Monday, 19 September 2011

Synopsis Writing 101

Given that the Romance Writers of Australia Selling Synopsis Competition 2011 closes this Friday  ( ) I thought I’d give you a few tips about writing a synopsis for romance fiction.

Synopsis Writing 101
Writing a synopsis can seem daunting and most people dread or even fear doing it, yet it is one of the most important marketing tools for a writer. Here are a few simple rules to make it easier.

*Standard formatting for a synopsis is: double space using a 12 point readable font. Courier New is often used because it is a non-proportional font, i.e. every letter and character takes up the same space whether it’s a full stop/period (.) or the letter W.

In the days of counting words by page count, it was the font of choice. Today word counts are usually done using the computer word count tool. Times New Roman is popular, as is Arial, but you can use any font that is easy to read. Don’t just avoid fancy fonts, don’t use them! While they might look pretty, they are taxing on the eyes and we want to keep the editor as happy and relaxed as possible. 2.5 cm margins all round. Number all pages in the upper right and corner, with a header on the top left corner with: AUTHOR SURNAME/Book Title (e.g. SMITH/The Great Love Story) on each page.

*Check publisher guidelines for the number of pages. Standard synopsis length is either one or two pages, for category romance, depending on the line, or up to ten pages for single title or mainstream manuscripts.

*Print on one side of the paper only.

*Write the synopsis in the present tense. This is an industry standard and makes the reader live the story as it unfolds.

*While we should “show not tell” in our writing, a synopsis is all about telling. Tell the editor EVERYTHING - the entire story. Leaving out details in the hope that the editor will want to read won’t win you any points, and will probably cost you the loss of a contract.

 *For category romance fiction, focus on the growing relationship. The plot is secondary. For single title and mainstream, the plot is more important and all twists and turns must be stated. But no matter what genre your book is aimed at, the emotional growth is the most important part to include in a synopsis. It’s also crucial to tell us when each character realizes s/he is in love with the other.

*The first time you use the heroine or hero’s name in the synopsis, type it in CAPITAL letters. Do this only the first time.

#1--A hook that defines the general tone/plot of your story, like you'd like
to see on the back cover of your book. This could be the basic premise or theme of your story. If your book is humorous, then make this humorous. The hook does not contain description or background.

#2--Introduce the heroine and what she wants (goal). Introduce the hero and
what he wants (goal). These two can be in any order.

#3--What's throwing them together (present conflicts e.g.  jobs, mutual family
problems like they need to look after their dead sibling's children, etc)

#4--What's keeping the heroine and hero apart? (Inner emotional conflicts - past broken
relationships: Why must the heroine absolutely never fall in love again - especially with someone like the hero? And vice versa.


Without conflict there is no book!  

#5--How do the heroine and hero eventually get together (resolution). And you MUST tell the editor how everything is resolved. Everything must be tied up neatly in a satisfying way. If you can link it somehow with the opening hook so you come a full 360, all the better.

In between points 1 to 5, include the growing attraction, the blossoming relationship and character growth.

Simple, right?  With practice, it can be. Good luck!

This article can also be found on the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild Website in the articles section:


  1. Thanks Serena, great help for those of us struggling with out dreaded synopsis.

    Good luck to those entering RWA's Selling Synopsis Comp.


  2. Hi Serena

    Thank you for that great overview.

    When writing a category synopsis it's so easy to get bogged down in the plot rather than what editors want to see - the emotional development of the characters and their unfolding romance.

    It helps to be reminded what to focus on and how the body of the synopsis should be structured.

    Now off to the drawing board...!


  3. Hi Serena,
    Thanks for this. Just the shot in the arm I need right now!

  4. Hi Margaret,
    I think just about everyone struggles with synopses. I really think they were invented so that only people who are REALLY motivated to get published will submit :) Having said that, if you break down a category romance synopsis to add in all the relationship bits and only include the major plot points, you're on your way!

    Thanks for dropping in.

  5. Hi Michelle,
    So glad you found it helpful. Good luck with it!

    Thanks for coming in and saying hi.

  6. Hi Louise,
    Always happy to do that :)
    Thanks for saying hi.

  7. Thanks Serena :) I'm in the process of regathering and rewriting an MS that I've resurrected after it's been on the shelf gathering dust for some time. Your advice has arrived with perfect timing.

  8. Hi Serena,
    Great blog very timely and informative.



  9. Hi Juanita,
    Thanks for that.I hope my advice helps :)

    Nice to have you visit here.

  10. Hi Margaret,
    Thanks for the praise :) And thanks for calling in.

  11. What fantastic advice, thanks Serena!

  12. Thanks for the wonderful breakdown and handling tips, Serena! Can't wait to try them out for my next story!!!

  13. Hi Nas,
    Thank you so much and thanks for promoting my blog :)

  14. Hi Ju,
    Thanks for the lovely praise. I hope people find the article helpful.
    Thanks for dropping in and saying hi.