What’s a chapter-by-chapter synopsis?

Some editors or agents ask for a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Not all of them do, so don’t automatically assume you need one.

However, it’s the easiest type of synopsis to write, in my opinion. It’s simply a list of each chapter number, and then a couple sentences describing what happens in the chapter.

Any significant spiritual or internal conflicts should be included, as well as major plot points, red herrings, symbolism, etc. The chapter-by-chapter synopsis will take the reader on a shortened version of the same ride you’ll give your novel reader, so include the dead ends and frustrations and obstacles that beset your characters.

Each major character should be named, and minor characters can also be named if they have a significant impact on the storyline. However, peripheral characters shouldn’t be named in a chapter-by-chapter synopsis.

I usually write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis first, then cut that down to a 1-2 page synopsis which I use for my proposals. Most proposals call for a short synopsis, 1-3 pages single-spaced.

I will sometimes include the chapter-by-chapter synopsis in my proposal in addition to the 1-2 page synopsis. I’ll usually stick the chapter-by-chapter synopsis at the end of the proposal, so that the editor/agent doesn’t have to read it if they don’t care to.

At the beginning of a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, you can also give your short 1-2 sentences blurb about the book.

Here’s an example from my suspense manuscript (unpublished):

Chapter-by-chapter synopsis BITTER DRAGON

Erika, trained in Chinese martial arts, inherits a huge sum of money that her late aunt had promised to a shady biotech company. But can she expose the illegal cloning operation before they kill her?

Chapter One

Physical Therapist Erika Fong is driven to a bruising kickboxing bout when she feels relief rather than guilt at the news her hated Aunt Alice is dead. Arriving late for the funeral, she feels uncomfortable in the gold-encrusted Buddhist sanctuary, not because she is a Christian but because of the numerous symbols of death. At the funeral reception, she spies a handsome man she’s never seen before. Then her aunt’s lawyer floors her with the news that Alice left her one hundred million dollars.

Chapter Two

Erika experiences shock-induced abdomen cramps and avoids questions from her sisters: police officer Lena with her tendency to “clean up” after everyone, and biologist Miriya, at odds with Erika over embryonic stem cell research. Erika struggles over the issue when faced with their uncle, suffering from Alzheimer’s. Erika discovers that her aunt’s business papers and an heirloom Bible are missing. Then she finds evidence in the bedroom that Alice was murdered.

Camy here: The nice thing about a chapter-by-chapter synopsis is that you can still include snippets of your writer’s voice in certain phrases or word choices or sentence rhythms.

Cutting down a chapter-by-chapter synopsis is relatively easy if you can dissociate yourself from your story enough. Click here for my article on tips to trim your synopsis to 1-2 pages.


  1. Just what I need now that I am reworking my synopsis. So glad you had this on here.

  2. Thanks, Carrie! I'm glad this was helpful to you. Not every editor wants a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, but it's often helpful to me to see how my pacing is, and to catch any holes. And then sometimes it's just easier to trim a chapter-by-chapter synopsis rather than writing a 2-page synopsis from scratch.

  3. I love these chapter-by-chapter synopsis

  4. May I know how to format the Chapter Synopsis in a query? Should it be single-spaced? Justified?

    1. You can format it however you like. I would personally make it single spaced and left-justified.

  5. Thank you! There are so few chapter by chapter synopses online. Also your Bitter Dragon book sounds like something I would like to read. I hope you get it published!

    1. You’re welcome, Sharon! I’m glad this was helpful for you!

  6. Camy, How long should a chapter by chapter synopsis for a 300 page novel be? Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Sharon, It can be as long or as short as you like. It varies widely depending on the writer. I will typically write one or two sentences per scene, so it also depends on how many scenes you have in your book. My synopses tend to be on the long side because they’re more detailed, so they’re anywhere from 8-12 single spaced pages for a 90,000 word book.

  7. OMG that is SO helpful, Camy. I have not been able to get this information anywhere else. My book is 92,000 words and the chapter by chapter is almost done and will be 7 or 7 and a half pages. I am so relieved that it is apparently not too long. Thank you!


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