story, science, technology and creativity

How to write a synopsis: four big secrets and an example


First of all, congratulations to @LiiaAnn, who has finished writing and editing her book draft of 60,000 words, a huge effort and awesome success.  Now the fun bit: how to take all that work and mince it down into 60 words that make an agent or reader or publisher go: YES PLEASE! I WANT MORE.

Writing a synopsis used to be a pain in the rear for me, but I tried and tried and tried, and failed and failed and failed (see below for my “before” and “after” effort at writing a synopsis), and then gradually failed less often. I’m still not very good at it, but I think there are four big secrets:

1) Write your synopsis like you write your novel.
If you write in a sassy voice, use that same sassy voice in your synopsis. If your book is funny, use humour in your synopsis. And if you’ve crammed 10 tonnes of back story into the first sentence, cut it out and start again (just like writing a novel ;-))

2) Write your synopsis, then close the file for a week or three.
Just like your novel draft, a synopsis needs time to breathe. After three weeks of working on something else, you’ll see new mistakes and new room for improvement.

3) Make your words work.
Synopses are short, so pick active verbs and play with your sentences over and over until they are short, snappy, to the point, saying more with every letter.

4) Introduce your main character, what they want, and why they can’t get it.
Character development is the main jist of all stories, and if your reader knows who they’re dealing with and what drives them, there’s a bigger chance they’ll identify with your character and adopt their cause. Which means getting on board with your story and your book.

Want an example?
When I was first faced with writing a synopsis I couldn’t find a decent example anywhere. So, at great personal expense (cue red face), I’m reproducing a couple of synopses I wrote for a book I wrote a few years ago, called Beyond The Safe Zone (a zombie adventure; unpublished and will probably stay that way ;-)).

BEFORE: My first attempt at a synopsis (200 words)

Beyond the Safe Zone is an adventure thriller for readers aged 13 and up, tracking the exploits of protagonist Chase, headstrong foster brother Ari, and pals Vaio and Ben in their escape from the Safe Zone, a closed community where Walls protect living people from the horrors beyond.

Once over the Walls, the friends face a post-Outbreak world, infested with the undead and dangers they’ve only ever imagined. With Ben out-of-action and Ari injured, the four must work hard to stay alive, depending on each other, lying for each other, and challenging all they’ve known of the world within the Walls. When they discover the truth about the Safe Zone and the Mercy who run it, each must choose where their loyalties lie.

Set hundreds of years into the future of a post-Outbreak world, Beyond the Safe Zone is a human thriller, a page-turning ride written for young readers. Beyond the Safe Zone is 50,000 words and my third (unpublished) childrens novel. I am a full-time non-fiction writer and have been writing popular science for young adults since 2002, including time as editor of two national magazines. I have also worked as a roving high school presenter for two years.

(Excuse me while I die of shame; reading that (blogging that!?!?!) makes me cringe!)

AFTER: This still isn’t uber-fabulous, but it’s closer to what I want… (190 words)

Twelve-year-old Chase has never had so many reasons to lose her lunch. She’d never questioned the rituals of the Safe Zone, but then her older brother Ari climbed the walls. Even thinking of climbing was ridiculous, illegal, impossible. But try telling that to Ari. And there was no way she’d let him climb alone.

Now Chase has seen the world beyond the Safe Zone, and it’s enough to turn her stomach. But life within the walls is killing Ari. He wants to leave, to live on the other side. But it’s never been done and there’s no reason to think Ari can do it. So try telling that to Ari.

When Ari’s plan goes wrong, Chase, Ari and schoolpal Ben find themselves hunted on both sides of the walls.

Packed with adventure, friendship, terror and betrayal, BEYOND THE SAFE ZONE is a thrilling read for younger readers. Think the apocalypse behind THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, the adventure of ESCAPE FROM SHADOW ISLAND and the cutting voice of THE MEDUSA PROJECT. Take a peek beyond the Safe Zone. Life will never be the same.

So what do you reckon? Does that help?
Does anyone have other before/after efforts they’d like to share?

Other posts you might enjoy:

Why I’m self-publishing: Takeshita Demons 4 has risen from the dead

Self publishing: How to design a cover in 5 easy steps

How to keep your New Year Resolution: Papier mache daruma dolls

Takeshita Demons: help us choose the cover art

8 cool myths about dogs, and why the inugami dog-god didn’t make it

Do you love monsters? Check out these Japanese monster activity ideas. Have fun!

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Author: cristyburne


18 thoughts on “How to write a synopsis: four big secrets and an example

  1. Pingback: Lessons I learned from entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award | Cristy Burne

  2. Thanks, love the tip about isolating the protagonist and what is stopping them getting what they want.


  3. hey cristy this sounds great id love to read it is there a possible way you could send me a copy?


    • Hi, Thanks for the encouragement, but this book shouldn’t ever see the light of day 🙂 And if it does, I’ll first need to do a whole lot of editing (=rewrite it all!). It was very much a practice book for me 🙂


  4. hi guys i need ur help plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz help me i need synospsis plzzz snd me if u have on any topic well my subject is english linguistics pllllllllllllllllllzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz help me


  5. THANK YOU! This really helped 🙂


  6. I was sitting at the computer last night trying to type a 300 word synopsis wondering if I was on the right track. Now that I’ve read your example I know what to add/delete and change. Very helpful. Thanks.


  7. I loved the revised synopsis, it was so full of energy and made me curious as to why Ari wanted out while Chase wanted to remain in. But in your “before” synopsis you mentioned your target audience. I thought it was a nice touch but never saw it before. Is that a new trend?


    • Hey Lisa,

      Thanks for your comment. Re including your target audience, I think it’s certainly recommended. Reading through my example again, I see I haven’t even said how many words my MS is….whoops!! Including that info too, is recommended. But, rules don’t always have to be followed. A great story will leap off the page when told by a great storyteller. Still…if I were writing this again, I’d included a one-sentence followup: Beyond the Safe Zone* is a 50,000-word adventure thriller for readers aged 13 and up.*

      Thanks for pointing that out! 🙂 Cristy


  8. Thanks for the useful information! This article vastly improved my synopsis skills without having to take a writing class!


  9. Never give the agent/publisher a reason to stop reading. It is a big part of their job to look for one!


  10. seems a lot like a query.


    • Hey Anonymous,
      You’re dead right…many people recommend you query in the same ‘voice’ as your book,

      A query would also have information on why you chose that agent/publisher, and a bit about you as the writer.

      But yeah, basically, you’re aiming to use both tools to hook your reader, to make them think: I want more!


  11. wowee this helps me a lot… thanks..!


  12. Pingback: The Liia Blog » Blog Archive » The Joys of Editing

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