Writing a synopsis can be scary at first. But according to Stephen King, the scariest moment is always just before you start. You can write a synopsis for a novel, an assignment, an article, a project, a report, and even research.
It is simply writing a summary to provide a shortened version of a given piece of writing. Writing a synopsis can be scary but with the guide in this article, you would be able to write a synopsis like a pro in 2022.
What is a synopsis
A synopsis is a summary of a written piece of work that familiarizes the reader with the general content of the work and how it unfolds. The purpose of a synopsis is to intrigue a person to know the contents of your work, by subtly conveying the contents. It is simply the short summary of your work, in its entirety, from beginning to end, soup to nuts, nose to tail. Written in fairly neutral, non-sales language.
The trick in writing a synopsis is to have a brief look at the beginning and a sense of urgency underlying the text that will keep your reader going. It should make anyone who comes in contact with the work want to devour your whole manuscript- even though they’ll already know what happens.
The length of your synopsis varies, depending on the number of words required of you. However, a synopsis, generally, is between 500-800 words in length. A synopsis is not like the text on the back jacket of a book. Those book blurbs are much shorter and normally offer only a teaser, rather than a full rundown of the book’s story.
In fact, a synopsis is what you think it is. A 500-word long spoiler for your entire novel, assignment, or research.
How to write a synopsis like a pro? Step by step guide
Get the basics down first
When it comes to writing a synopsis, the substance is the name of the game. No matter how nicely you dress it up, an agent will disregard any piece that doesn’t demonstrate a fully fleshed-out plot and strong narrative arc. So it stands to reason that as you begin writing, you should focus on the fundamentals.
Start with major plot points
The major points are what gears attention and get your reader to want to read more. You would want the agents to get the general idea of the major plot in your writing the moment they pick up your synopsis. In doing this, you must include-
- The inciting incident- what sparks the central conflict of your story. In the case of a research or assignment, this should be the reason you started the research?
- The events of the rising action- what happens in the interlude between the inciting incident and the climax, and how does this build tension?
- The height of the action, or climax, of your story- this one is the most important, as it should be the most exciting part of your book, assignment, research, or article.
- The resolution or ending. A synopsis doesn’t need to dangle the carrot of an unknown ending to the reader; you can and should reveal your story’s ending here, as this brings the plot and narrative arc to a close.
Include character motivations
This step is mostly used when the synopsis you are writing is for a novel or a short story. The key here is not to get too deep into characterization, since you do not have much room to elaborate. Instead, simply emphasize character motivations at the beginning and end of your synopsis.
For instance, in the beginning, you can say “Vanessa has spent the past twenty years wondering who her birth parents are [motivation]. When a mysterious man offers her the chance to find them, she spontaneously buys a ticket to Florence to begin her journey [inciting action].”
In the end, you could say- “She returns to the US with the man who was her father all along [resolution], safe in the knowledge that she’ll never have to wonder about him again [restated motivation].”
You must also be careful to be sure that the text is written in the third person, present tense. This is because a synopsis is meant to be summarized, not narrated- as such, the first or second person may not really work.
Highlight what’s unique
The major point of a synopsis is highlighting the unique things about your work while getting the agent to know what the work is all about. Agents need to know what’s so special about your book in particular — and moreover, is it special enough to get readers to pick it up?
In highlighting what’s unique about your work, your writing voice and tone are also essential to get your synopsis to stand out. The best way to capture voice in a synopsis is through extremely deliberate word choice and sentence structure. Also, if your work contains one or more plot twists, especially at the climax, make sure your synopsis accentuates it.
Edit for clarity and excess
To write a synopsis like a pro, you should make sure the synopsis has clarity and is devoid of mystery. When editing, feel free to delete some text, so you can get it right in that couple-page sweet spot. As you return to the synopsis you have written, scan for sentences that are vague or unclear, especially toward the beginning.
Again, though you do want your intro to be intriguing, it has to cut to the chase pretty quickly. If your synopsis is longer than a couple of pages at this point, you need to make some serious cutbacks.
Read through what you have, scrutinizing every sentence and word, even if you think you’ve chosen them carefully. Also, eliminate irrelevant details. Remember, your synopsis is all about substance.
