The Art of Torture For Authors: The Synopsis

Writing The Synopsis

Condensing your 300 page manuscript into 1-2 pages

You’ve spent 3-6 months writing and editing your manuscript; maybe you’re participating in NaNoWriMo next month, and plan to write a novel in four weeks. Whichever the case, you finish your book and are ready to submit to publishers or agents. Now is the time to write The Synopsis.

What are the rules and standards for writing a synopsis?

Like writing your book, there are loose rules to follow as guidelines and hard rules you must adhere to. Loose rules include:

  • KISS—Keep it simple and short. 1-2 pages are best, although I have heard the “rule” that you can write one page of synopsis for every 35 pages of your manuscript.
  • SELL—This is a sales pitch. Give it a hook and make it interesting. Be concise and highlight major plot point, not every twist and turn.

Hard rules consist of:

  • Introduce your main character first
  • Include characteristics (sex, age, profession, etc.) of major character(s) only and their motivations-emotions
  • Reveal your novel’s ending (this is one of the main reasons editors-agents request a synopsis, after all)
  • Don’t include dialogue; save it for the novel
  • Single-Spaced with no indents and a full space between paragraphs
  • Write in present tense using the third person voice, regardless of the tense and voice in your manuscript

The purpose of a synopsis is to give an overview of your novel, squished into a comfortable few pages of space. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.

3 Reasons why your synopsis counts

When an editor or agent reads your query letter, they will nibble on the idea of buying your book. When they read your first ten pages, they will grow confident in your ability to write. When they read your synopsis, they will believe you can tell a story. When they read your manuscript, they will buy your book. The synopsis isn’t meant to do anything more than show the following:

  • You understand story arc and have a clear, cohesive, and coherent beginning, middle, and end
  • You understand character arc and have a main character who grows by the last page
  • You understand the importance of inner and outer conflict by showing both plot twists and their affect on the characters

This is not the time to withhold that brilliant twist no one sees coming (that’s the query’s job). This isn’t the time to show-off your beautiful style in prose (that’s the manuscript’s job). This is the time to show an agent-editor that you have a great story to tell, and it’s worth their time to request a full read from you.

Here’s a sample of my synopsis for Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light (spoiler alert: it’s the whole novel, remember?). If you’ve read the book, you will see which plot points I chose to include and which I excluded. I hope this sample and this blog post help make your synopsis writing much easier!


Clifton Chase finds himself in possession of a magic arrow which somehow brings him to Medieval England in the year 1485. Dane the dwarf leads him to Edward V and his brother, Richard Plantagenet. They are the nephews of King Richard III, forgotten by history. Clifton learns that the Arrow of Light is carved from wood out of the Tree of Knowledge and fletched with feathers from the all-knowing bird of wisdom called Simurgh. It has chosen him. And all Clifton can think is yeah, right.

King Richard has found them, and Clifton is forced to bring the arrow back to his time. Pretty soon, Dane comes to retrieve him and the arrow. The princes are locked in a tower and need his help. After a near miss rescue mission, the princes are reunited with their sister Elizabeth, and plans to defeat King Richard are set in motion. Clifton is knighted for his valor and presented with his own sword. He can’t believe it. It is Excalibur. After he wakes up from fainting, the group prepares to leave the Great Hall. No one counted on a dragon showing up in the city. But, the dragon didn’t know about Jasper Tudor and his travels to the Far East. He recites a chant in the bell tower, transporting them all to the safety of a waiting ship in the English Channel.

It is three weeks until the Battle of Hastings where King Richard is killed (according to Wikipedia). The Arrow of Light has been stolen, and Clifton knows who did it. Thick clouds roll in as Jasper Tudor chants another incantation using Kusangi’s Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven to call the rain. The storm hits hard, rocking the boat from side to side, knocking the thief out of the crow’s nest. Clifton rolls overboard with the arrow in hand as a hungry sea serpent approaches. But he doesn’t get eaten. Instead, he is yanked from behind deep into the ocean by, to his great disbelief, Merpeople.

King Gwyddno Garanhir of Cantref Gwaelod greets him under the sea and Clifton is lulled into the peaceful new world. A beautiful Mer named Pearl calls him away, warning him that his life is in danger. She guarantees safe passage with one request: she wants Excalibur. Clifton agrees and the two swim to the city’s border. Alarms peal through the sea and Pearl releases Clifton to escape. He hopes for the best as darkness consumes him while Excalibur passes. He hopes it can save Pearl.

Clifton wakes up in a strange house where the two giants Constance and Prudence live. It has been nearly three weeks since he fell overboard and Simurgh comes to take him to meet the others on the battlefield. Clifton is afraid, but finally understands why he was brought to this strange time. He is the one to restore the prince’s honor. He is the one to help the world to never forget them. And as the Arrow of Light strikes King Richard in the heart, his purpose is fulfilled.

Once he is home, he faces his own enemy: Ryan Rivales. But this time, Clifton is different and he stands up for what is right without a fight. And, oh yeah, he gets the girl, too. Ava Harrington, the most beautiful girl in the world. Before the story ends, Clifton finally earns his very own archery set, a hand-me-down from his grandpa with three arrows that look just like the one he left in 1485. And with a smirk, he wonders what if….

The Art of Torture For Authors: The Synopsis

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