Elements of a Good Synopsis

I know for a lot of us, writing a synopsis is more daunting than actually writing the story. Today, we’re going to go over some elements that need to be included in a synopsis, and then I’m going to give you a short formula to remember in order ensure all those elements are included.


  • CONFLICT: The number one thing that must be conveyed in a synopsis, whether the synopsis be 1 to 2 pages, or a chapter by chapter, is CONFLICT. A story isn’t good without conflict, and so you must show the editor that you have woven a story rife with conflict.
  • SETTING: The editor needs to know the time and place of the novel. Be sure to include the significance of the setting if it’s important to the story. Is there are reason you set your novel in 1850s California, or could you have told the same story if you’d set it in 1850’s Louisiana?
  • MOTIVATION: Next, you must show your characters’ motivations. These are the things that shore up the conflict, and they must be believable. If your hero is a recluse and your heroine is reporter trying to get the scoop on the hero, then that sounds like great conflict BUT the reason your hero is a recluse must be believable. He can’t be a recluse solely because that is a great opposite to the reporter getting the story. And your reporter heroine can’t be dogging the hero for a story just because it’s a great opposite to a reclusive hero—She’s got to want the story for some fantastic reason that makes the reader want to find out what happens. Perhaps she thinks the hero is a murderer and has become reclusive just to save himself from jail, and so she vows to uncover him—to make the motivation stronger, maybe she’s related to the deceased. Then her motivation for exposing him is even greater than “just a prize-winning story.” Whatever your character’s motivations are for doing whatever it is they are doing in the story have to be believable, and they have to be complex enough to sustain the story’s word count. Which brings us to our next element which is
  • LOGICAL PROGRESSION: Make sure that you present your climaxes and crises in the order in which they appear in the manuscript. This helps show that you have a firm hold on the story and that your story weaving will build from start to conclusion, rather than being choppy and confusing. You don’t want the editor to think that you plug in a scene or conflict just when you think of it along the way—as in. “BTW, the reason I’m writing this now is because this happened earlier and I forgot to tell you.” Logical progression also means showing the growth and change of character. Your broken hero can’t suddenly be fixed at the end without showing the means by which he got fixed. It’s not enough to say, “My hero doesn’t know how to love, but by the end of the story, he learns how.” You have to show what experiences are in the book that teach him how to love. And these don’t have to be bulleted points.
  • RESOLUTION: Just as you have to show the logical growth and change in the characters, you also have to convey a satisfying and believable resolution to the conflicts you’ve created. How does the recluse get over his need to separate himself? How does the reporter come to realize that she’s tagged the wrong man solely because of her desire for vengeance? What events happen in the book that help the issues resolve?
  • FORMATTING: Once you have all your content in mind, it’s time to format and write. Your synopsis should be double spaced, with a header that clearly defines title-Synopsis in one upper corner, your name and page number (if more than one page) in the other upper corner. 1 to 1 ½ inch margins all the way around

Once you have all these things in your mind, you’ll be able to weave a provocative synopsis.

Okay, now we’ve looked at the elements that have to be in a synopsis, let’s look at a good way to put it all together. First, let me say that there is no one way to write a synopsis, no magic formula. In that respect, it’s a lot like writing your story. The synopsis has to convey your own writing style, and so it has to be unique. That said, there is a type of formula to keep in mind so that all the necessary elements are included. This is a formula that is designed for short synopses—1 or 2 pages. A chapter by chapter synopsis should automatically convey all the elements we looked at above, soley because you’re outlining step by step, and if you’ve written a good story that’s cohesive, has great character development and a satisfying ending, then a chapter by chapter synopsis should fall into place.

Anyway, to write a short synopsis, keep in mind four words: hero, heroine, conflict, resolution. And, keep in mind we’re looking at this for a romance synopsis. If you’re writing something like suspense, you’ll want to adjust that to: Hero, Villain, Conflict, Resolution. Or maybe Hero, Victim, Conflict, Resolution. It will depend on where your strongest characters and plot drivers are.

So: In the opening, introduce the hero (or heroine) being sure to include his motivations and emotions. Next, introduce the heroine and her motivations. After you’ve done that, introduce the conflict that is between them. It is important to note that oftentimes the conflict will be (and maybe, even should be) woven into the introductions of the hero and heroine. The conflict being more separated from these introductions usually comes in a mystery/suspense novel because the conflicts can be more external then—the murder or other crime which initially throws the H/H together—but in that type of novel there are usually more internal conflicts as well, and these will be introduced while showing the H/H’s motivations.

Lastly, describe the Conflict resolution. How does everything wrap up to reach the logical end of the story.

It may sound a little daunting, but just remember, you write a synopsis the same way you would tell your friends and family about your book. “It’s about this guy named Joe who [insert motivations here]” And then he meets this girl who [insert motivations here], but they can’t get together because [insert conflict here] but [this happens and that happens {plot progressions}] and so at the end [insert resolution].
Now, here's something that may surprise you--and I'm sure this isn't all editors, but a good number of us are this way--I don't read the synopsis first--not in it's entirety, anyway. If I don't know an author, I will skim to make sure the queried submission is a romance. If it doesn't sound as though it is, I'll read more carefully to find out. If it does sound like a romance, I will go directly to the partial. I want to read as a reader would--not knowing what's going to happen in the story down the line. It helps me to know better how a reader will react to the story--which is what it's all about, right?

That said, I do need a synopsis on hand, so that, as I'm reading, if something strikes me as odd or confusing, I can use the synopsis as a reference to see how the issue is going to be handled. So, it is important, even when submitting to an editor or agent who may not read it straight away, to have a cohesive and good synopsis.

Happy Writing, everyone!


  1. Thanks, Nicola.

    I’m glad you don’t read the synopsis first. Even when I judge contests with it pasted at the front I leave it until last, hoping by that time I’ll be desperate to know how the story ends!

    It’s hard at first to not put in every detail, but when you reach seven or eight pages you know you’ve overdone it. I now force myself to no more than three, and prefer two. Amazing what you can cut out when you try.

    Now – if only I could improve my query letters!

  2. Bless you, Nicola, for posting this blog! I've never met another writer who doesn't dread writing the synopsis. This information is so helpful!!!

    Blessings, Teri

    Teri Wilson ~ Romancing the pet lover's soul


  3. Elizabeth: Queries are daunting, also--as are blurbs. I think in a future post, I'll try to address both of those issues.

    Teri: YVW. I've often heard it said that writing a synopsis is harder than writing the entire novel--and I think I agreee with that! :)

  4. I definitely find writing the novel far easier, but this helps a lot. Thank you.

  5. Nicola,

    Thank you so much for the information. I've learned so much from you already, I can't wait to learn more! :)

    Wendy Davy