Query Letter Synopsis: Maximize Your Main Conflict

by | Aug 30, 2011 | Publish A Novel, Query Letters, Submit A Book For Publication | 6 comments

writer query letter, perspectiveWriting the query letter blurb (or mini-synopsis) for your book isn’t easy. And sometimes the difficulties with query writing stem from the fact that you as the author may not have the best perspective on your own book because you’re too close to it. You want all your characters and subplots to be in the query letter.

We’ve written articles about composing a mini-synopsis for your query letter before (see below for more). But this week, we wanted to dig a little deeper into how you as a writer can identify the key points for your query (and let the rest fall away). Here are some things to remember. These are not rules, but they are strategies to seriously consider.

What’s The Main Conflict Of Your Query Synopsis

How long is a query letter synopsis? A query synopsis should be only about 150-200 words (a few paragraphs). If you try to hook the reader into your every plot point, you might deaden your effectiveness. You should drive one main plot point in your blurb, and no more.

(NOTE: We have seen effective queries for ensemble cast books and other projects that incorporate many plot lines, but it’s extremely hard to do well. You’ll be best served if you identify your main conflict/main characters and work it for all it’s worth.)

Your main character is usually the one who faces your main conflict. Your main character has the most to lose. Identify your main character, what he/she stands to lose, and then, when you begin writing, focus the story strictly through the lens of your main character’s point of view for maximum emotional impact. (HINT: That doesn’t necessarily mean you should use first person point of view; most queries are in third person.)

For example, in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is the main character. She and her three companions all have something to lose (their lives) and something to gain, but of the four Dorothy has the most to lose (she must get back to Kansas). So in your synopsis the story should unfold  through Dorothy’s perspective. Focus on her and focus all the action through her.

Once you’ve identified your main character, ask yourself:

What does the character risk externally (her house, his life, her job, his favorite T-shirt?)?

Her life. There’s a witch after her.

What does the character risk internally (her heart, his friendship, her mother’s respect, his children’s admiration)?

If she doesn’t get back to Kansas, she’ll never see her family again. And she’s only just realized how important they are to her.

These are the two main points of conflict to focus on in your query letter that should be filtered through your main character’s point of view.

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How To Lay Out Your Query Letter Blurb

1. Set the mood. If your book is set in a great locale, take a phrase or even a sentence to describe it (energetically and meaningfully). If the setting doesn’t matter much and your book happens to be action-oriented, then set the mood by diving right into the action. Skip the long wind-up and get to it right away.

And if your book has a great setting that is inherently linked to the main conflict, well…

Dorothy, a young girl who longs for a different life, is whisked away from her dull Kansas farm into the magical, colorful world of Oz when her house is sucked into a tornado.

2. Identify the key conflicts in concrete terms. Show us what your character stands to lose through his/her eyes, and you’ll have great emotional impact.

Only the Wizard of Oz, magician of the Emerald City, has the power to send Dorothy home. She and three new friends—a scarecrow, tin man, and lion—make their way down the yellow brick road. 

3. Show advancing, specific action (but not too much). Once the main conflict has been identified, tell us one or two major things that stand in the character’s way of success.

When Dorothy makes an enemy of an evil wicked witch, her quest to find the Wizard becomes a matter of life and death. But the Wizard isn’t interested in giving handouts: He won’t help Dorothy and her friends unless they first kill the powerful witch who pursues them.

You’ll notice that, in this case, the action is organized differently in the query than in the movie. We all know that Dorothy makes an enemy of the witch the moment she gets to Oz. But in our query synopsis, the timeline is a little bit, shall we say, fudged.

In the name of brevity, this structure (a summary) gets the point across quickly without muddling the action. And we don’t feel that the plot has been compromised by organizing the information in this way.

4. Lead the reader up to the climactic moment (the darkest moment for the MC when everything is nearly lost). Don’t give away the ending. Instead, bring the climactic elements into clear focus, then keep us guessing.

Will Dorothy, who never appreciated her home until now, make it back to Kansas with her life?

Okay—so it’s not poetry. But you can see the general idea of how to use this method to sketch out your query letter blurb. This might not work for every book, but using this method may give you some insight into the best way to lay out a blurb for your book.

You’ll notice that we had to leave a lot of things out of this query summary. There’s no mention of ruby slippers or Toto. We don’t give away the Wizard’s secret identity. We don’t talk about munchkins, or Glinda, or even the killing of the Witch of the East.

