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Friday, December 01, 2006

Fiction Friday: Synopsis writing – spiritual arc/internal conflict

An editor will want to know how your character changes over the course of the book. These days, even characters who remain relatively static—like Stephanie Plum or Hercule Poirot—show some sort of change by the end of the book, maybe in new information or a changed relationship with another character.

It’s important to include the character’s spiritual arc or arc of internal conflict. This will show the editor that there is a deeper message behind the action or romance. The spiritual/emotional arc also gives added dimension to the character, and makes the character more realistic and likable.

It’s pretty simple to include the spiritual/emotional arc. In the first paragraph or two of a 1-3 page synopsis, mention the character’s flaw, or spiritual struggle, or internal conflict in one sentence. If your synopsis is longer, feel free to elaborate a bit, maybe as much as a paragraph.

Mary has given up on God and blames Him for her parents’ death.

Josh has always felt a need to control the people in his life, influencing their decisions. After all, it’s for their own good.


In the middle, show how the characters are coming to realize that their spiritual/internal state is wrong, or show the internal dissonance that arises as a result of the external conflict of the story.

Mary is intrigued by Alice’s strong faith despite the horrible things that have happened to her. Mary rethinks her lost faith in the face of Alice’s unwavering trust in God and assertion that she has no business questioning what God has allowed.

Josh is shocked at his brother’s outburst, and wonders if it’s true that he’s trying to control his family like a set of tin soldiers.


In the climax, show how the character comes to an epiphany or realization about their spiritual/internal state. Show what they learn about themselves.

It should also be a strong inciting incident that brings them to this point—something powerful makes them turn their thoughts inward. It can’t be something small or insignificant. They can’t suddenly decide one day to do some introspection.

Mary cries at Alice’s graveside, holding her friend’s letter. Her heart crumbles before God as she realizes the larger picture God has of her world, and how He does indeed work everything for good for those who love Him.

Josh grabs the crumpled tricycle, realizing how his controlling ways have caused his family so much grief and pain. He realizes that if he does not change, he won’t have a family at all.


You should include the spiritual/emotional arcs of each major protagonist. If you’re writing a romance, you should include both the hero and heroine’s spiritual/emotional arcs.

And that’s it!

Run your synopsis by your critique partners to make sure you’ve shown the characters’ spiritual/emotional arcs adequately. There may be areas you need to explain more, or other areas you need to add more of how their internal conflict is changing them.


Camy Tang lives in San Jose, California. She previously worked in biology research, and she is a staff worker for her church youth group. She runs the Story Sensei critique service, and her Asian chick-lit novel will be released in September 2007.

Everyone who leaves a comment receives a 10% off coupon for Camy's Story Sensei critique service (coupons cannot be combined)! Please leave an e-mail address so she can send you your coupon (use this format: you [at] yourmail.com)

3 comments:

CHickey said...

Well explained. Thank you!

cynthiahickey@cynthiahickey.com

Gina said...

This is sooo good, Camy. I haven't had a chance to read all of them, but when I'll be sure and keep the series as a permanent sidebar addition!

christa said...

Glad to find you here. Looking forward to your feedback!
Christa