Monday, May 4, 2015

The Essential 10: The Synopsis

Before I begin, I have to take a very quick moment to say: MY BOOK IS OUT!

This is my first post since the release of Becoming Jinn on April 21, and I want to thank everyone for their support! It's been a long, two-year road, to get to this point. Along the way I've met so many amazing writers and readers who have helped pass the time, including everyone writing for and reading this blog. So thank you! I'm thrilled that Azra is finally in readers' hands and it's been an incredible couple of weeks!

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming!

For the past two months, I’ve focused on two key elements of a query submission package: the query and the first page. This month, I tackle arguably the hardest element: the synopsis.

Truth time: I am not expert on any of this, but especially not on the synopsis. It’s hard for me and it’s hard for most writers, even ones with multiple books under their belts. It’s a necessary evil, and the best we can all do is minimize our complaining (minimize, not end) and just dive in. 

So here we go: top 10 tips for writing a synopsis.

1. Third person, present tense. Regardless of how your novel is written, write the synopsis in third person, present tense.

2. Names in all caps. Character’s names are written in all caps on first mention so they can be easily picked out.

3. Include the ending. Unlike a query pitch, you must include the ending in a synopsis. The purpose is for the agent to see if you have completed the story and character arcs, and the only way to do that is to spill it all.

4. Just the highlights. Pretend you are telling friends this story over dinner. Pick a movie and describe it in this way. You’ll find yourself easily skipping over parts and embellishing others. You need to do the same with your novel, which is hard because you are so close to it. But that means you have to…

5. Cut, cut, cut. There is not room to tell every thread and every subplot. There may not be room to tell every twist, to include every character. Be brutal. Pick the main plot and ensure you tell it from start to end in a clear, focused manner but don’t leave out the...

6. Emotion, emotion, emotion. Synopses, by design, focus on plot. This runs the risk of leaving out how your character feels about everything that’s happening. Use the character’s emotions as a way to advance the plot that you are telling.

7. Tell the full character arc. The conflict, the stakes, and how the conflict is resolved much be clear.

8. Length. Advice varies. The best I can recommend is always having a one-page synopsis. That way if the agent specifies such length, you are prepared. If you feel you need a longer one, and it is better than the one-pager (which it may not be…often shorter is better), then have one that’s no longer than three pages. You should be adequately prepared by having both in your query arsenal.

9. Don’t forget the writing. Make it energetic and lively. It may not be the place to showcase your fabulous prose, but ensure it’s good, active, and as engaging as possible.

10. Expert advice. Follow the steps written by my Feiwel and Friends editorial sister, Marissa, Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles, who sums it up much better than I could!  

With that, you should now have all the tips you need to write a successful query, first page, and synopsis. The only thing you have to do is remember to enjoy it—at least a little!

Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, now available!!, sequel, Spring 2016). With a degree in journalism and more than 10 years of experience, Lori is a freelance copyeditor and manuscript consultant for all genres. She focuses on the nitty-gritty, letting writers focus on the writing.


  1. Great tips! I like the emotion, emotion, emotion one best. I hadn't heard it before. It's so hard not to make it all sound like a play-by-play.

    Congratulations on your book.

  2. Thanks for the link. I liked the "emotion" advice. It's the hardest to nail in a synopsis.