Sunday, February 27, 2011


Writing a one-page (or even two-page) synopsis is an art form. In some forty-something single spaced lines, the author must introduce the characters, setting, central conflict, spiritual thread, and plot development that ends in happily ever after.

Characters: Say good-bye to the luxury of spending half a page telling the characters’ back story. Introduce them, and their conflicts, in action. Here is a paragraph from one of my novella proposal that manages to do this in succinct fashion:
Major Troy Brennan, ret., comes to Christmas, Florida, shortly before Thanksgiving for a specific purpose: he wants to find “Aranda H.,” the army widow who’s been sending him Christmas cards for the past five years—always signed “Merry Christmas, with love.”

• Setting: This is often done earlier in the proposal, in introducing the anthology concept. Historical proposals usually include a line at the beginning of the synopsis giving the place and time period: “Breading, Texas, a fictional town in East Texas, 1884” (from The Face of Mary in A Woodland Christmas)

• Central conflict: Although the plot of a novella is simple of necessity, there still must be a clear reason why the hero and heroine don’t fall into each other’s arms. In the first example, Randi’s response to Troy’s proposed visit? Simple. She panics.
Ever since her father deserted her as a child, she’s steered clear of romantic entanglements, with the exception of her husband who helped her get through the dark days when her father left. And even if she was interested, her newly-adult son, Mike, a high school senior, is getting into trouble faster than she can get him out.
This paragraph not only clarifies the central conflict—Randi doesn’t want romance—it explains why and sets up the plot developments that will take place.

• Spiritual thread: With Barbour, include an appropriate Bible verse with the synopsis: King James for historical proposals, New International Version for contemporary. Then at some point(s) in the synopsis, show the connection between the verse and the story. In The Face of Mary (A Woodland Christmas), the hero is looking for inspiration as he paints Mary’s face. His mentor counsels him “that he couldn’t do better than to look for a woman like the mother of Jesus.”

• Plot development: For Christmas novellas, this can often hang on the timing of the Christmas season. The Face of Mary begins with Thanksgiving and lasts through Christmas, tying in the plot with the pastor’s messages about Mary during the Sundays of advent. I’ve also used the duration of a blizzard (six days, in Dressed in Scarlet in Snowbound Colorado Christmas); the weekends of a Christmas play (First Christmas in Christmas at Barncastle Inn); and the stops on a Wild West Show tour (Lucy Ames, Sharpshooter in Wild West Christmas) to give structure to the plot.

• Conclusion: As in all romance—happily ever after, engagement or wedding, and can be included in a brief epilogue.

The proposal for Postmark: Christmas sits on Becky Germany’s desk as I write this blog post. Here’s hoping and praying for the best! All the other stories have been contracted/published.


  1. Thank you for your continued advice on novellas, Darlene! Although I've been contracted for a novella with Barbour these guidelines are good to keep in mind while writing as well.
    Bless you!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Carla! Glad you find them useful.