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Writing a Novel Synopsis
by Terry W. Ervin II
Once a manuscript is complete and an author
begins to focus on finding an agent or a publisher, one
of the items often requested during the submission
process is a brief synopsis. Unless the agents or
publishers guidelines indicate specifically what is
expected, the following explanation should provide some
What exactly is a brief synopsis? Its a single
spaced, one page, present tense, summary of the novel.
Sometimes it bleeds onto a second page, but one is
generally best. It is to cover the main action of the
story, whats at stake, the resolution and the main
characters involvement. For clarity, a synopsis
isnt what many call a teaser found on the back
cover to entice readers toward purchasing the novel.
As stated, be sure to include the ending and avoid
attempts to suggest to the editor or agent that he will
have to request the full manuscript to find out what
happens. It will backfire. Editors and agents are
interested in what happens from the beginning to the end.
It helps them determine if it is a novel they think has
strong potential. Remember, the agent or editor reading
the synopsis probably has at least a half dozen other
packets on their desk to consider that day alone. And
that doesnt count all of the other things on the
list to accomplish that day, of which reading slush
rarely is at the top of the list.
Next question: How can an author condense an entire
novelall of the characters, plot twists, action and
everything elseonto a single page?
For most writers its not easy. Many would prefer to
write an entire novel as opposed to struggling with a
synopsis. Writing a brief synopsis is difficult, but not
impossible. Really, its not. It just takes time,
effort and careful thought to boil it all down to what is
important in the story while conveying action and giving
the agent or editor a flavor of what the writer has to
Here are four steps that may facilitate the writing of a
1. Go ahead and write a synopsis. Include all that seems
important, keeping it as short as possible. If it ends up
five or eight pages, thats okay for a start.
2. After a day or two, go at it again. Use a hard copy
and begin crossing out what really isnt important
to convey the main action and direction of the story. Be
ruthless. Subplots, dialogue, in-depth character
descriptions and secondary characters have no place in a
3. Sit back and rethink whats truly important in
the novel. What is the main theme or struggle? Focus on
that while revising and narrowing once again.
4. Then have individuals read your synopsis and provide
input. I would break readers down into two categories.
The first category would be individuals who have read the
manuscript in some form. They wont be as close to
the project as the author and can provide a more
objective view of what isnt vital and can be
eliminatedand state if something is missing that
should be there. Consider what the readers have to say.
Act upon suggestions if they make sense, especially if
two or more readers make similar suggestions.
The second category would be well-read individuals who
havent read the manuscript and have little to no
knowledge of what the novel is about. While it helps if
the readers are familiar with the genre, its not
absolutely mandatory. The second category of readers can
provide input not only on what appears unimportant and
can be eliminated, but if the synopsis flows and makes
sense. They wont have any background knowledge with
respect to the characters and events in the story which
individuals whove read the manuscript would have.
Their experience should mirror that of the editor or
agent reading the synopsis plucked from the slush pile.
Again, consider what those readers say and act upon the
suggestions if they make sense.
Finally, the author should to go back after a week or two
and smooth out and tighten up what has been created. Read
it out loud and make sure it flows. Then it should be
Of the agents and editors Ive spoken with, there
seems to be no one way they tackle the submission package
(usually cover letter, first three chapters and
synopsis). Some start with the first chapters. If they
get through them and the story has piqued their interest,
they look at the synopsis. Some read the synopsis first
and then if it catches their attention, look at the first
chapter. Others start with the cover letter before going
to the synopsis or first chapter.
The bottom line is, just like the cover letter and the
first three chapters, the synopsis should be the best
product the author can produce. It should convey the
story and reflect the authors skill in both writing
and storytelling, and accomplished in a way where brevity
Terry W. Ervin II. All Rights Reserved.
Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys
writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. His short fiction
has appeared in a number of places including Futures
Mystery Anthology Magazine, Fear and Trembling, and
MindFlights. His fantasy novel, Flank Hawk is available
in print through bookstores or Amazon.com
or available as an ebook through Smashwords
To contact Terry or learn more about his writing
endeavors visit his website at: www.ervin-author.com
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