Concerning Names and Backstory in a Synopsis - Writer's Digest

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.
Publish date:

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:


Three Keys to Crafting Chemistry Between Characters

Romance author Michelle Major explains her three go-to tips for ensuring your characters have believable chemistry.

Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

Take Two: Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

No one wants to break the bank to learn how to write a screenplay. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares practical tips on saving money on the pursuit of a screenwriting career.


10 Epic Quotes From Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Here are 10 epic quotes from Watership Down, by Richard Adams. The story of a group of rabbits who escape an impending danger to find a new home, Watership Down is filled with moments of survival, faith, friendship, fear, and hope.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Quintilla Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the quintilla.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Fight or Flight

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's fighting time.


Vintage WD: 10 Rules for Suspense Fiction

John Grisham once admitted that this article from 1973 helped him write his thrillers. In it, author Brian Garfield shares his go-to advice for creating great suspense fiction.


The Chaotically Seductive Path to Persuasive Copy

In this article, author, writing coach, and copywriter David Pennington teaches you the simple secrets of excellent copywriting.

Grinnell_Literary Techniques

Using Literary Techniques in Narrative Journalism

In this article, author Dustin Grinnell examines Jon Franklin’s award-winning article Mrs. Kelly’s Monster to help writers master the use of literary techniques in narrative journalism.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 545

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 cleaning poem.