By Liz Rettig

A synopsis is a brief summary of your book written in the present tense which is submitted along with sample chapters and covering letter to agents or publishers. Sounds simple right?

Yeah right! This dire task has driven authors to the brink of madness. I mean, how are you supposed to condense your subtle, intricate, insightful manuscript to a mere couple of pages? And moreover how can such a brief summary persuade an agent or editor that your book is the new literary masterpiece or bestselling blockbuster they’ve been looking for?

Fear not; help is at hand. Firstly don’t panic! If your manuscript is really that good then you’ll probably be forgiven for a less than perfect synopsis as long as you don’t make a total hog’s supper of it. Here are a few basic rules about what to include and even more importantly, what not to include in your synopsis.

What to include:

A short description (around twenty to thirty words) saying what your story is essentially about e.g. “Science student Victor Frankenstein creates life from inanimate material but his creation turns into a monster which sets about destroying everything he loves.” or “Young governess Jane Eyre falls in love with her dark brooding employer but when she discovers his terrible secret she must decide whether to stay or leave.”

An introduction to your main characters conflicts e.g. “Mr Darcy’s attraction to lively, witty Elizabeth Bennett grows despite his serious reservations about what he regards as her inferior family connections.”

Setting – especially if this is vital to your story. Does the action takes place in an eighteenth century English country mansion, a Baghdad slum, or an intergalactic spaceship? Put it down.

The basic plot including ending. Don’t be coy about giving away the latter. If your heroine gets married and lives happily ever after, throws herself in front of a train in despair, or realises she’s gay and runs off with the hero’s sister, your agent and editor will want to know.

Who your book would appeal to. And be realistic. Don’t say “everyone”. Mills and Boon romances are unlikely to be read by young male Goths, and vicious crime stories of rape, murder and mutilation are mostly enjoyed by well, um, women actually, especially little old ladies, so do your research. Note: It’s important for non-fiction that all of the above is woven into a seamless narrative. No lists.

What to leave out:

Detailed subplots


Minor characters

Endorsements of your manuscript from any or all of the following: your mum / wife / husband / best friend / boyfriend / girlfriend / creative writing group. Agents and publishers don’t know them and won’t care.

Self glorification e.g. “This rollicking roller coaster fantasy adventure will have readers enthralled – sure to be the greatest publishing phenomenon since Harry Potter.”

Here’s one I did earlier…

Since synopses are usually only read by agents and editors, examples can be hard to come by for those not involved in the publishing business so I thought you might like to see the one I wrote for my debut novel “My Desperate Love Diary”.

I’m not pretending that this is a perfect synopsis (I probably should have made it less detailed and added that the book was likely to appeal to female readers who like a bit of fun and romance) but it was successful. From a never-been-published wannabe author I was signed by a top agent and published by Random House. At the very least the synopsis couldn’t have put them off! So have a nosy and see what you think. If you’ve got any comments or questions about this article please email ME and I’ll get back to you ASAP.


This novel is an account of the anguish and idiocies of first love.

Kelly Ann is a fifteen year old Glasgow schoolgirl who is saving up her pocket money for breast implants and is obsessed with winning the love of good looking laddish fellow pupil whom she identifies only as G ‘and that isn’t even his real initial’ in her diary.

Whilst G cynically uses Kelly Ann only to borrow money from and complete homework assignments for him, she is blind to any of his faults and perceives him as perfect.

Meanwhile the hero Chris, another fellow pupil, is ‘secretly’ in love with her although everyone bar Kelly Ann is aware of it. She is oblivious to his feelings as well as his good looks, intelligence and charm as she has known him since early childhood and sees him just as a friend, or as Kelly Ann puts it, she would no more think of kissing him that snogging her own brother if she had one.

Kelly Ann has two best friends Stephanie and Liz who are openly scathing of Kelly Ann’s desire for ‘tosser’ G but nevertheless are fiercely loyal and supportive of her.

Stephanie came to Kelly Ann’s comprehensive school after being expelled from her private boarding school for having sex with the school gardener’s son and calling the head mistress a frustrated old bag. According to Stephanie she would have got away with it if she hadn’t said ‘old’. Stephanie is a nymphet whose main interest is sex, most especially with rough, working class boys.

Liz is a plump busty teenager whose obsessions are diets and psychology. Diets typically fail within hours due to Liz’s tendency to reward herself for abstemious behaviour with ‘just one’ chocolate, slice of pizza, etc. Liz’s attempts at psychological counselling are not always appreciated by her client victims who are subjected to typically unflattering analyses of their problems and shortcomings whether they asked for them or not.

However Julian, Stephanie’s skinny but well endowed brother is willing to put up with Liz’s counselling sessions provided she wears her tight white lycra top or the black lace bustier. Julian is a laid back computer genius who has no ambitions other than the overthrow of capitalism, maintaining his generous allowance from capitalist portaloo manufacturer father, and winning of Liz’s affections.

The support of this circle of friends is important in helping Kelly Ann deal not only with the vicissitudes of her love life (or often lack of it) but also to cope with problems within her family.

Her older sister, whom Kelly Ann refers to by the acronym MNP or Miss No Personality, blots her perfectionist copybook by falling pregnant by her equally boring boyfriend Graham. This plunges Kelly Ann’s mother who had just turned forty, into a midlife crisis which starts by her wearing boob tubes and having her navel pierced, and culminates in her leaving Kelly Ann’s father for a toy boy Spanish waiter. Kelly Ann is mortified by her mother’s behaviour, especially the affair with the waiter which, as Kelly Ann observes, makes it obvious to everyone that at least one of her parents must still have sex.

Aside from her parents, the most influential adult character is English teacher Mrs Conner whose husband has left her for his secretary. After this desertion Mrs Conner changes her name to Ms Conner and becomes a vehemently anti-male feminist. She proceeds to base the English curriculum for all her pupils entirely around these new found beliefs. Thus studies of love sonnets, plays and novels are abandoned in favour of discursive essays with titles such as ‘Romantic love – A Noble Ideal or Just Another Tool for the Oppression of Women’. Discuss.

Yet it is when Ms Conner casts Chris and Kelly Ann as a couple having a torrid affair in the school Christmas play (scripted by Ms Conner and described by her as a ‘gritty existential modern alternative nativity story’) that Kelly Ann’s suppressed sexual feelings for Chris begin to be released. She resists these at first in her single minded pursuit of G but in the end realises that Chris, not G, is her true love.

The humour in the book is strongly character based. Kelly Ann’s almost complete lack of insight into her own personality and other people’s true motivations coupled with her adolescent proclivity to react to events with either wild optimism or catastrophic despair is the basis for much of the absurdity, mayhem and emotional angst in the novel.

Kelly Ann is forced to develop a degree of maturity in order to take care of her sister and father after her mother’s departure. However by the end of the novel she is still essentially na├»ve. Therefore whilst the story ends happily as she is united with Chris, in the very last page there is a hint of trouble to come as Kelly Ann anticipates a ‘perfect’ future relationship with Chris free of any disagreement and based on total mutual empathy. This ending is intended to form the basis of a sequel.

Liz Rettig

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