Creating A Three-Page Novel Synopsis

What a Synopsis is and is not

A synopsis shows main features of your narrative arc, the problem or plot, the characters, and how the story ends. It summarizes main character arcs. Agents look for good writing skills, active voice in third person, and fresh ideas. Make this as sharp as the best writing in your novel.

Avoid too many characters or events, too much plot detail, description, or explanation. Avoid editorializing or hype. You don’t want a back cover blurb.

Determine how many acts are in your book. List the key events that move your plot in each act. Include no backstory. Keep it all bullet points. Don’t write any prose just yet.

Write a one-sentence opener that situates your protagonist in her/his life as the story begins. Include primary motivation; what is s/he seeking? Keep backstory minimal at this point.

Put list elements in proper chronology, read everything over and rework until you can see the plot unfold. Make sure key plot moves are there. Major hint: You won’t be able to include everything. This is where you find out what’s important. When you’re satisfied, it’s prose time.
From your list, write one paragraph of 4-5 sentences for each act.
Put all together and see if any essentials are missing, and if any non-essentials can go. A good guide for a first synopsis is around 600 words or 3 pages (double-spaced in 12 point Times New Roman).
Keep characters to four or less; secondary characters mentioned in synopsis must be connected to the plot. Too many names are hard to relate and agency readers work fast. First appearance of character name should be IN CAPS.

Examine what you have for these attributes: Age of protagonist? How long in current situation of backstory? What does s/he have to do to overcome all obstacles? Will that be an admirable thing for her/him to do? Why should the reader care about your protagonist? How would you categorize your protagonist’s obstacles? Does s/he have an ally, a special gift or strength? An interesting weakness?

Reread, or have a beta reader or your writing group review it. Clarify any uncertainties and polish to reflect the writing style of your novel.

Review your steps to ensure you haven’t missed anything. This 3-page synopsis can now be revised into a 1-page and a 2-page, giving you the most popular lengths agents request. This is where you learn how freaking hard it is!

You want any reader to say ‘wow,’ ‘more,’ and so forth. Agents must salivate and ask for chapters. When submitting, you can try different versions of your synopsis according to an agent’s profile.

Did you write your synopsis after you wrote your book?
Did you notice how tough it was to put your plot points in order? That could be because your plot was worked out by the seat of the pants, so to speak, instead of planned beforehand.
For your next project, try spending a couple weeks on the synopsis or the list of plot moves before you start to write. You’ll be surprised at how different it is.