Craft: Writing that dreaded synopsis…

Did someone say root canal? Would I rather have a root canal than write a synopsis? Well sometimes it seems that way. Why is it soo hard to do? Write a one page outline of what happens in your story. That shouldn’t be hard really. I mean you’ve just written 70,000 words + , how hard can it really be to write that one measly page? 500 words max? Surely you can do it right?

Ahhh, see this is where I start getting the shakes and have butterflies curling up in my stomach. I find writing the synopsis is one of the most stressful things about writing. I have a tendency to freak out and clean my entire house top to bottom rather than write one. What about you? Can you write one easily or do you procrastinate them as long as you can?

Now I need help with this topic, I need to find a way to make writing the synopsis easy. Anyone got any suggestions?

I found that wonderful man Bob Mayer has gone and created a youtube video on this exact thing. Hooray for Bob, I’m voting him into heaven for this one. Check it out…

If only I could do it that easily. What’s that you say? Give his idea a go? Ohhh I don’t know if I can, I mean I have to summarise the entire book, that’s a lot of work.

Well no it’s not really that bad, there are a few rules that you need to adhere to and if you go by that you’ll come out of the whole experience unscathed. Oh and you might just enjoy the process (well not everyone, some might, if they’ve got masochistic tendencies – I’m just saying).

Where do you start?

Right first things first, remember that this is just the basic storyline of what happens to your protagonist. Its not the entire story filled with subplots, supporting character arcs or backstory. It’s the basics, what happens, what does your protag do? How do they get through it? Then what happens? How does it all work out?

I’ll be using information garnered from various sources, and will provide links and bibliography at the end if you want to have a good looksy.

So lets get the basic story line down, then we’ll worry about present tense and all the rest.

  • Sum up your story in one sentence. What is it about? eg. Two young lovers defy their feuding families’ ban on marrying and plan an escape that propels them toward tragedy
  • Now you have that, fill in with who your protagonist is, what do they have to lose/gain through the storyline?
  • What’s standing in their way of obtaining that?
  • Why does that goal matter? What makes it so important?
  • How does the protagonist overcome the obstacles?
  • What happens in the end?

Okay so that’s short and sweet, easy huh? No, not really, but we’ll work on it.

So we go through our chapters writing down the main points of what’s happening to our protagonist. Just dot it down in point form. If you have 21 chapters then you should have around 2 sentences per chapter, leaving you 48 sentences to piece together in a short essay format for your submission.

Do these sentences answer the questions above? If not chuck them, you can use them when you have to send in a large synopsis, for today let’s just stick with the basic storyline.

Your synopsis must be written in present tense, write as if it’s happening, not already happened.

So check out the following things as you write:

  • Write it in present tense
  • Drop out non-essential things .
  • If it doesn’t directly involve your characters journey to fulfilment it’s not needed.
  • Watch your grammar and sentence flow.

Writing a Synopsis links:

Here’s a few other writers offerings on how to make this harrowing process a piece of cake (or at least make a root canal not seem a more attractive option anyway).

Long Island Romance Writers offer the top ten tips for writing a synopsis.

Jennifer Fallon shares how she does it.

The Selling Synopsis Contest run by RWA Australia is closing soon, but they have a great score sheet that helped me set up how to write one . You can download it from the website.

Agent Kirsten Nelson has some great advice about your synopsis.

Curtis Brown Agent – Nathan Bransford shares his opinion on how to write one.

Vivian Beck has 5 Steps to Writing a Synopsis

Beth Anderson demonstrates Writing the Tight Synopsis

Kathy Carmichael gives more Synopsis Tips

Synopsis Examples:

Anne Gracie

Charlotte Dillon

Deb Hale

There are a lot of writers out there who have examples of their own posted up on their blogs, I found that through reading what they had done I could make the process of writing my own soo much easier.

What are your top five tips for writing a synopsis?

Leave a comment


  1. Great article Natalie. Finding a problem with the You-tube link though


  2. Woops once I commented it came up. Sorry.

    Great stuff in the Youtube clip. I might make some notes from it. Only problem is he speaks fast. At least with the yu tube you can pause it. Not sure how much I’d miss because of that (and his accent) if I ever got the chance to attend a workshop.

    Thanks again

  3. No 5 tips – just a couple of really handy books that deconstruct a synopsis and help you with examples on how to do it.

    “Your Novel Proposal:From Creation to Contract” by Blythe Camenson & Marshall J.Cook (Writer’s Digest Books)

    “The Dreaded Synopsis – A Writing and Plotting Guide” by Elizabeth Sinclair (Thomas Max Publishing – and available through Rosemary’s Romance Books in Brisbane)

    I keep going back to them time and again to help write a synopsis.

  4. “A Decent Proposal: How to Sell your Book to an Australian publisher
    By Rhonda Whitton, Sheila Hollingworth is a great starting point too (on Google Books at: It covers the entire book proposal, including the synopsis as broken into 3 pitches. Highly recommended.

  5. Natalie Hatch

     /  October 6, 2009

    Cat I have that book and it is great. Kylie I will have to take a look at Elizabeth’s book, haven’t heard of it before.

  6. Terrific blog and thanks for Bob’s video. I bookmarked this and will read it again before I write my next synopsis.

  7. Hey Nat! Finished the damn book so I now have time to play a little 😀

    Am I the only one who likes writing synopses? Hmmm…. 😉 I have a synopsis writing article plus an example of my first book up at my website under For Writers if anyone wants to check it out. I’ve also been thinking about hosting an online workshop for a while now. But just have to get my notes and act together, plus find the time!

  8. No worries Edie, good to see you here. Bob certainly has a way with words doesn’t he? If only I was as professional as he is about writing, maybe one day soon.
    Hey Paula I’ll be in on that workshop the minute you post up. Need all the help I can get. LOL

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