First Aid for the Dreaded Synopsis

Photo of a writer using a computer, possibly working on a synopsis of her manuscript to send to a publisher

Last fall a reader suggested I blog about something she struggles with — the dreaded summary / synopsis that publishers and agents often ask for.

How do you go about compressing 40,000-80,000 words into 500-1000?

I could tell you I just read through a manuscript and try to come up with a few sentences that sum up what happens in each chapter. Chances are if you’re already doing that, you’re finding the result as interesting as a dried out piece of cheese.

So, to the internet for a better answer. Judging by the number of related questions that came up when I began typing “how to write a summary…,” the fellow writer who reads my blog posts and I are not the only ones at a loss for how to do it effectively.

Many sites offer what looks like good advice, including Master Class, whose classes I’ve often looked at but never taken. Jane Friedman’s how-to article might be even more useful. (She helped me understand the dried cheese phenomenon.)

I suspect that however helpful these sites or others might be, you would far rather be writing another book than a summary of what you’ve already written. But that dreaded task can itself be an important step in the writing of your book — after a first draft, a subsequent draft, and even when you’re on the brink of sending it out. Even trying to summarize a plot (just one part of writing a synopsis) can help you identify where it flags, where cause and effect connections between events are lacking, whether the ending fulfills the promise of the beginning, and so much more.

Give it a try. You might be surprised what you find! You might see the need for another round of revision, but isn’t that better that than sending out a project prematurely?

More of my blog posts about writing

Whether you'll be writing in the coming weeks or just relaxing — travelling or staying close to home — I wish you a wonderful summer with plenty of hours for reading lots of good books. If you'd like to recommend one to me, please feel free!

Share this post:

Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson


  1. Wendy Mason Geoghegan on June 19, 2024 at 2:59 pm

    I so enjoy your wisdom and of course all of your books. You asked for a book that I just read. It is lovely. Entitled You Are Loved by Sujean Rim.

  2. Kathy Stinson on June 19, 2024 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you for the title and author, Wendy. You Are Loved looks like a lovely little book. Happy reading!

Leave a Comment

Please read my Privacy Policy before commenting/subscribing.