The Essential Parts of a Novel Synopsis

You must start strong with the novel synopsis. Agents and editors want to be engaged when they're up at night, plowing through submissions. Here are some tips for making yours stand out.
Author:
Publish date:

Editor's Note: These tips excerpted from Give 'Em What They Want: The Right Way to Pitch Your Novel to Editors and Agents, a book by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook. The book is a great resource for information on query writing, synopsis writing, and outline writing. It's all about "the right way to pitch your novel to editors and agents." 

The Essential Parts of a Novel Synopsis

1. The Opening Hook

You must start strong with the novel synopsis. Agents and editors want to be engaged when they're up at night, plowing through submissions. If they don't like the opening, they won't get through the rest of it. Here is an example of an intriguing synopsis opening, from Monster by John Tigges:

"MAL and JONNA EVANS, in an effort to save their marriage, which has been jeopardized by Jonna's extramarital affair, go backpacking near Garibaldi Provincial Park, British Columbia. On their first night, while preparing their evening meal, a Sasquatch barges into their camp and grabs Jonna."

Give 'Em What They Want: The Right Way to Pitch Your Novel to Editors and Agents by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook

Give 'Em What They Want: The Right Way to Pitch Your Novel to Editors and Agents by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook

IndieBoundAmazon
[WD uses affiliate links.]

2. Character Sketches

You need to provide a sense of your main characters' motivations, especially those that will bring the characters into conflict with one another. "The characters' physical descriptions are not vital, but their motivations are," Marilyn Campbell says. Here is a part of the synopsis for Broken Connections, which earned the author a television movie option with this quick sketch of her heroine's backstory:

"Twenty-six-year-old JULIE HAMPTON, author of several gardening books, has returned to her native Boston from California after separating from her philandering husband, JOEL GREGG. Julie had fled to California seven years earlier to attend UC Berkeley and to put as much distance as she could between herself and her mother."

3. Plot Highlights

"Detail the beginning and ending scenes and one or two in the middle that give an indication of the kind of emotional intensity or type of action to be expected," Campbell says. So what constitutes a major scene worth noting? Consider: 1) Do I need this scene to make the primary plot hang together? 2) Do I need this scene for the ending to make sense? Your synopsis should reveal how much and what kind of trouble your poor protagonist is going to encounter.

The Essential Parts of a Novel Synopsis

4. Core Conflict

If your conflict isn't implicit in your first few sentences (a "hook"), spell it out. Your core conflict may, of course, overlap categories and could even touch on multiple types of conflict. Consider this:

"Tortured by grief and loss (person vs. self) and fleeing a wrong conviction for a crime he didn't commit (person vs. society), DR. RICHARD KIMBALL struggles to survive (person vs. nature) while fleeing the relentless lawman who pursues him (person vs. person).

5. The Conclusion

Don't close with a cliffhanger. Revealing the ending to your novel won't spoil the story for the editor or agent. It will show that you've successfully finished your novel. "Make sure every loose thread is tied up and never leave an editor guessing about anything," Campbell says. If your novel is one of a series, your ending can point to the sequel.

Query Letter in 14 Days

Take your writing one step further and tackle the publishing process. When you enroll in this online course, you'll learn the details of the query letter format and how to write a query letter that catches the attention of agents and publishers.

Click to continue.

John B. Thompson | Book Wars

John B. Thompson: On Researching Changes in the Book Publishing Industry

John B. Thompson, author of the new book Book Wars, shares the research that went into his account of how the digital revolution changed publishing for readers and writers.

From Script

Supporting AAPI Storytellers and Tapping into Mythical World Building (From Script)

In this week’s round-up from ScriptMag.com, meet South-East-Asian-American filmmakers and screenwriters, plus interviews with screenwriter Emma Needell and comic book writer/artist Matt Kindt, TV medical advisor Dr. Oren Gottfried, and more!

What Is a Personal Essay in Writing?

What Is a Personal Essay in Writing?

In this post, we look at what a personal essay (also known as the narrative essay) is, including what makes it different from other types of fiction and nonfiction writing, examples of effective personal essays, and more.

FightWrite™: How Do People Who Don’t Know How to Fight, Fight?

FightWrite™: How Do People Who Don’t Know How to Fight, Fight?

If your character isn't a trained fighter but the scene calls for a fight, how can you make the scene realistic? Author and trained fighter Carla Hoch has the answers for writers here.

April PAD Challenge

30 Poetry Prompts for the 2021 April PAD Challenge

Find all 30 poetry prompts for the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge in this post.

The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

Mia P. Manansala, author of Arsenic & Adobo, explains how writers can help their main character solve a mystery when they're the prime suspect.

Mistakes Writers Make: Not Using Your Spare 15 Minutes

Mistakes Writers Make: Not Using Your Spare 15 Minutes

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 writers make is not using your spare 15 minutes.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Visitor

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Visitor

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, invite an unexpected visitor into your story.

7 Tips for Writing a Near Future Dystopian Novel

7 Tips for Writing a Near-Future Dystopian Novel

In this article, debut author Christina Sweeney-Baird explains how writers can expertly craft a near-future dystopian novel.