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Friday, 2 February 2018

How do you write a successful synopsis? Jane Holland will tell you how! .@janeholland1 .@rararesources #Psychological #books #crime #britishbooks

  How To Write A Successful Synopsis

Jane Holland 

Everyone hates writing a synopsis. For starters, the word sounds like a legal document. But it’s actually very simple. A synopsis is a selling document, written by an author for a publishing professional, to answer a number of vital questions for that reader. One, can this writer structure a story correctly? Two, is this story likely to sell? i.e. does it fit the current market for its genre? Three, am I interested in this story and these characters enough to want to represent or publish this writer?

The problem is, there’s no definitive way to write one. Some authors always do it one way, others change their approach according to the novel. Even publishing professionals have wildly differing requirements from a synopsis. Most want a one-page precis of your story; others prefer a more leisurely two pages; and a few like to know everything that happens.

My advice to a newish writer, especially one approaching an agent for representation, would be to stick to a one-page, single-spaced prĂ©cis. Maybe 500 words. And tell them the ending. Yes, including any devilish twists. You won’t spoil the surprise. Agents and editors don’t want to be surprised. If your mild-mannered hero is revealed in the final third to be an assassin who’s lost his memory, tell them. If he saves the world in the end, tell them. Don’t conclude your synopsis with, ‘But can he defuse the bomb in time?’ This isn’t a blurb. They need to know everything.

Everything, that is, with direct impact on the story. They don’t need to know about Aunt Mabel, even if your hero does save her from being eaten by an escaped pteradactyl. Unless that’s the life-altering event that triggers him into abandoning a life of crime for a Buddhist monastery. So no minor story events, no funny anecdotes, no lesser characters. You just don’t have the space.

And while the synopsis needs to be written in a simple, straightforward way, remember they are buying you as a writer. Yes, avoid rhetorical flourish. But do write with confidence and aplomb, even panache. Make them trust you. You can make them laugh too. But sparingly. Unless it’s a children’s book or a comic novel, avoid jokes or enjoying your own prose quirks too much. No bullet points or wacky margins and fonts; no over-use of italics or bold. No character lists. No single paragraph of dense text. Three or four short paragraphs is probably best.

When introducing a character, avoid over-describing them. Selling document, remember? They are looking to fit your book into a niche. So ‘Barbara (23), a small-town librarian’ in a romance is probably all they need to introduce your heroine. No need to tell them about her wavy golden hair or her daily struggle to avoid cake. Unless it impacts the plot. (You know the drill by now.) And keep character description consistent. Your hero in this story should not be ‘Mark Paul Hubbert, a thirty-year-old fitness fanatic with a love of gerbils and a fascinating job in the music industry’.

And if you’re thinking, age isn’t relevant in my story, age is always relevant for main characters. Because age is relevant to the readership. Imagine if Mark had been 70 here. Or Barbara 17. See what I’m saying?

When structuring your synopsis, it should be a fairly linear retelling. However, this doesn’t mean it needs to be dull or prosaic. Imagine you’re telling a friend in a pub about your story – ‘There’s this geezer, see, and he’s lost his memory!’ – then recast that conversation in less slangy language, and in the present tense. Make it sound inviting. It should also show cause and effect, if possible. ‘When wage-slave Bob wins the lottery, he’s finally free to fulfil his boyhood dream of running a zoo. But his wife Jane has other intentions.’    

A synopsis should normally be constructed the same way you plot a novel. Certainly there needs to be a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end. This isn’t the place for experimental structure. You need to set out the ordinary world of your story as it begins – that could be as short and sweet as the example above, eg. ‘wage-slave Bob’ – but quickly explain what happens to change this status quo – ‘Bob wins the lottery’. Then you need the middle stuff, i.e. Jane’s own ‘intentions’ for their winnings, and how that conflict plays out between them.

The synopsis should show an escalation towards the end of the middle section, where things get really bad. Maybe Jane leaves Bob. Or steals his money. Or Bob gets his dream zoo, but the animals escape – maybe Jane lets them out! – or Jane runs off with the elephant keeper, and he’s so stressed by dealing with everything alone, Bob ends up in hospital. Then explain how these conflicts and problems are resolved, so their story can end in a clear-cut way.

A synopsis often feels awkward to write, and even to read. So don’t beat yourself up about it too much, or get bogged down in trying to cover too much in one short document. I’m sure some people will hate this, but I often pop a one-line teaser or tagline at the top, so an editor can ‘get’ my book at a glance before reading the synopsis. But you might want to save that for when you have a relationship with the reader it’s going to.

Forget Her Name

Rachel’s dead and she’s never coming back. Or is she?

As she prepares for her wedding to Dominic, Catherine has never been happier or more excited about her future. But when she receives an anonymous package—a familiar snow globe with a very grisly addition—that happiness is abruptly threatened by secrets from her past.

Amazon.UK | Amazon.com
Her older sister, Rachel, died on a skiing holiday as a child. But Rachel was no angel: she was vicious and highly disturbed, and she made Catherine’s life a misery. Catherine has spent years trying to forget her dead sister’s cruel tricks. Now someone has sent her Rachel’s snow globe—the first in a series of ominous messages…

While Catherine struggles to focus on her new life with Dominic, someone out there seems intent on tormenting her. But who? And why now? The only alternative is what she fears most.

Is Rachel still alive?

About the author

Jane Holland is a Gregory Award–winning poet and novelist who also writes commercial fiction under the pseudonyms Victoria Lamb, Elizabeth Moss, Beth Good and Hannah Coates.

Her debut thriller, Girl Number One, hit #1 in the UK Kindle Store in December 2015. Jane lives with her husband and young family near the North Cornwall/Devon border.

A homeschooler, her hobbies include photography and growing her own vegetables.


  1. Thanks so much for this! Hope it's useful to fellow writers out there. The US link to this book on Amazon is: https://www.amazon.com/Forget-Her-Name-gripping-thriller-ebook/dp/B073TTLYQV
    All the best, Jane

  2. Ooooh, broken link. All mended now. Best wishes with the book. It looks amazing!