Feb 02

Gillian Holmes, (aka The Editor) Responded to Frost’s Request for Help Writing a Synopsis

Spread the love

Synopsis: A brief summary of the plot of a novel, motion picture, play etc. by Gillian Holmes

Meet Gillian Holmes – literary editor By Margaret Graham1


A very talented friend of mine sent me the synopsis of the novel she was writing for her Creative Writing MA. Her tutor had sent her away with a flea in her ear, and she came to me with no real idea of what she’d done wrong.
As a veteran of synopses of nearly twenty years standing, I saw immediately that she had made a very common error. Namely, she’d forgotten what a synopsis is. She thought she needed to show her thinking behind the book, and give the reader a flavour of what was to come. Consequently, she had managed to give far too much information, while also giving too little.

How is that possible?


  1. She wrote a lot about her main character, while neglecting the plot.
  2. She had included lines from the book, but with no context, they were irrelevant.
  3. She had tried to illustrated the themes in the book, but neglected the plot.
  4. She had tried to illustrate the humour in the book by describing the occasional amusing scene. But she’d neglected the plot…


Do you see where I’m going here? So when you sit down to write your synopsis, always remember that  this is not a creative work, so don’t try to be too clever. Clarity is everything.


So what do agents and editors want from a synopsis?


  1. They want 1500 words or fewer.
  2. They want an elevator pitch – a couple of lines that outlines the concept. The concept is a very strong consideration for all agents and editors, so make it snappy and memorable. For example, let’s take a recent bestseller – The Husband’s Secret. A happily married woman with three children discovers that her husband murdered a young girl when he was a teenager.
  3. A brief summary of the plot, key moments, key events, and main characters so they can see the arc of the story and judge whether the structure seems sound – leave out complicated sub plots, it will only bog you down in unnecessary detail.
  4. The end – and that means the end. Don’t hold anything back, this is not a cover blurb.


And that’s it. Easy peasy.
If you’re wondering about my friend, I sent her back to rewrite her synopsis several times. But it was worth it. She got an A for it in the end.

Gillian has been an editor for mainstream publishers for twenty years. Now she runs her own editorial agency.
To contact Gillian:  gilliansholmes@hotmail.com