Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writing a 1-page synopsis

You spent months writing your novel and even more time revising and polishing it. The characters in your book have become your friends and some even enemies you love to hate. You’re ready to send your precious work out to agents or editors. Congratulation, because this is further than many people ever get.

So how do you get your query to stand out in the slush pile? You draft a well written query letter and a compelling synopsis. For this post, I’m going to focus on writing the synopsis. It’s something that I always dread because let’s face it, summing up thousands of words into one page and doing it in a way that makes a book sound fresh and exciting is hard. Hopefully, the steps below will make the task a little less scary and maybe even fun.

Your synopsis should be about the main plot. If you are writing an adventure novel that has an emotional plot mixed in, your synopsis should be the adventure plotline. Don’t include the subplots.

A few tips before we get started:
-          Use present tense.
-          Write the synopsis in third-person.
-          Lead off with a strong hook sentence.
-          The first time you introduce a character, type their name in CAPS.
-          Use powerful verbs and avoid adverbs and adjectives.
-          Always tell the entire story.

For this formula, you are going to write 5-paragraphs. Since you are aiming for a 1-page synopsis, these paragraphs need to be brief, one to three sentences each.

The first paragraph includes your hook. Identify the who, what, and why of the plot. For instance: A boy goes to wizard-school where he makes friends, learns magic, discovers that an evil wizard wants to kill him, and has that first encounter with the wizard. (Yep, I went to Harry Potter for my example. Not just because it’s one of my favorite series, but because I haven’t met a person who hasn’t heard of the books or movies.)

Next, divide your novel into three acts. Each act will get a paragraph.

Finally, write the conclusion.
            The breakdown of the 5-paragraphs is as follows:
-          1st paragraph is the premise and should include your hook.
-          2nd paragraph is Act 1
-          3rd paragraph is Act 2
-          4th paragraph is Act 3
-          5th paragraph is the resolution. Yes, that means you are telling the ending. No surprises!

Because you are very close to your story, I highly recommend that you have your critique groups read your synopsis before you send it to an agent or editor.  

Format your synopsis much like you do a manuscript.

Your Name                                                                                                                Genre

Street Address
City, State, ZIP code
Phone number
e-mail address

Your name

                Start the text of your synopsis…


Remember to always check an agent’s or publisher’s website before sending material. Some have very specific guidelines they want followed.

Good luck!


  1. Awesome advice! Great new look to your blog!

  2. Just saw your link on the blueboards and decided to have a look. EXCELLENT!

  3. Doing my synopsis homework and came across this post. Thanks so much for the breakdown.