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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 agent’s or publisher’s guidelines indicate specifically what is expected, the following explanation should provide some guidance.

What exactly is a brief synopsis? It’s 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, what’s at stake, the resolution and the main character’s involvement. For clarity, a synopsis isn’t 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 doesn’t 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 novel—all of the characters, plot twists, action and everything else—onto a single page?

For most writers it’s 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, it’s 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 offer.

Here are four steps that may facilitate the writing of a brief synopsis:

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, that’s okay for a start.

2. After a day or two, go at it again. Use a hard copy and begin crossing out what really isn’t 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 synopsis.

3. Sit back and rethink what’s 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 won’t be as close to the project as the author and can provide a more objective view of what isn’t vital and can be eliminated—and 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 haven’t 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, it’s 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 won’t have any background knowledge with respect to the characters and events in the story which individuals who’ve 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 ready.

Of the agents and editors I’ve 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 author’s skill in both writing and storytelling, and accomplished in a way where brevity counts.

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
or available as an ebook through

To contact Terry or learn more about his writing endeavors visit his website at:


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    Novel Writing tips for fiction writers