Your short story does not require a synopsis

I’m putting on my editor hat for a second to tell you that your short story doesn’t need a synopsis.

I used to be completely confused by synopses until my buddy Michael explained why they’re necessary. My slapdash version of his explanation is as follows: The synopsis, as a document, has only one purpose, and that is to reassure people who are reading that you can finish a plot. Not a story. A plot.

So why do you not need a synopsis for a short story sub? Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me listicle.

1. Synopses are for novels.

Novels are a completely different beastie from your short story. An agent or editor reading a novel might stumble upon a slow chapter or two and wonder, Do I really want to read on? And that’s what the synopsis is for. They can read it and realize that maybe, you know, the novel has a genius twist at the end, or that the character that they really liked and has been gone for 3 chapters is going to come back at some point, or that this bizarre scene actually has important ramifications down the line. When they know the plot isn’t going to peter out, they can make a judgment as to whether they want to keep reading.

They need a synopsis because novels are huge. They’re long. It can take several days for even the quickest reader to finish a novel. A short story, I can probably finish in 20-30 minutes. I don’t need a synopsis, because after 20-30 minutes I know if you can craft a successful plot.

2. Synopses are hard to write.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, natch, that synopses are the worst. things. to. write. ever. They’re horrible. I say this as a writer. I hate synopses. They are literally the worst. I’ve never written a good synopsis (meaning, I’ve never written a technically competent and compelling synopsis), only passable ones that kind of clonk the plot (not the story) together. If you put your clonky synopsis in your cover letter, you’re displaying bad writing before good writing. This is not a good idea, because it invokes dread in the heart of your reader. It also brings me to another point…

3. Synopses do not go in your cover letter.

Even when you include one with a novel submission, it’s a separate document. This is because synopses are dry, not enticing or interesting. They do not = query letter, because a query letter is supposed to grab your reader and make them want to read more. A synopsis doesn’t do that. Instead, it outlines your plot in a dry and workmanlike way so you can prove that you can write a complete plot.  When you include one in your cover letter (which isn’t even a query letter), you’re smooshing two different things into one thing. And it’s not a good smoosh.

4. Your short story should accomplish everything that a synopsis would do.

When you write a short story, there shouldn’t be any slow spots or issues with plotting that might require a synopsis to clear up. And as I said before, I’m going to be reading this in 20-30 minutes. Am I really going to need a synopsis? If I want to request a revision, or reread the material to get a better feel for it, that would only take 20-30 more minutes.

Also, your story needs to be able to stand on its own. If it doesn’t, and you need a synopsis to explain what’s going on, there’s probably something wrong with your story.

Bonus: 5. It’s probably more trouble than it’s worth.

Take the time you’d spend writing your synopsis and use it to write another story.

Obviously, if a magazine is asking you to write a synopsis, you should send one. Always obey the submission guidelines! But it would be a pretty rare request, and it’s by no means the standard. Don’t think it is! It’s a trap. A traaaapppp.


In summary: short story + synopsis = NO. Novel + synopsis = terrible but necessary. Happy submitting, everyone.


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