway, a young man from Minnesota, moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learn about the bond business. He rents a house in the West Egg district of Long Island, a wealthy but unfashionable area populated by the new rich, a group who have made their fortunes too recently to have established ...

  24. Book Review: 'Language City,' by Ross Perlin

    In "Language City," the linguist Ross Perlin chronicles some of the precious traditions hanging on in the world's most linguistically diverse metropolis.

  25. Book review: Leslie Jamison's 'Splinters: Another Kind of Love ...

    The book has received plenty of advance buzz, much of which positions it as being about her relationship with C and their divorce, which I found puzzling; C is certainly a part of the book, but a ...

  26. Book Review: Melissa Albert's 'The Bad Ones' is a gripping story of

    Book Review: George Pelecanos' 'Owning Up' has elegant prose and well-drawn characters. The project started as a more grown-up way to carry on their childhood make-believe, but perhaps the Goddess Series holds as much power as Becca hoped and Nora feared.