Synopsis Format

Q: How would I format a synopsis? -Dairesse

In the 2005 edition of Guide to Literary Agents, there’s an excellent article called “The Art of the Synopsis,” which is actually excerpted from The Marshall Plan for Getting Your Novel Published (both from F+W Publications). There’s more information there than I can give you in this short forum, so I’ll try to hit the most important parts. For more detail, you should check out one of those books or another like it.

In The Marshall Plan for Getting Your Novel Published, author and literary agent Evan Marshall suggests writing one page of synopsis for every 25 pages of manuscript. Marshall reminds writers that a synopsis should always be written in the present tense and should always tell your entire story. Think of your synopsis as the mini version of your whole novel.

That said, you shouldn’t rewrite the book or hack paragraphs or pages to shrink your manuscript to synopsis length. Instead, Marshall suggests you organize it like this:


  • The hook (start with your story’s main character, the central conflict, and what he or she must do to overcome or remedy the conflict)
  • The back-up (stop and give a little background information on your character and the conflict that makes the situation clearer)
  • The meat (the plot points and how your character feels at each point)


In terms of technical format, on the first page, the upper right corner should give your novel’s genre. The upper left corner should give your name and contact info. Skip 4 lines, type the title of your novel, skip a line, type “by,” skip a line, and type your name (or pseudonym). Indent your first paragraph and start the text of the synopsis. Double space the entire synopsis.

The headers on subsequent pages should contain the following info in this format: Lastname/Title of Novel/Synopsis page number. (If this is too difficult to visualize, check out the example on page 48 of the 2005 edition of Guide to Literary Agents.)

Lastly, Marshall advises that you not break up your synopsis with headings like “Background” or “Setting” or character sketches. Instead, you should work all these elements smoothly into your synopsis.

Hope my brief summary and primary resources were helpful. Best of luck!

Lauren Mosko, Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market Editor
Writer’s Digest Books