Today’s post is written by Tamara Fickas.

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Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to write a novel. She planned and plotted and wrote and revised. Her story took form and she began to envision large advance checks and immediate fame as an author.

When the novel was done she put it in an envelope and mailed it off to a publisher. The publisher took pity on the poor thing who had poured her soul into this work of great magnificence.  Mr. Publisher wrote her a note:

Dear Girl Who Wants to Write a Novel,

I applaud your efforts. However, you have much to learn. I can’t accept this manuscript because I am much too busy to read it.

I am prepared to offer a few words of advice. Write a proposal for this book. It will also need a synopsis. When that is done you may return your proposal and synopsis to me with three sample chapters.

I wish you well.


Mr. Very Busy Publisher

The girl who wanted to write a novel sat down and cried. She had no idea that to sell a novel you had to do anything other than write the book. She put her novel in a drawer and took up knitting.

Some days I feel like that girl, but I keep plugging forward to learn the nuts and bolts of selling my book to a publisher or agent.  I’m currently studying hard to learn how to write a stunning synopsis for my novel.

Each year the ACFW holds a contest called Genesis. The contest is aptly named since the object is to submit the first chapter of your book. It sounded simple enough until I got to the part about submitting a synopsis with that first chapter. Easy-peasy. Yeah, not so much.

Having talked to other beginning writers I’ve found that writing a synopsis is somewhat of a mystery to the novice. It has been for me. So, I’ve done some research and in this post I would like to share some tidbits of information that may help if you’re in a similar situation. I found a chapter in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing by the Editors of Writers Digest to be very helpful in my quest to write a good synopsis.

First off, what is a synopsis? gives this definition: a brief summary of the plot of a novel, motion picture, play, etc.

Sounds simple enough, but how brief is brief?  For Genesis it must be one page or less. For queries and proposals it can be longer.

The trick to a synopsis is to tell the whole story of what is going to happen in the novel. It needs to introduce the protagonist and tell what they want as well as what stands in the way of getting that desire.

Once your main character has been set up, and then move on to a chronological telling of the main events. As novel writers our first thought is to not tell all the secrets so that the reader has an impetus to keep reading. In a synopsis we need to spill all the secrets. This isn’t meant for the general public so it’s okay to tell all. The goal is to give an agent or publisher enough so that they will know if it fits with what they are looking for. Save the surprises for the book.

Tell, don’t show. How many times have you heard that?  Not often, I can guarantee that. In novel writing the caveat is to show, don’t tell. In the synopsis it is okay to tell what is going to happen. For example, in a synopsis you would say something like this: Pete was angry with his wife for leaving him so he pushed her car into the river. In a novel you would set this scene up and show Pete’s anger as opposed to coming right out and saying it.

After you have revealed all the details you need to tie everything up. Don’t leave anything hanging. The publisher or agent needs to know that the boy gets the girl or the cop succeeds in arresting the villain.

Start to finish, a synopsis tells the story in a concise narrative form. This is a skill that aspiring novelists like myself need to work on and perfect. Each book we write will need one and the better the synopsis is the better chance our books have of hitting the bookstore shelves.

The Genesis Contest deadline is March 2, 2012 so there is still time to enter. You can find more info on the ACFW web site Genesis page.

Have you written a synopsis for a novel? What words of advice do you have for others about the process?