Thursday, April 27, 2017 | By: The Write Way Cafe

Help! I Need A Synopsis!

The Write Way Café welcomes Suzanne Purvis with solid tips for creating a powerful synopsis.

Within the writer community, there’s almost this universal hatred for synopsis writing.

Maybe hatred is too strong a word? Maybe not? ;-)

But I can hear your collective groans across cyberspace at the mere mention of the word, S-Y-N-O-P-S-I-S.

But writing a synopsis is a very necessary part of your submission package.

And we all know writing, and especially submitting, isn’t for the weak-minded.

Stay strong.

There is hope.

You can build your writing muscles and learn to write a sizzling, scintillating synopsis that will grab the attention of agents, editors, or contest judges.

Let’s take a quick look at. . .

What a synopsis is NOT:
1. It is not a blow-by-blow summary of every single plot point in your book.
2. It is not a back cover blurb.
3. It is not a backstory dump.
4. It does not introduce every secondary character.
5. It is not your main character’s resume.
6. It is not a dry list of events.
7. It doesn’t include dialogue or paragraphs from your manuscript.

What is a synopsis?
1. It is a narrative summary of your book written in the voice of your manuscript.
2. Its primary purpose is to summarize your story in a way that makes the reader and agent or editor want to read the whole text.
3. It is written in present tense.
4. It is written in third person–even if your book is written in first.
5. It is written in active voice.
6. It is told in chronological order from beginning to end, no flashbacks.
7. It introduces only your main characters, main conflict, and basic emotional arc.
8. It delivers major plot twists and your ending. No cliffhangers allowed.
9. It is a skillful weaving of your characters, the stakes, and the major plot events that move your characters from beginning to end.
10. It shows the pacing of your novel.
11. It should be in the same tone as your novel.

An ideal synopsis should be like reading a mini version of your book filled with your voice, emotion, intrigue, and all your exceptional and magical writing talent.

The question I get asked the most often concerning a synopsis is. . .

How long should my synopsis be?

Sorry to say, there is no universal standard.

Agents, editors, publishers, contests has their own specific requirement.

You need to check the submission requirements for each submission (usually on the agent, publisher, contest webpage) and tailor your synopsis to fit.

I’ve heard of a 200 word synopsis for a specific contest. Yikes--that’s less than a page, but it can be done.

A 500 word synopsis is not uncommon: that’s 2 pages double-spaced or one page single-spaced.

Three to five pages is another often requested length. Here the length can be anywhere from 750 words to 1250 words if it’s double spaced, but that’s 1500 words to 2500 words single spaced.

Up to 10 pages is another requested length and that would be double spaced. Yay, for this one. Offers lots of room to add your voice, rhetorical devices, etc.

Here’s a little tip: unless the synopsis is for a contest, the word/page count is a guideline. Most agents and editors aren’t going to stop reading if your synopsis is a little longer, especially if it’s a sizzling and scintillating synopsis. :-) Because the synopsis is often embedded in an email to an agent or editor, the length isn’t a deal breaker--they won’t be counting your words. :-)

Again, to find out what size synopsis you require, check the agent’s or publisher’s or contest’s submission requirements to see what length of synopsis they expect.

Voice is often overlooked, and under-considered in a synopsis. (You can read about adding voice to your synopsis in my December blog post here.)

But there is also the often forgotten aspect of adding emotion to your synopsis.

What makes a NOVEL mesmerizing are the emotions that accompany the characters’ actions.

Emotions like fear, hope, excitement, anticipation, disappointment, etc.

The same is true for your synopsis.

When you’re writing your synopsis, look for ways to add the emotions surrounding your characters in the situation and at each turn of events.

Here’s an example from Sandra Tilley’s synopsis for her work-in-progress Dead Man Falling

Guilt and regret torture FBI agent, Mark Penrose. He and the Agency share dual responsibility for exploiting his ex-wife's medical expertise, but he’s solely accountable for breaking Sydney's heart. Now he’s willing to risk his job and his life for a second chance.
Sandra uses strong, powerful words. Do you see and feel the emotion?
Guilt, regret, torture. Wow.
Look at some of her other strong words and phrases that evoke emotion, exploiting, breaking her heart, risk his job and his life, second chance
Here’s another example of strong emotion in a synopsis. This example is from Veronica Mixon’s work-in-progress Changing Tides. This synopsis paragraph is at a major turning point in the plot.
Then Kate uncovers a lead to Joseph’s whereabouts, escapes Nathan’s security detail and heads to Albuquerque. Less than twelve hours later, a dejected Kate returns empty-handed only to learn her mother and Owen have been abducted. Desolate and heartbroken over her choice to leave her son for a few hours, Kate’s pain becomes unbearable when Erica convinces the authorities the abduction is simply a diversion Kate’s orchestrated. No one believes her, and Kate tumbles into despondency. Then anger burns away her despair, and she turns to Nathan for help, only to find his shoulder has turned ice cold.

