Home page  |  More useful articles  |  Search for more information | Writing articles
Purple Crayon Bookstores

Anatomy of a Synopsis

by Cynthea Liu

Here it is: the dreaded synopsis. A synopsis is a one-page, single-spaced, summary of your book (beginning, middle, end). Typically written in third person, present tense. This is the C LIU rule of thumb. You'll hear all different answers on this one. But when guidelines don't say anything more than "synopsis," this is my definition. Note: synopses should only apply to chaptered books/novels. Writing one for a PB is kind of silly.

Now let's deconstruct this horrible document.

Points to remember:

* The synopsis should give the reader a clear idea of what happens in the story (no cliffhangers)
* It should also be interesting to read.
* It focuses on the main characters and the driving plot. It touches on minor characters and subplots as they relate to the driving plot.

Parts of a synopsis

* Beginning - paragraph one
* Middle - paragraphs two-three-four
* End - paragraph five.

That wasn't so hard was it? If you keep a guideline like this in your head, you won't find yourself writing eight paragraphs to describe what happens at the beginning. You'll know what you're shooting for even if the final synopsis doesn't completely follow this structure. The idea is: Write some for the beginning, some more for the middle, and less for the end. This is exactly correlated to your book, too. Isn't it? (hopefully).

Let's break it down.


sets up the context. The reader should have some idea of who the main character(s) is, how old he/she might be, the setting (if it's important), and the 'event' or 'circumstances' that led you to start the book there.
Note: pardon the ridiculous example. This is totally off the cuff. I need coffee now.


describes chain of events leading to the climax. You will be writing around three paragraphs. You might organize the paragraphs according to character's obstacles—say, if you've put your MC through a set of three terrible things. Or by season, if your book happens over summer, winter, and fall. Or progression of the struggle, like my example. Find a way to divide the middle of your book into workable parts to summarize.


describes the climax and then the resolution. How it ends. If possible, show the story comes full circle.

I'm now going to refer you to a place where you'll see REAL examples of synopses. After you read a thousand of them, you'll understand what's a good synopsis and what's a bad one.


Articles by Cynthea Liu.

Related resources on The Purple Crayon can be found on the Writing Articles Index page.

Comments? Questions that weren't answered? Contact me.

This article is copyright © Cynthea Liu and may not be reproduced without permission. Single copies may be printed out for personal, non-commercial use.

I hope you have found this page and this site useful. Please visit The Purple Crayon Bookstores page to find some recommended bookstores and to learn how to support this site while doing your usual online shopping. Thank you.

Crayon tiphomearticlesCrayon end
Home page | Articles index