A Synopsis Is Just Another Writing Tool by Roz Denny Fox

I know writers who hate the very thought of writing a synopsis. Some say it stifles their creativity when it comes down to writing the book. Others say they don’t want to know what happens until a situation shows up organically in their writing. But when trying to find an agent, or sell an idea to an editor, a clear, concise synopsis is an important tool.
Preparing a Synopsis: The author’s name and working book title should be in a header on every page, with the pages numbered consecutively. The text should be double spaced within 1 inch margins.
A rule no one ever explains is why a synopsis is written in present tense, but it is.
Synopsis Content: Stick to essential details. Boring clutter confuses the reader. Some writers start by listing the names of the main characters and their ages. There are a variety of ways to write a synopsis. I know writers who like to tell the highlights of every chapter. They don’t show chapter numbers, but list exciting events that moves the chapter forward.
The words you use in a synopsis are chosen for impact. They speak of character, of situation, of motivation, of conflict and of resolution.
Your style should be showcased: Your voice, your method of presentation, your individuality should stand out in a synopsis. You want your uniqueness to shine through.
There really is no right or wrong way to organize a synopsis as long as you give the reader enough information about the characters, the setting and points that are of importance in how your characters travel through your plot. You want to show the time period of the story and give a sense of tone. By that I mean is your story funny, poignant, or ominous. Or it may be a combination of emotional effects.
If you don’t introduce all of the characters that appear in the synopsis at the beginning, underline any new character and introduce them in the order they would appear in your story.
Some writers say to never use dialogue, but others believe judicious use of snippets of dialogue may help define a character’s role in the book.
It’s helpful if you organize the scenes you want to highlight prior to beginning to write your synopsis. You want the story to unfold naturally to the reader, and knowing your scenes keeps you from adding extraneous bits and pieces.
A synopsis starts at the beginning of the story. It presents a brief but interesting capsule of the content, or body of the work, and tells how the story ends. Never leave a synopsis hanging, hoping to intrigue an editor or agent. They will not be intrigued.
In simplistic terms, list main characters, show their internal and external conflicts, salt in character development, spell out motivations for them to change, and give the resolution that brings the book to a satisfying conclusion.  Expect that new problems, new twists and turns for your characters will show up in the nitty gritty detail that comes with fleshing out your book.  A synopsis is merely a brief overview.


  1. Excellent post, Roz. I'm several books in, and I still despise writing a synopsis. I kind of think that's just the way it's going to be. :-)

  2. Liz, I've never met anyone who "loves" to write a synopsis. I like to follow mine, and panic when the characters want to go off on their own.
    Happy Friday.

  3. Hi Roz!

    Great post! I have a tough time writing a synopsis before the book is written because I'm not a plotter, but once the book is complete, it's a little easier:)


  4. Roz - excellent timing! I just finished a synopsis and am letting it 'brew' over the weekend to send off Sunday night. I've printed out your post to use as a guide before I hit 'send.' You and I have talked about how much I hate synopses. The best part about having sold a lot of books is when an editor says, 'Just give me a page of what you have in mind.' Of course that won't happen to me anymore since it's been so long between career A and career B. But there's something comforting in knowing no one else is crazy about writing a synopsis, either. When you're in the throes of creation and characters take over and deviate from the plan, I never know whether it's lack of discipline on my part or creative genius.

  5. Terrific post, Roz! It is interesting that we write synopsis in the present tense ... I never questioned that before. For me, the challenge is to be clear enough with the internal and external conflicts and character motivations, but to leave enough wiggle room for those organic developments to happen when writing. I dread writing a synopsis, but when finished it feels good to have articulated my plan.

  6. Just checking in again, and it's gratifying to see none of you say "yay, I get to write a synopsis". Muriel, you so hit the nail square when you said if the book strays from the accepted synopsis is it lack of us wrestling characters into line, or really good to let the characters drive the direction when the story hits a twist or turn.
    After I posted I was thinking I should have written about trying to get ready for the visit by my kids and grandkids while trying to whip a book into submission. There's beds to get out, laundry to catch up, cookies to make, and groceries to buy. I think that's a whole other aspect of life to wrestle into shape. Thanks everyone for your insightful comments.

  7. What a great post Roz, thanks. For you, and the other authors here, if you do stray from the synopsis has an editor ever called you on it?
    Getting a book into shape when family is coming? I think you just found your next post!

  8. Shannon, I haven't been called on straying from my synopsis. Wonder if others here have. I'm sure it happens if it strays too far.

    1. Hi Roz and Shannon! I asked my editor if she minded if I killed off a character which had a profound effect on that story and she loved the idea :)

    2. True, Roz - I've never ahd an editor complain if the storyline deviates from the synopsis - as long as it works well.

  9. Roz's weekend synopsis: make beds, no need to vacuum because house is always spotless, oh wait spotlessness results from vacuuming, so get that darn thing out, meanwhile make major trip to grocery store, bake chocolate chip cookies, do two loads of laundry, dried & folded, maybe even ironed? Write thousands of words.

    Thanks for the helpful tips! I'll think of you over the weekend.

  10. Roz, thanks for the great advice! I haven't met anyone that loves writing a synopsis either.

  11. I'm not a plotter either so synopsis kick me in the butt, especially since there's thing I need to research that should go in the synopsis but I don't want to research unless the book sells.

  12. I hate writing synopses. Bleah. My partner, David, is better at it. That's the best part of being a team. Our strengths are different.

  13. Aimee - how does he feel about polygamy?



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