Skip to main content
Publish date:

Concerning Names and Backstory in a Synopsis

Q. In a novel synopsis, how much should you go into detail about a character in terms of their backstory and past? I want to keep my synopsis short, as you suggest, so I don't know how to approach this.

Q. In a novel synopsis, how much should you go into detail about a character in terms of their backstory and past? I want to keep my synopsis short, as you suggest, so I don't know how to approach this.

- Angela

A. Simply because of length, you will need to keep backstory to a minimum. But info needs to be in there, sure. Try and squeeze in as much as you can. Start by combining sentences. "Following an injury that derailed his hopes of playing professional football, Jack hit the bottle hard, and had trouble getting to all his dead-end jobs on time." With this sentence, I'm trying to squeeze in lots of info. You don't have to give the agents much more detail, because they know that detail is in the manuscript itself.


This brings up another point. Don't let your synopsis nor your pitch be bogged down with character names. If you meet an agent in person and pitch her, throwing out all kinds of names in the pitch ("Sally," "Colonel Byrd," "Billy Bob," "Randolph Inky the Clown Guy," "Officer Shane Matthews") will more than likely leave her very confused. Stick to the basics. Use the name of the protagonist, the antagonist and the love interest in a pitch. If a cab driver enters the story briefly, call him "the cab driver." Don't say "Etienne, the French cab driver who's hard of hearing and loves a good joke." Even that little unnecessary tangent can affect your pitch.
Synopses are longer than pitches, so you have more time to mention characters, but avoid their proper names if you can. What you want to avoid is an agent reading your synopsis and seeing a name, then backtracking to refamiliarize herself with who exactly this character is.

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

Image placeholder title

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Ending Your Story Too Soon

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Ending Your Story Too Soon

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is ending your story too soon.

FightWrite™: Fight Scenes with Magic

FightWrite™: Fight Scenes With Magic

In this post, trained fighter and author Carla Hoch explores the process of writing fight scenes with magic—how to make the unbelievable believable, how limitations bring us closer to our characters, and more.

Invoice Template for Freelance Writers

Invoice Template for Freelance Writers

If you're a freelance writer who is able to secure assignments, an essential tool you'll need is an invoice. In this post, Writer's Digest Senior Editor Robert Lee Brewer shares a very basic and easy invoice template for freelance writers to get the job done (and get paid).

3 Things Being a Broadway Wig Master Taught Me About Storytelling

3 Things Being a Broadway Wig Master Taught Me About Storytelling

A career behind the curtain helped Amy Neswald in creating her own stories. Here, the author shares 3 things being a broadway wig master taught her about storytelling.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Out of Control

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Out of Control

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let things get a little out of control.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2021 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Next Steps

Here are the final steps for the 14th annual November PAD Chapbook Challenge! Use December and the beginning of January to revise and collect your poems into a chapbook manuscript. Here are some tips and guidelines.

NaNoWriMo’s Over … Now What?

NaNoWriMo’s Over … Now What?

After an intense writing challenge, you might feel a little lost. Here are some tips from Managing Editor and fellow Wrimo Moriah Richard for capitalizing on your momentum.

Ian Douglas: On Telling the Truth in Science Fiction

Ian Douglas: On Telling the Truth in Science Fiction

New York Times bestselling author Ian Douglas discusses how he incorporated implausible conspiracy theories to uncover the truth in his new science fiction novel, Alien Hostiles.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 589

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a yesterday poem.