Writing your synopsis can be even tougher than writing your entire novel. Or it certainly feels that way. The reason is that it is often done after the fact when you just want the book over and done with.
But there’s no escape – to send off your book you HAVE to write one. And you have to nail it. In fact, a good synopsis sells your book. This is what you will send a publisher.
Here is a guideline to help and I have included a synopsis of The Hunger Games at the end of this.
The entire synopsis will be a single document that will have four parts:
2. A back cover blurb or overview
3. A short ‘about the author’
4. The full reveal of your book plot in a longer document
1. TITLE AND GENRE
All documents you ever submit about your book start with this.
State it clearly and upfront always
White Pearl, Kate Furnival, Historical Romance
Game of Thrones, George RR Martin, Fantasy
2. THE TIGHT BLURB
I like writers to include this. It is a hard working and useful piece of writing. You will use this as your query letter and paste this in your query email. In addition many submissions happen online and they have a field for a shorter blurb.
Think of this short section as your executive summary/back cover copy/ pitch/elevator pitch or hook. This blurb needs to sell your book and make it sound exciting and engaging.
It will be one or two tight paragraphs that should identify the essence of your story.
After your title and front cover image, the back cover is the next thing readers look at when deciding whether to make a purchase. The back-cover copy also functions as the primary ad for your book.
Not only will it appear on the book itself, but you’ll probably use it as your Amazon description.
The blurb should contain a few elements:
1. Your lead character. A one-liner that anchors WHO they are.
2. What happens to them - what is the invitation to adventure?
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He’s never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years.
But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him . . . if Harry can survive the encounter.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:
Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before– and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Please read this blog on how to write an amazing back cover blurb
3. ABOUT YOU
Have a brief heading 'About the Author.'
Keep this to one paragraph or a few lines that feel relevant. Include any other books or things you have written, e.g. your blog.
APRIL WHITE has been a film producer, private investigator, bouncer, teacher and screenwriter. She has climbed in the Himalayas, survived a shipwreck, and lived on a gold mine in the Yukon. She and her husband share their home in Southern California with two extraordinary boys and a lifetime collection of books. All three books in the Immortal Descendants series are on the Amazon Top 100 lists in Time Travel Romance and Historical Fantasy.
3. THE FULL STORYLINE
This working part of your synopsis is not really a sample of your writing style, it is a solid working document to enable an agent or editor to decide whether to look at more of the work or not. That said, it does need to have some flair. First get the basics of your story down, then work on the flair.
• Length: up to 2000 words
• Main purpose: Summarise your plot so the publisher can see the entire story
• Secondary purpose: Make it clear you can write and tell a story
• Character names. It helps if you put the names of main characters in bold or CAPS when you first introduce them. That way, if an agent has forgotten who SPIKE is, it's easy for them to skim back and jog their memory.
Keep it simple and direct.
Dive straight in. Start where we meet your character.
Introduce the key characters, key events, and turning points as they unfold in a chronological way.
Strip away minor plot lines or minor characters.
Capture how the novel begins and the hook.
Include all of the major climaxes and the big climax at the end.
Reveal all the spoilers and plot resolves as they would happen in the book.
Between those points introduce major characters and their relationships, and make sure you're conveying the core of the conflicts between all of these elements. But then, rather than just filling in with more and more plot and more and more characters, connect the dots between them with your own summarizing, to make the synopsis easy to read and compelling on its own.
Make sure every character you mention gets at least a few words explaining who they are, and their essence using a clear, tightly crafted label.
Hollywood homicide detective PETRA CONNOR (Johnathan Kellerman, Twisted)
Beautiful and brilliant Polish agent LILIANA PILECKI (Tom Clancy)
• Go into great detail about setting - Keep to a few words to describe this
e.g. In a dystopian future, the totalitarian nation of Panem is divided into 12 districts and the Capitol. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games.