We love those elements—we really do! But a query writer must sometimes be brutal—striking the right balance between detail and action.

Want to read more about writing a query letter? Start here:

Top Query Letter Mistakes: Avoid These Amateur Errors
How To Write A Killer Book Blurb For Your Query Letter: What Literary Agents Want To See
How To Write A Synopsis For A Novel

Writer QuestionsWriters, post the blurb of your query letter in our comments section! Yep–we’re practically giving you permission to promote on this post! 


  1. Geo.

    What the heck. I’ll go first.

    Kris Carter is a writer who wants to make it big. The trouble is, he’s had a case of writer’s block that’s lasted since he was eight years old. He knows he got a great book in him, but he just can’t get it out. He is a writer, but he never writes. He is too busy getting out there and living his life–traveling, working, meeting new people, and partying. He doesn’t know how to balance his busy life full of unusual experiences and spending a lot of time alone to write. He hates the question “so what have you published?”

    Things change when he meets Tellie (Estella from Great Expectations meets Holly Golightly.) Tellie embodies his problem of balancing living life and writing about it. She challenges him to write–to really write. But soon, she gets jealous and wants his full attention. How can he keep her–his muse–when she both motivates him and takes him away from the very book she inspires?

    Yes–I nkow maybe it’s cliche for writers to write about writing…but they say write what you know! I’m still working on this book and so I don’t have a website or anything yet. It might be a while before I’m done. But that’s what I’m looking at so far.

  2. Susan

    My novella is about a woman who discovers a flower in her yard that can talk and give her advice. She is having problems with her husband, who might be cheating on her. The flower symbolizes the love they used to have. Eventually, the woman realizes that her husband IS cheating on her. In order to get through it, she must rely on a good friend who gives her perspective on how things use to be, how they are, and how they can be again.

    This book is a small book that reads like a fable and is meant to be comforting to the reader’s soul.

  3. Terry

    First I want to compliment “Kim” on her video about being a Writer’s Relief happy client. What a refreshing video!

    I’ve been writing, every day, and self-publishing with Amazon.com. I’ve finished four brief books(2 poetry, 2 commentary on teaching) and am working on a longer novel, or perhaps novella, but I plan it as a novel … about being a teacher with an undiagnosed chronic condition (as that is what I’ve lived for the past thirty years.) As the Carpenter’s once sang, “I’ve only just begun” as I’ve recently retired from teaching. My pension is much less than my paycheck was, and so my goal is to continue writing and self publishing and selling my books locally (a very slow, meager process) because I can’t afford a service like Writer’s Relief.

    I had a real boost of confidence when you first accepted me for A La Carte services (and optimistically used my almost never used charge card to accept A La Carte service and sent poetry out to the 28 online and print magazines you identified) and have almost received all of the rejection letters from that investment.

    Undaunted, I submit some of my writing here again, and was accepted for full service client status (which was a great boost to my self esteem) but I had to decline because of the expense, and because my novel isn’t even close to finished, and I knew there were other writers awaiting acceptance.

    So I continue to visit here, read the articles, and watch the writers’ videos, and dream. But I also keep working on the writings, with the belief that I have a story worth telling. And when I have something finished and weighty enough to warrant risking hundreds and hundreds of dollars, I may try again here.

    ’til then, I enjoy what you offer. Thanks, all. And if anyone would like to read my work you can visit me at Amazon.Com author pages

    Terry Crawford Palardy

  4. Susan M. Jade - Author of "Fateful Intent"

    Susan M. Jade – Author of “Fateful Intent”, I personally wrote the synopsis of my own novel for Barnes & Noble which is advertised on the internet.

  5. Lana

    Great article with helpful tips that I plan to use, so thank you for what you provided. I must say though, in your choice of an example story synopsis of The Wizard of Oz, it struck me odd that you used the movie plot, not the book plot for your example. As a writer, and an avid reader, the choice of using a movie plot seems second rate… but perhaps you assumed most people have not read the book but have seen the movie. Just found that sad and bit lacking for an example to use……

    • Writers Relief Staff

      Lana, So glad the article was helpful! We opted for the movie for the sake of reaching the largest possible swath of readers. Even our very well-read audience members might have missed Baum’s book.



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