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Many agents and publishers will want to see a synopsis of your story before agreeing to take you on. Make sure you check their web site for their specific preferences. Synopsis length is the main variable; some recipients only want half a page; others will accept up to four pages.

Use the checklists below to plan and write your synopsis, then go over them again to make sure you haven’t accidentally overlooked anything.

Before using these checklists, please consider the general usage tips and warnings.


  • Cover whole story (including ending)
  • Avoid mentioning sub-plot(s) (unless space permits)
  • Sequence is nominally same as story (including revelations)
  • Disentangle sub-plot (and minor character) strands and put in separate paras
  • Start with protagonist, their crisis and goal
  • Describe protagonist near start
  • Indicate setting near start
  • Ensure nature of core conflict(s) is clear
  • Indicate main themes
  • Ensure basic plot (including twists) is clear. (There’s no need to mention all scenes.)
  • Include examples of protagonist’s struggles and antagonist’s counters
  • Include final crisis; how protagonist succeeds/fails with respect to story goal
  • Emphasise what happens, not necessarily how
  • Include emotions/suspense
  • Include surprise(s)
  • Include characters’ motivations
  • Indicate character development
  • Bring out what’s new/original
  • Avoid excessive events (ie, not ‘this happened then that happened…’)
  • Avoid mentioning minor characters


  • Third-person present
  • Don't use headings
  • Don't indicate chapter breaks
  • Use paragraphs (shorter towards end)
  • Use simple language
  • Use short(ish) sentences, especially towards end
  • Tell, rather than show
  • Minimal/no dialog
  • Always refer to each character the same way
  • Convey a sense of voice and tone
  • Make the story ’come alive‘, rather than ’this happened then that happened‘. Use transitions; make it flow.
  • Use clichés for brevity where required.


  • 25–30 mm margins
  • Font: Times Roman 12pt
  • Double spaced
  • First page header:
    • Left side: name, address, telephone number(s), email address
    • Right side: genre, word count (to nearest 100), ‘Synopsis’
  • Subsequent page headers (right-justified): surname / title (shortened if need be) in CAPS / Synopsis / page number
  • Title: bold, centred, two blank lines above and below
  • Left-justify paragraphs
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph by 1.2 cm
  • Don’t put extra blank lines between paragraphs
  • Write characters’ names in CAPS on first use
  • Length: 1—2 pages (approx. 1000 words)
  • If too long, consider (and repeat):
    • Trim paragraphs (especially long paragraphs) that have short last lines
    • Merge adjacent paragraphs
  • Print single-sided


Peter McLennan
12 My Street
Kiewa, VIC, 3691
(02) 6027 1234

Young Adult
43,000 words


JASON is appalled when he hears the Prime Minister, MR LINDSAY, downplay global warming. He wishes he could do something about it, but there’s not much that a thirteen-year-old in a small coastal town can do.

Despite being a quiet student, Jason is intolerant and gets into trouble for calling his…

McLennan / WHO WILL SAVE / Synopsis / 2

and gets hassled in public for being selfish. However, he sticks to his original request, thinking it isn’t selfish to do something good for people even if they don’t want it. You just have to be sure you’re right…


Australian Writer’s Marketplace Online, Tips for Submitting Manuscripts.

Bransford, N., How to Write a Synopsis.

Bransford, N., Query Letters

Freestyle Literary Agency, Tips for submitting to Freestyle LA (off line?).

Hamley, S., How to get an Agent.

Haynes, S., How to get an agent.

Kilian, C. 1998, Writing science fiction and fantasy, 2nd edn, Self-Counsel Press, Bellingham, USA; pp. 172, 176–177.

Laufenberg, C. and Neff, J. 2004, Formatting & submitting your manuscript, 2nd edn, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, p. 131.

Lisle, Holly, How do you write the synopsis…?.

Marshall, E. 2004, Novel writing: 16 steps to success, 2nd edn, A&C Black, London; pp. 185–190.

Miss Snark, #98 Crapometer.

Miss Snark, 2005_12_25 Archive.

Perlberg, D. 2006, Writing for young adults, Alpha Books, New York; pp. 237, 274.

Queensland Writers’ Centre, Writing a Synopsis.

Sambuchino, C., Guide to Literary Agents (Synopsis Writing).