• Get into any detail about your characters - Describe them in a few short words and move on to the plot. What is a plot? Is is the actual events of the story. Battling? You may not have a strong enough plot and you may have too much interior thought and not enough action.
• Include every single stroke of the plot - Stick here to the main points that drive your story forward. Include subplot if necessary, but not if it takes away from the main drive of your story.
* Use dialogue. This is the bare bones of the PLOT and characters.
EVERY STORY IS DIFFERENT
Below is an example but synopses are as different as each book is. There is no one way to write the perfect synopsis.
A crime thriller synopsis will need to be strong on plot, while a romance may play up character, an action novel will roll with the life and death struggles.
Like writing the manuscript itself, the only way to arrive at a great synopsis is to practice: rewrite, revise, and then do it all again. You may end up with dozens of versions of your synopsis written at different stages of the manuscript’s development. That’s okay. The challenge of distilling your work into a few thousand words is an important part of the process of understanding and shaping your manuscript. It may give you insights into what is and isn’t working.
Go on, give it a go.
NOVEL SYNOPSIS EXAMPLE
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
New Adult Adventure / Thriller
The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl
between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The 'tributes' are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.
KATNISS EVERDEEN is a 16 year-old girl from District 12, a coal-mining region and the poorest of the districts. This year is the 74th Hunger Games and during the Reaping, Katniss' younger sister, PRIMROSE is chosen as a tribute. Refusing to let her sister be taken, Katniss volunteers herself instead, becoming District 12's female tribute. The male tribute chosen is a baker's son named PEETA MELLARCK who is later seen during a flashback giving bread to Katniss to prevent her family from starving.
Despite the threat of the games, Katniss dreams of making a new life for herself and her family 'outside the fence' with her friend, GALE HAWTHORN.
She tells him that she never wants children and, despite her dreams, is realistic in knowing that if she and Gale tried to leave they would be caught. Before she leaves, Katniss comforts her mother and tells her to stay strong for Primrose. Katniss and Peeta are taken from their district by the gaudily dressed EFFIE TRINKET and travel to the Capitol. En route, they are fed rich food and treats but are disgusted by the amount of luxuries given to them and the occupants of the train while their families starve at home. They are introduced to their 'mentor' and a former winner of the Hunger Games, HAYMITCH ABERNATHY who appears to be a pessimistic alcoholic.
Haymitch grabs a drink and food before leaving their train car. Katniss and Peeta later reunite with Haymitch in another car and he tells them that the key to survival is ensuring they are well liked by the public so that they may get sponsored. By having sponsors they will have more access to survival tools such as matches, knives, or even water and medicine.
When they arrive in the gleaming city of the Capitol, the train is greeted by a cheering crowd. Peeta waves to the residents but Katniss refuses to show herself. Haymitch warns her that she better hold on to her knife and that Peeta actually knows what he is doing by feeding the crowd. Katniss meets her stylist, CINNA who tells her that, as tributes, they need to make an impression on the audience so they're remembered, especially by the sponsors. Cinna proclaims that someone as brave as Katniss should have a great costume for the Gala Entry Parade in which each pair of tributes wears an outfit reflecting their district's trade. Katniss and Peeta wear black costumes with actual fire emanating from them to symbolize the coal-mining district they reside from. As Cinna hoped, they make a great impression on the audience. Peeta takes Katniss' hand and raises it into the air during the parade for more effect. After the parade the pair go to their penthouse.
The tributes under-go basic weaponry and combat training including the use of knives, swords, and bows. In spite of this training their trainer stresses that survival skills should not be underestimated as exposure and infection can kill just as effectively as any sword. One tribute named CATO is hot-headed and imposing, proving to be a possibly serious threat. Later, over a meal, Haymitch tells Peeta and Katniss about the Careers district from which Cato comes from. All of the possible tributes train until they're 18 before openly volunteering to participate in the Hunger Games. Haymitch warns them that they win almost every year due to that fact before asking about Katniss' bow and arrow skills. Katniss refocuses on Peeta, describing his impressive strength, but he rebuffs her compliments and confesses that his own mother thought Katniss to be the superior tribute.
