A novel synopsis tells all of the details of a novel in a one-page format. Looking at a synopsis example can help you learn to write one well.
When you decide to read a book, what persuades you? For many people, it is the blurb on the back of the book or inside the book's cover on the jacket, but a literary agent wants something else, and that is a novel synopsis.
Writers need to write synopsis for many reasons. Sometimes on a professional level, they will be writing one to promote a book or story. Sometimes they need to write one for high school English class.
Either way, if you are not familiar with what one looks like, the process gets a little tedious. This guide will show you not only how to write a synopsis, but also a synopsis example to get you started.
What Is a Novel Synopsis?
A book synopsis is a short one-page blurb that tells the most important facts about a novel. Similarly, a screenplay synopsis summarizes what the film is about on a single page that anyone can read. Similar to a logline, a synopsis may include:
- Plot points
- Plot twist
- Main characters
- Point of view
- Story arc
This is different to the sales copy blurb found inside the front cover or on the back of the book. The synopsis must contain the full story, inciting incident, main turning points and overall narrative arc, just in a shortened version.
What Is the Goal of the Novel Synopsis?
A novel, book or movie synopsis is a document given to a literary agent so the agent can decide if they want to read the full manuscript.
It is typically around one page or a word count of about 500 to 1,000 words, depending on the full length of the finished project. It can be two pages long, but anything longer will not catch the interest of a publisher.
The synopsis shows the publisher if there are any big problems with the story that makes your manuscript a waste of their time. It can also show plot flaws or character motivation issues that would cause them to reject your manuscript.
The right publisher will be able to use the synopsis to determine if there is a fresh story that is of interest to potential readers.
Finally, a synopsis can help you the writer determine if you're story is working and suited towards your intended audience. Then, you can go back and fix any issues before progressing the story, novel or screenplay further.
How to Write a Synopsis
A synopsis tries to put a lot of information into a small package. To learn what a synopsis is, practice writing succinct summaries of your story of stories by other successful writers. A template can help you get it all in all the main plots points. Here is what you need to include:
Starting the Synopsis
In a novel synopsis, you likely start with the protagonist, describing the character's motivations and mindsets when the story begins.
Next, discuss what happens to change the character of their world. This is the inciting incident and it is a pivotal point to drive the storyline and plot.
Continuing the Synopsis
After introducing the character and the inciting incident, each paragraph uses cause-effect storytelling to outline the key scenes of the story. This should include the main conflicts, plot twists and turning points. Not all secondary characters need introductions, but some will.
Ending the Synopsis
The final paragraph of the synopsis tells how the story ends. Do not leave the reader hanging. Remember, this document is not a marketing blurb and it's not designed to drive reader sales. Instead, consider it as part of a pitch to a literary agent. They will want to see how the story finishes before deciding if they want to work with you.
Point of View of the Synopsis
Typically, writers use in the third person for a synopsis. They also use the present tense. If the book uses a first-person POV, you can indicate that in the synopsis, but keep the overall writing in the third person.
Even though a synopsis is short, it needs to capture the emotions of the characters and their arc throughout the story. Avoid wordiness, but don't make it too dry either. Otherwise, you'll put off potential clients or publishers.
This is easier to do when you delve into the emotions of the main characters. With every plot twist and advancement, pull in the main characters and explain how they reacted or how the incident changed them.
Complex Settings in a Synopsis
If you are writing a short synopsis about a novel with a complex historical or fanciful setting, consider adding a first paragraph that details that.
For example, a synopsis about Harry Potter may start with a paragraph outlining the magical and Muggle worlds and how they impact the story.
Sometimes the setting directly impacts the characters. For example, a story set in the Quaker community in early American history would have characters impacted by the religious and cultural views of the time.
The synopsis could benefit from an explanation of the setting somewhere in the opening paragraph to help the reader understand the motivation of the characters.
Sometimes seeing examples helps a writer understand more about writing a synopsis. The below is a good example of an opening paragraph Harry Potter synopsis.
On his 11th birthday, Harry Potter, a lonely young orphan living with his abusive relatives in London, discovers he is part of a hidden wizardry world. As letters arrive inviting him to attend the magical school Hogwarts, Harry finds himself in disbelief at the sudden change in his life. Though his aunt, uncle and cousins originally refuse to let him go, Harry's growing magical abilities create several disasters that cause them to agree to send the boy to Hogwarts. Once at Hogwarts, Harry learns about his magical parents and the legacy of love and protection they left him.
This is not a full synopsis, because it does not tell all of the plot twists nor the ending of the story, but it establishes emotion, the main character and the basic setting.
Common Synposis Mistakes
- Adding too many specifics. A synopsis should be thorough, but as simple as possible.
- Explaining themes. The story's underlying meaning and theme are not important additions to the synopsis.
- Exploring too much backstory. Only include a character's backstory if it's vital to understanding their motivations and desires.
- Including dialogue. Dialogue should only be in the draft itself.
- Asking questions. Rhetorical questions have no place in a synopsis.
- Being too dry. The synopsis does need to include emotion to appeal to the literary agent or publisher.
The Final Word on Synopsis Examples
Writing a synopsis is a valuable tool for hopeful writers. Learning how to properly summarize a literary work and present it to a literary agent is the first step in getting published.
A synopsis should contain the main points and plot progression of the book, convey the emotions of the characters and tell the ending, so publishers can decide if they want to look at the manuscript. Ideally, you'll write this type of synopsis on a single page for a query letter. It's a good idea to get this version critiqued by an editor, reader or knowledgeable friend.
Synopsis examples can help you get a feel for the way to write these. Take time to read several before you start trying to write your own book synopsis.
FAQs About Synopsis Examples
How long should a synopsis example be?
The word count for a synopsis will vary, but typically between 500 and 1,000 words for a book is ideal. The total synopsis should be no more than a single page or two.
How are a synopsis and a back-of-the-book blurb different?
The synopsis of a book tells the full story, indulging the ending, to entice a publisher to read the manuscript. On the other hand, a back-of-the-book blurb is marketing copy. It is designed to sell the book, and it will leave the reader wanting to learn more, so it will not tell the final ending.
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