The One-Page Synopsis

Nancy J. Cohen

My mystery publisher requires a one-page double-spaced synopsis along with a manuscript submission. That’s probably harder for me to write than the book. My normal synopsis runs about fifteen pages on average. I write this guideline before starting the story, and later I attach it to my art department’s request for a full synopsis. In the meantime, how does one condense this bulk of material into a single page? Here’s my method for a traditional mystery.


First I’ll give the book title, my name, and the series title a few lines down from the top and centered. Then I’ll offer a tag line that sums up the plot. We’ll use Shear Murder as an example.

A wedding turns deadly when hairstylist Marla Shore discovers a dead body under the cake table.

The Setup
This initial paragraph presents the setup for the story.

Hairstylist Marla Shore is playing bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the bride’s sister stabbed to death under the cake table. Torrie had plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, including her own sister who threatened her just before the ceremony.

The Personal Motive
Why does your sleuth get involved?

At Jill’s request, Marla agrees to help solve the case. With her own wedding four weeks away, her salon expanding into day spa services, and her relatives bickering over nuptial details, she has enough to do. When Jill is arrested for Torrie’s murder, though, Marla has no choice but to unmask the killer.

The Suspects
Here’s where I give a brief profile and possible motive for each of the main suspects.

Jill and Torrie owned a piece of commercial property. Their cousin Kevin, a Realtor, was trying to find them a new tenant. Meanwhile, Jill’s uncle Eddy, a shady attorney, has been urging them to sell. Now Torrie’s husband Scott has inherited his wife’s share. Scott has another motive besides greed. Torrie had announced her plan to leave him for another man, Griff Beasley. Griff was a photographer at Jill’s wedding and Torrie’s colleague. Griff implicates Hally, another coworker. Hally and Torrie were competing for a promotion. [Somebody else ends up dead here, but that’s a spoiler.]

clip_image003The Big Reveal
The final paragraph, which I won’t share with you in the hopes you’ll read the book, is where the clues lead to the killer, and the protagonist has her insight about what she’s learned. This last is important for emotional resonance, not only with your readers but also with your editor.

Further Tips: Leave out character names except for your main players, and don’t include subplots. If you’re writing romance, the mid-section would include major plot twists along with the resultant emotional turning points. So now share your tips. What else would you include or not include in your one page synopsis?


Booklover’s Bench Giveaway, Feb. 4-18
Win an iPad Mini or free books from Booklover’s Bench authors, including a signed paperback of Shear Murder,

Winter Contest, Jan. 27-Feb. 14
Win a signed hardcover of Shear Murder & a $10 Starbucks gift card. Two prizes to be awarded.

31 thoughts on “The One-Page Synopsis

  1. Very helpful, very helpful indeed. I’m feeling downright sinister as well, now, after reading your synopsis. Must go and try this. Thanks!

    Love the new look of TKZ as well, though when I type in my authentication, the number disappears. Strange.

  2. Nancy,
    Thanks you so much for this post (and all your other practical posts). I need this information, today–since I’m struggling with my first synopsis.

  3. Thanks for sharing that, Nancy. I’m with you…the synopsis is harder to write than the book. But a useful exercise. Sort of forces you to focus.

  4. Nice summary, Nancy. Boiling down a book into a one page summary is not easy. Other than telling whodunnit, the synopsis should read like an intriguing book jacket. It’s important to write the synopsis in “the voice” of the novel too. Thanks for the breakdown.

    • Good advice about writing the synopsis in your writer’s voice. That’s not always easy. And writing it as an intriguing book jacket is valid, too, except that you have to tell whodunit to your editor.

  5. Pingback: One Page Synopsis | allbettsareoff

  6. Finally, a post that makes the dreaded synopsis sound like I might master it this time. I’ve written many– and never liked a one! Hopefully, your sound advice will do the trick. Thanks so much for sharing your process.

  7. This was so helpful and HARD! I spent the better part of the morning working on it. Your structure and prompts really helped me focus my WIP synopsis. It was good practice. Thank you for this valuable information from a pro.

Comments are closed.