When Peeta is bullied by the other tributes during training, Katniss suggests he show off his strength by throwing a large weight across the room. Peeta manages to perform the feat successfully and gains a small amount of respectfrom the tributes. Later, in succession, each tribute is instructed to show off to the game makers and sponsors, including Seneca Crane. When it's Katniss' turn, she decides to show off her archery skills. However, she misses her first
shot badly and loses what little attention she already had. Despite her perfect second shot, she doesn't regain their respect. Angered by the sponsors' attitude towards her, Katniss fires an arrow straight through an apple in a roasted pig's mouth, right in front of the stunned sponsors. Katniss sarcastically thanks them for their consideration and leaves. The tributes' scores are then displayed on a television screen, ranking from 0 to 12. Many tributes achieve high scores of 9 to 10, including the Careers Cato and his
partner CLOVE. Peeta receives an 8 while Katniss scores an 11, the highest of all the tributes.
The President of the Capitol, SNOW addresses Seneca and tells him that the Hunger Games is about giving the districts hope but that too much hope can actually be dangerous. During another meal, Haymitch tells Katniss about Peeta's decision to go without his help because of the fact that there can only be one winner.
On the extravagant Hunger Games TV chat show, each tribute is introduced individually and interviewed by the flamboyant host, CAESAR FLICKERMAN. Katniss elicits laughs from the audience during the interview and impresses them by showing off her dress which displays real fire as she twirls. Ceasar gives her the nickname 'girl on fire'. During his interview, Peeta eats the audience up, garnering some laughs himself. It is then that he announces his
crush on Katniss, something which angers her intensely. Backstage Katniss pins Peeta to the wall, demanding answers for his behavior. Haymitch separates the two and explains that he could sell the pair as star-crossed lovers which might gain them sponsorship support during the games.
Just before the games, Haymitch warns Katniss to avoid the bloodbath at the beginning by heading to the high ground in search of water despite having to leave her bow and arrow behind. The tributes are all injected with a tracking device in their arms as they travel via helicopter to the outdoor arena. The tributes are then taken underground where they report to certain checkpoints
before being loaded onto platforms that deliver them to the ground level of the arena. Before she is hoisted up, Katniss says farewell to Cinna who has seen her off. He tells her that, if he was allowed to bet, he would be on her winning.
Then she, along with the other tributes, are raised into the arena and a countdown to the Hunger Games begins. As the horn sounds, the tributes rush towards the center cornucopia full of weapons and backpacks, brutally attacking and killing each other in the process. Katniss manages to grab a pack and barely escapes Clove, who embeds a knife in her backpack. Once at a safe distance, Katniss finds a rope, an empty canteen, and a coat inside the backpack. She takes Haymitch's advice and locates water in a nearby
stream before she ties herself high up in a tree for the night and attempts to get some sleep. Loud bangs from a cannon indicate the deaths of tributes and we learn that thirteen were killed within the first 8 hours. During the games, Caesar keeps the public up to date with the happenings and announces that an alliance has formed. Katniss witnesses from her tree perch that Peeta has joined with a group of Careers during the night with the intent on leading them to her. While exploring the next day, Katniss gets too
close to the outer regions of the arena. The game controllers decide to start a forest fire to lure her further in to the center. She barely manages to escape but does receive a nasty burn on her thigh, causing her to limp. She is then spotted by Cato and 4 other tributes, including Clove and Glimmer who have banded together. We learn that, apparently, the Careers come, collectively,
from Districts 1, 2, and 4 who are trained illegally before volunteering to fight; this group of 4 from two districts chases Katniss who eventually escapes by climbing a tree. Cato attempts to follow her up but is unsuccessful. Peeta suggests that the group wait for Katniss to eventually come down for food and
And so it continues
Sarah Bullen is a writing coach, literary agent and book editor. She coaches writers on how to become authors and how to write to get published.