Lots of emotion, lots of power words, a strong sizzling synopsis.

Here’s another example from Caren Gallimore’s synopsis for her work-in-progress Wanted. This is an introduction to her tough-guy character, but her tough-guy still has emotions. :-)

Dakota Cabe was used to killing. His first kill was at the age of twelve when he sought revenge for his parent's death. Seeing the spunky Caitlyn Daniels attempt to hold her ground against nine of the Wakefield gang kicks in his protective instincts. After their brutal encounter with death, Dakota hides out at Caitlyn's ranch, and he's surprised by their connection that manifests into a love he can’t fight. But he knows their love is doomed as soon as the Sheriff investigates, makes his conclusions, and identifies Dakota as a wanted man. Dakota has two choices--leave town or allow Caitlyn to be linked to the shootout and a target for the Wakefield gang. He’s desperate to stay, but the choice is clear.
I hope these examples help show a synopsis can be sizzling and scintillating. 
You too can write a sizzling and scintillating synopsis that catches the eye of agent and editors just like Kathy Cummings who participated in my May Synopsis class and received a contract this month.  :-)
If you’re interested in my next synopsis class, check out Lawson Writers Academy here.
And if the timing isn’t quite right, I also offer private editing and synopsis building. Just email me at .
I wish you the best in all your writing, but especially in building your synopsis so you can go forth and submit.

Feel free to share your woes or concerns or tips and strategies for synopses in the comments, and I’ll chime in.

Suzanne Purvis is a transplanted Canadian living in the Deep South, where she traded “eh” for “y’all.” An author of long, short, flash fiction for both children and adults, she has won several awards including those sponsored by the University of Toronto, RWA, Bethlehem Writer’s Roundtable, and Women Who Write. You can find her work in print anthologies, magazines, ezines, and ebooks.

She leads workshops at Lawson Writer’s Academy and for Romance Writers of America, including her popular Sizzling, Scintillating Synopsis. She also works individually with writers on any aspect of their writing they are looking to improve. Feel free to email her at and be added to her mailing list for upcoming classes.

Next Sizzling Scintillating Synopsis Class will begin June 1st, 2017 at LWA.


Charmaine Gordon said...

In other words, the writer should Go For It. Open your veins and give an editor the flavor and taste of your story.
Thanks for this marvelous tower of information.

Suzanne said...

Thanks so much for stopping by Charmaine. You're absolutely right, but let's hope opening up your veins and bleeding out your synopsis isn't too painful. :)

Lynn said...

Great Post! I want to ingest it so I really get it.

HiDee said...

I always struggle to write the synopsis. Thank you for these wonderful tips!

Veronica Mixon said...

Nice summary for writing the dreaded synopsis. Although it doesn't compare to having your editing skills as an instructor in one of your classes, but I'll be sure to keep this blog as a reference. Thanks for sharing.

Robbin said...

Thanks for sharing your brain. I continue to learn from your brilliance. Count me in for June!

Suzanne said...

Thanks for stopping by Lynn. Ingest, digest, regurgitate sounds very primal but helpful when building a synopsis.

Suzanne said...

Thanks so much for inviting me HiDee. I'm always happy to help fellow writers along the writerly journey.

Suzanne said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Vicki. I love, love, love your characters and your story and it's soooooooo important to be able to bring the characters and the story to life in a synopsis.

Suzanne said...

Thanks so much for stopping by Robbin. I love reading your work and can't wait to help out with your synopsis.

Angela Adams said...

Thanks for the tips, Suzanne! I actually "cringe" when I have to start writing a synopsis (smile!).

Unknown said...

These tips are great, but your expertise is priceless! And you can only get your editing skills and personal investment by taking your class. :) Your class changed my mind about writing the "dreaded" synopsis. Before your class, I must admit that I called it something else that I won't print here. But it did start with a D!

Suzanne said...

Thanks for stopping by Angela. Many writers find synopsis writing cringe-worthy, but believe me like all our creative writing it can be fun. :)

Suzanne said...

Thanks for stopping by Sandra. Your dedication to your writing shows up whenever you put your hands to the keyboard. Even with that d--n synopsis. :)