Eagle Designs
Linda Windsor

Linda Windsor is the award-winning author of thirty-two historical fiction and romantic comedy/suspense novels. Her latest project is a Scottish Arthurian series titled Brides of Alba. Recognized for her in-depth research, Windsor weaves little-known history and traditions of the early church in the background of the sweeping romantic adventures Healer, Thief, and Rebel.

Genre Happenings

Taking the Sting Out of the Synopsis

The word synopsis used to make me cringe.

But I have learned to write a lean, mean synopsis that is long enough to answer the questions an editor wants addressed and resolved. Mine usually run should run about three to four double-spaced pages for a 90,000-word novel. And it’s so easy, I’ve reduced it to a formula!

That’s right. Answer nine basic questions for each of your main characters (hero/heroine, protagonist/antagonist, etc.); then put the answers into a chronological narrative.

This method will work for inspirational or secular novels of any genre. Even for short stories.

Break down the story into the three basic conflicts for each character—plot, relationship, and spiritual journey. Then break down each of those conflicts into three questions: What was the conflict at the beginning? What happened to advance or hinder the resolution of the conflict? What is the nature of the conflict at the end of the story—resolved or not? Three conflicts times three questions equals nine questions for each main character.

Secondary characters needn’t be in the synopsis unless they are integral to the progress of the conflicts. Aunt Minnie may be adorable, but her trouble growing petunias is not relevant to the conflict . . . unless a body is buried under them. She may introduce a couple, but say nothing beyond that . . . unless she plans to kill them. Keep it lean and mean.

One last comment. You can do this exercise for any of your favorite novels and it will become clear that this is its backbone or blueprint. I hope this method will simplify the synopsis for you.

Let’s use the parable in Luke 11:5 of the neighbor (Bob) who wants to borrow bread at midnight from neighbor two (Joe) to illustrate how this works.

For Each Major Character
Parable of the Neighbor Borrowing Bread
(Luke 11:5)

PLOT Beginning: What is at stake, or what is the goal for each character?

BOB: He has an unexpected guest and must offer customary food and hospitality, or bring shame upon himself and the entire village.

JOE: He wants a good night’s sleep. He has an early day tomorrow.

PLOT Middle: What happens to advance or hinder their goals?

BOB: His neighbor refuses to get up and give him bread.

JOE: His buddy won’t stop banging on the door, and Joe needs his sleep.

PLOT End: How is the conflict resolved?

BOB: Joe finally gives him the bread, his guest is fed, and the dignity of his home and village is preserved.

JOE: He gives in because his persistent neighbor won’t let him sleep until he does.

RELATIONSHIP Beginning: What is their relationship at the beginning of the book?

This varies with the genre. Here it’s about two neighbors learning to live next to each other in peace.

BOB: Joe is always critical of Bob’s disorderly lifestyle, though Bob thinks he’s doing just fine. Joe’s judgmental attitude can be annoying, but he usually will help a guy out.

JOE: Joe likes an orderly life and has no patience with those who do not. He tolerates Bob.

RELATIONSHIP Middle: What happens during the book to advance or hinder their relationship?

BOB: Disappointment turns to anger. He is determined not to stop knocking until that lazy, self-righteous Joe gives him the bread.

JOE: Irritation turns to stubborn anger. He’s not getting up now, even if he’s awake. Bob should know better. It’s not the first time he’s been in this pickle. He’ll get what he deserves.

RELATIONSHIP End: How is their relationship at the end?

BOB: Bob is grateful that Joe gave him a second chance.

JOE: Yes, he’s annoyed at Bob, but he’ll cool off. They are, after all, neighbors. And Joe did keep the village from shame.

SPIRITUAL CONFLICT Beginning: What is their relationship with God?\

In secular fiction, the spiritual conflict can be the character’s inner conflict. If this parable were secular, one could say Bob has pride issues, when his nature is nothing to be proud of. And Joe is a control freak, who has to learn to bend to get along with people.

BOB: He goes to church, tries to do the right thing.

JOE: He goes to church, tries to do the right thing.

SPIRITUAL CONFLICT Middle: What happens to advance or hinder their relationship?

BOB: Surely God will make Joe get up and do the right thing. But as the minutes pass, Bob wonders if God and Joe have taken a vacation from responsibility. The guest must be taken care of. It’s certainly not his fault the guest came unexpected.

JOE: He knows the right thing to do is to get up, but someone needs to teach Bob a lesson. He never plans ahead. If he wasn’t such a spendthrift, he’d have extra bread. Bob deserves to be shamed.

SPIRITUAL CONFLICT End: What is their spiritual status at the end of the book?

BOB: Bob’s shaken faith is reaffirmed, both in God and his neighbor. His persistence paid off just like the Bible teaches, but he also appreciates Joe more for giving him a second chance.

JOE: Joe’s conscience gets the better of him, so he gets up and gives Bob the bread. It may not be with a cheerful heart, but he’s guilt-free. He serves a God of second chances. Who knows, maybe this time Bob will learn his lesson. Or maybe if Joe gets himself in a pickle, someone will help him out.

Now write the narrative in chronological order and incorporate the setting:

Late one evening as Bob sat on his rooftop in Jerusalem, an unexpected visitor arrived. Since Spendthrift Bob cooked only what he alone could eat, he had nothing to offer his guest, as was the Hebrew custom in the first century. Realizing this would bring shame not just to him but to the entire village, Bob hustles over to Generous Joe’s house to borrow the bread.

Joe works and needs a good night’s sleep. So when Bob knocks at his door, he is irate and determined to let Bob face the shame he deserves for being so short-sighted and tight with his food.

But the knocking will not stop. As Joe’s temper simmers, Bob’s does too. If Joe is such a good Jew, his conscience will kick in. God will get him up. Bob knocks even harder. Until a small voice reminds him of all the times he’s imposed on Joe. Bob’s persistent knock becomes less demanding. He admits to Joe that he realizes he’s taken advantage of Joe’s generosity and vows to try to do better. But please spare them all embarrassment and give him the bread. Then Joe can sleep and Bob will owe him big-time.

Joe’s conscience kicks in. How can he deny a friend who has humbled himself? What if God didn’t give Joe second chances? Besides, Bob may be a leech, but he’s a stubborn one. If Joe wants sleep, he’d better give up the bread. Joe does just that. Grumpily, but without the guilt that had been piling on his shoulders with every one of Bob’s desperate knocks. Maybe this time Bob will learn a lesson. Regardless, it’s not up to Joe to judge and sentence. That right belongs to the Lord.

Thief (Brides Of Alba)