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Writing Books/synopsis length for fiction


Hello Vincent,

Another question for you.  In preparing my synopsis, Iíve been trying to determine the appropriate length.  Iíve found answers ranging from 1 page for every 25 manuscript pages, no more than 5 pages, between 5-10 pages, between 10-25 pages for plot heavy fiction, all agents agree - the shorter the better.  So this pretty much leaves me with my head spinning.  Unless Iíve missed something, there doesnít seem to be a steadfast rule to me and knowing which length is required will dictate my approach when writing it.  With my current novel at some 200,000 words, you can see Iíve got about 25-30 page synopsis on my hands if I go with the advice Iíve seen in two books, but if 10 pages is max, then I have to focus on condensing.  Any ideas?   Should I contact the appropriate agent for their criteria if this is required with a query?  However, in doing this, then I could possibly have a million different versions, or at least 4 or so according to the information Iíve found above.


You're absolutely right that there's no hard and fast rule with regard to synopsis length.  However, yes... "the shorter the better"... and that pertains not just to your synopsis, but to everything, including your novel itself.

However... that STILL means the same thing as what your teachers in school told you about lengths of papers you had to write: "However long it takes to write it."

In other words, do the story justice (both in the novel and the synopsis), while keeping it concise.

Here are my guidelines for you:

Emphasize PLOT.  You will, of course, reveal character, setting, and so on as your synopsis proceeds, but it must be done through plot, and always secondary to it!

The synopsis should be in the third person (unless the novel is in first person and the outline can be made more interesting in first person).  It should be in the present tense, not the past tense, as though everything is happening NOW. Focus on events occurring moment-by-moment, as though the reader (and writer) were there watching them happen.

The beginning and ending of the outline should read and feel like the beginning and ending of the book, even in condensed form.

You can break the synopsis into chapters, as the novel itself is, but a single, unbroken narrative can work, too.

Ten to fifteen pages is about average, but again, there are no hard & fast rules about length.  It's safe to say that the longer your novel is, the longer your synopsis is likely to be.

You may, if you like, include a Cast of Characters page, listing all major and minor characters, as well as a sentence or two describing their background, circumstances, personality, and/or relationship to other characters.  It's not necessary, but if you have a lot of players, this might be handy.

Hope that helps!

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Vincent M. Wales


I am a speculative fiction novelist (fantasy, science fiction, and so on). While I may be able to answer questions on non-fiction, my specialty is fiction. Please keep that in mind when asking questions.


For four years, I taught a series of fiction writing classes in Sacramento, CA.

BA in fiction writing.

Awards and Honors
My 2004 novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, won BEST FICTION in Fresh Voices 2006, BEST FICTION and BEST YA FICTION in the NCPA Book Awards, and placed as a finalist in BEST BOOKS 2005. In 2002, my novel WISH YOU WERE HERE won awards for Best Fantasy and Best Fiction/Drama in the 8th Annual SPA Awards. My latest work is a trilogy titled THE MANY DEATHS OF DYNAMISTRESS (a superhero memoir). The first book, RECKONING, was released in 2013 and won the SF category in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival, took second place in the 2013 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for the SF/Fantasy/Paranormal category, second place in the SF category of the 2013 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards, and was finalist in Foreword's 2013 Book of the Year Awards, Fantasy category. The second book, REDEMPTION, will be released in early 2015 and the final book, RENAISSANCE, is scheduled for release in late 2016.

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