Which Tense Is Best for Synopses?


Dear Mary…

No matter which tense you use in your story, apply literary present tense to your synopsis. Literary present describes your story as if it were happening right now: “When Khalel’s secret is revealed, he assumes his night daemon shape and escapes into the darkness.” Feel free to inject a hint of your story’s narrative voice into your synopsis, but don’t get wonky with the tense. Sticking with this standard lets your prospective agent or editor focus the content instead of the form.

Happy writing!

The Editor


  1. “…but don’t get wonky with the tense.” I had to laugh. As writers, we spend a lot of time trying to get the ‘wonkiness’ out of our writing. (At least I do.) Good luck to us all and thanks so much for the post!

    • “Wonky” just seemed the right word for a Friday. Glad to make you laugh. Have a great weekend, Laura.

  2. I’m in the process of writing a synopsis too! Hope I can put a narrative voice into it.

  3. I am writing a synopsis, but it must be written, at least three pages. Is it necessary? The publishers usually requires for only one paragraph. If I fulfill his request, can it include some dialogue? Or can I give the premises, instead?

    Thank you

    • Don’t include dialogue in the synopsis. This document is about summarizing the story, not including any actual story moments. Regarding length, there may be some instances when a publisher asks for a one-paragraph description of the book, but generally when they ask for a “synopsis,” they are looking for more depth than you can provide in one paragraph. A synopsis is usually 1-3 pages. If a publisher asks for a “short synopsis,” they probably one 1 page. I wonder if that single paragraph description you’re referencing is actually the paragraph you’d include in the middle of your query letter (the cover letter for your submission). A submission usually looks like this: the query (nowadays being the body of your email to the agent/editor) that positions your project in three parts (paragraph 1: a brief intro paragraph that includes a one-sentence hook line for the project; paragraph 2: the one-paragraph description of the project; paragraph 3: one paragraph about your qualifications as the writer of this project), your manuscript as an attachment, and your synopsis as an attachment. Hope that helps! If you want to dig into the submission pieces, I include a chapter about the submissions process and materials in WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES. Happy writing!

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