Make sure it flows
By the time it’s finished, your synopsis should read like a summary from an excellent book review. This means not only clearly and concisely hitting every important point, but also reading in a smooth manner, placing just the right amount of emphasis on the critical moments and unique aspects.
This is the most important step to writing a synopsis like a pro.
Get test readers
You can skip this step if you are confident in your writing skills. However, a great way to ensure that your synopsis is paced precisely and flows well is to give it to test readers, either someone you know or a professional editor.
Other people’s suggestions and contributions towards the synopsis you have written can be a great way to touch up on the synopsis you have written. You may also use professional synopses as models.
Compare and contrast them to the synopsis you have written, and adapt any techniques or turns of phrase you feel would enhance it.
What to avoid when writing a synopsis like a pro?
Here are some tips on what to avoid when writing a synopsis-
- Mentioning too many characters or events. To write a synopsis like a pro, you mustn’t tell the entire story. What you want to do is write a book summary with enough detail about the plot to intrigue the reader or agent.
- Avoid unnecessary detail, description, or explanation. Make each word in your synopsis count.
- Avoid editorializing your novel or book. Don’t use “…in a flashback,” or “…in a poignant scene.” If you have a confusing series of events and character interactions, not only will your reader be confused, but a potential agent will be too.
- Writing back cover copy instead of a synopsis. Don’t go astray and write a hook to intrigue a reader to buy a book or an agent to request a manuscript. Focus on summarizing your novel or book.
Samples of synopsis you could refer to?
Synopsis example of Romeo and Juliet
One of William Shakespeare’s greatest plays, Romeo and Juliet, follows two people from warring families as they meet and fall in love despite their family’s disapproval. Through several missed chances and miscommunications, they end up killing themselves for love.
Synopsis of Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller’s famous play Death of a Salesman follows the last 24 hours of a Willy Loman’s life. Unable to accept change, Willy starts to lose his identity due to his self-centered nature. Through an array of memories and arguments with family members, viewers start to understand what leads to Willy’s suicide.
Synopsis example of The Sound of Music
This classic musical follows as the nun, Maria, leaves the convent to be a nanny for the Von Trapp family, including a widowed naval captain and seven children. She falls in love with the father and leaves the country with them to escape the Nazis.
The Lion King Synopsis example
A Disney animated classic, The Lion King, follows the turbulent growth of Simba. A baby lion is born to be King, but his cruel uncle, Scar, kills his father, Mufasa, and sends the baby away. The baby lion returns to fight his uncle and take his rightful place.
Synopsis Example of Seinfeld
A staple TV show of the 90s, Seinfeld showed four friends who lived their lives in New York City. It follows the antics of Jerry Seinfield, a stand-up comedian. His friends, George, Elaine, and Kosmo, help him get through several hilarious situations found in everyday life.
Research Synopsis Example
“As the current COVID-19 pandemic develops and epidemiological data reveals differences in geographical spread and risk factors for developing a severe course of illness, hypotheses regarding possible underlying mechanisms need to be developed and tested. In our hypothesis, we explore the rationale for a role of MTHFR polymorphism C677T as a possible explanation for differences in geographical and gender distribution in disease severity.”
Frequently asked questions
As for the ideal length for this piece, it varies from project to project. Some authors recommend keeping it to 500 words, while others might write thousands. However, the standard range is about one to two single-spaced pages or two to five double-spaced pages.
A summary is an abstract or a condensed presentation of a body of material. A synopsis is a brief summary of the major points of a written work, either as prose or as a table.
This article above would serve as a complete guide. You must also summarize your synopsis, keeping it short and focusing on the unique points. Remember that practice makes perfect.
Absolutely. If you have written a novel or a research paper, writing a synopsis like a pro should not come as a problem for you.
Technically, yes. This is because if your synopsis is loved and approved, you would get a lot of money from the sale of your work.
The synopsis is necessary because an agent or publisher wants to see what happens from beginning to end in your story. Thus, a synopsis must reveal the end of the story or work.
Your synopsis is one of the biggest deciding factors in whether an agent wants to see more from you or not. This summary tells agents (and later publishers) what they really need to know: what your book is about, what makes it unique, and most importantly if they can sell it. That’s why it’s vital that you make your synopsis airtight. If you follow this guide, you can comfortably write a synopsis like a pro.