The Girlfriend’s Guide to Writing a Synopsis

April 11, 2011 | Writing Business, Agents and Editors | 2 comments

If you ask a writer what they hate about writing, writing a synopsis may very well be their answer. Why do writers hate writing a synopsis of their book? I mean they wrote the book. They know the book. Hopefully, they at least somewhat like the book.   I think it’s because writing a book and being creative are right brain function. However, plotting is a left brain function. And writing a synopsis requires BOTH right and left brain skills. (Recent studies that say this right brain/left brain thing aside…)

Left Brain Functions Right Brain Function
Logical and Sequential Random
Rational Intuitive
Analytical Holistic Synthesizing
Objective Subjective
Look at parts Looks at wholes

Plotters vs. Pantsers, Why both have problems when writing a synopsis

Plotters divide their story and characters into smaller parts. They analyze the parts and try to come up with a logical and sequential series of events for that story.

Pantsers dive into the writing of the story, taking on the whole rather than starting with the parts. They relish the random. They don’t know what a character is going to say until she says it.

These are two very different approaches. And you need both to write a synopsis.

Two types of (bad) synopses

I’ve seen two types of bad synopses.

The first is a dry list of events. This happens, then this happens, followed by that. The worst of this type of bad synopsis features a chapter-by-chapter, blow-by-blow of the book.

These synopses may tell you things that happen in the story, but they don’t tell you the story and they certainly don’t give you any flavor, the voice of the author or feel for the characters—and those things are important. Those things make a book.

The second type of bad synopsis I see, and I actually see this one the most, has no plot to follow. Things happen, but they don’t seem tied together. The events mentioned don’t work toward some common goal. There are characters outlined, but you can’t even determine whose story this is.

These synopses are just a conglomeration of events and characters with no path. Again, there is no story, just sketches which do not make a story.

writing a synopsis

What you need for a good synopsis

So when writing a synopsis, (a good one) you need to take these two types of bad synopses and weave them together. You have to tell us the events in a linear fashion, including only the key scenes that are important to the main journey in the book (at least to start) and you have to let us hear your voice and come to love your characters.

And, yes, I believe everyone can do this.

You just have to break the synopsis writing down into its parts.

Be left brained. Plot. Work out your key scenes being as analytical and dry as you like.

Then, once you have that down, release the right side of your brain. Read through that dry list you have created and pretend to TELL someone about these events. Put yourself in a café talking to your best friend. How would you tell him or her about this event? Write that down.

When you have done both of these things, you will have a synopsis that both tells us the important events of the book, but also shows us the flavor of the book. You will have a synopsis that makes us want to read the book!

Ready to submit? Move to the next step with 25 Questions to Ask a Literary Agent, or How to Write a Query Letter.


Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check out her books at and Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.


  1. Melissa Haffner

    Lori, no wonder it took me a while to do the synopsis, I need to use the left side more. Thanks for the info.

  2. Lori Devoti

    That is what most authors do, Mel. They think of their book as a whole and try to put the whole thing in the synopsis. I taught a class on this this weekend and we discussed plot points for To Kill A Mockingbird. I pointed out you could leave Boo out of the synopsis although he is certainly a part of the book. Instead you could just concentrate on the points involving Atticus and Tom Robinson. Especially for a short synopsis, it would keep the plot clean and it would still make you want to read that book! (The whole point of a synopsis.) Now for a longer one, I would probably but Boo in. He is part of Scout’s arc. But the meat is about the trial, etc.