Spot-check your synop for a smooth, satisfying finish

A couple of drafts in and hopefully you’re starting to feel like you’re getting close to a decent synopsis-shaped THING. Or, you may be weeping in the corner. Either way, it’s time to step back and take an objective look at your synop to make sure it’s ticking all the right boxes and not committing any cardinal sins of summarisation.

Grab your red pen, quaff a stiff drink, and dive into the checklist of synops dos and don’ts:


GIf of a woman doing a stupid face with caption: YES
  • Read your synopsis out loud. Read it to your cat. Read it to your partner. Read it to your children. Read it to the postman and refuse to sign for the package he’s trying to deliver until he’s given you feedback. Reading ANY piece of writing aloud helps you to highlight awkward phrasing and repetition and confusing sentences and icky bits that shouldn’t be there.
  • Find a fresh pair of eyes. If you haven’t already, post your damn synopsis on the damn forum for some peer feedback and pick and choose the advice you’re given as appropriate.
  • Show originality. What is that makes your story unique? Agents are looking for fresh voices and ideas – show ’em that your story ain’t like all the others. Draw ’em in with intriguing hints about your characters and the world of your book that they haven’t seen before.
  • Focus on your protagonist. A little obvious, perhaps, but it’s very easy to wander off on a tangent about a subplot or secondary character when you should be keeping the camera firmly fixed on your central protag and their journey. Introduce them as early as possible and follow them all the way to the end.
  • Build tension and pay it off. As well as character development, an agent is looking for the steady development of conflict in your story. The tension of your synopsis should build up and up until you hit your narrative climax – just as it does in your novel.
  • Create atmosphere. Establish the time/setting/tone of your story early on, and try to give a sense of your writing style through word choice and sentence structure.
  • Be concise. Clarity is the aim, here. A confusing synopsis suggests a poorly-constructed plot. Avoid overly long, convoluted sentences and unnecessary details. Stick to the main turning points and major events of the plot and summarise.


Gif of Caroline Rhea from Sabrina the Teenage Witch holding a series of flashcards that all say NO
  • Include too many characters/events. If you try to note down every character in your book the synopsis becomes a huge register of names that end up muddying the plot and confusing the heck out of an agent. Focus on the MAIN characters, and if you must mention a non-central character, try simplifying their involvement with a description rather than a name, for example, ‘her brother’ or ‘his ex-wife’.
  • Add dialogue or excerpts from your book. This is not the time or the place. Your sample pages are there to give an example of your actual writing – your synopsis is there to give an overview of your plot. No matter how tempting, this is a BIG no-no, and ends up looking like a gimmick, or makes no real sense without further context.
  • Go off on unnecessary tangents. We’re trying to be concise, remember? That means staying on track. That means resisting the urge to dwell lovingly on a setting description or add in a whole buttload of backstory – these details may well be very fascinating but when they make your synopsis about three pages too long, that’s a problem. If you waffle in your synopsis, an agent is going to assume that your book ALSO needs a hefty edit…
  • Use parentheses to explain things. Part of the skill of writing a succinct synopsis is the ability to, well, tell the story in a plain, straightforward way. If you feel the need to constantly justify or expand upon the events of your plot, your synop will become convoluted and messy. Eg: “Harry Potter (an orphaned wizard) lives with his aunt and uncle (who are ‘muggles’ – non-magical people) with no clue about what really happened to his parents (who were killed by the evil dark wizard Voldemort – or ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’) or the fact that he has magical powers…” and so on. Exhausting, isn’t it?
  • Review your own story. Synopsis writing can feel very detached from fiction writing, but that doesn’t mean you should editorialise or critique your book. This is not an opportunity to discuss the themes and subtexts of your story, eg: “Using the extended metaphor of a wrecking ball destroying a building, the final chapter explores the fragility of relationships…”  Just, ugh, no.
  • Fail to check for typos and grammatical errors. Ahem. You wouldn’t dream of doing this, would you? No sirree. You’re going to go over that synopsis with a fine-toothed comb until you get rid of every errant comma and mistaken homonym. AREN’T YOU? Yes.

Okay. Ready for another round? Time for the final draft? ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH, DEAR FRIENDS!

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