All Posts in Category: Synopsis (fiction)
Here’s my synopsis for a romance Love by Design (written under my Jenny Jacobs pen name). It’s the first romance I ever wrote, and it sold (to Avalon) … after I took the synopsis advice here.
Love by Design by Jenny Jacobs (synopsis) -
Tess Ferguson has a weakness: taking in strays. She has a special fondness for the canine kind but she has also taken in more than one human stray. Her impetuous generosity has landed her in trouble more than once, and she’s had to rely on her sister Greta to help her out of the hot water afterwards. Tess, a seamstress who dreams of becoming a fabric designer, is also the single mother of eight-year-old Belinda, the daughter of a sister who has died. Practical matters, like supporting them both, have taken all her focus. Tess believes she owes it to Greta and Belinda to set her dreams aside and to keep her heart firmly under wraps.
Greta, an interior designer, is also Tess’s boss. When Greta is laid up after knee surgery, Tess is required to be the go-between with Michael Manning, the owner of a carpentry business. Tess is attracted to Michael’s calm, quiet strength, but when she sees the sadness in his eyes, she’s convinced he’s just one more stray. Michael is drawn to Tess, who stirs physical sensations he has long suppressed. He finds her warm, open and likable. But her curiosity and persistence in asking questions he doesn’t want to answer threaten his hard-won peace.
Michael has every intention of staying immersed in building his business. He wants to prove that he doesn’t have to be an engineer, physician or doctor to be successful. By burying himself in his work, he can forget about the shocking death of his wife and unborn son – and the unhappy secret she left him with.
Because Tess must be Greta’s stand-in while Greta recovers, Tess and Michael are forced to spend time together, desperately trying to ignore the attraction they feel for one another. One afternoon, while Tess and Michael are busy, Belinda goes exploring and discovers a whimsical hand-made Noah’s Ark in Michael’s workshop. Tess realizes that there’s a story behind the toy, its whimsy so at odds with the carefully disciplined and controlled man she’s come to know. Michael tells Tess about the death of his wife and child, and it’s clear to her that the wound hasn’t healed.
Then, a project Greta is working on offers Tess the opportunity to put her fabric designing skills to the test. But Tess doesn’t have the money needed to invest in producing a design. When Michael learns of the opportunity, he offers to invest in Tess’s business. He’s so enthusiastic that she can’t bear to turn him down. With trepidation, she agrees to his deal. Despite their business relationship, Tess vows not to let herself get emotionally involved with Michael. She reminds herself that her ex-husband was also a stray and that that relationship was destructive to her – and to Belinda. She won’t take such a risk again.
Tess focuses on getting her fabric design business underway. Because Tess doesn’t want to continue getting handouts from Greta, Tess keeps her ownership of the business a secret from her sister. When Tess’s first design is approved, she can hardly wait to share the news with Michael, who knows how much it means to her. They share a kiss. The kiss disturbs Tess, stirring up feelings she has for Michael, despite her knowing that a relationship with him would be the worst thing for her right now. Michael makes it clear that he is not ready for a relationship, especially not with a woman like Tess, who won’t let his secrets stay buried.
Greta discovers that Tess has been doing the fabric designs that Greta believed were being produced by a new supplier. She confronts Tess, telling her that Greta’s clients should have known that Tess was the owner of the company since Tess also works for Greta. Tess is crushed. She never realized her actions could create a conflict of interest. She realizes that she’s been acting childishly in keeping the truth from Greta. What if Greta fires Tess? What if Greta turns her back on Tess? Tess has no one else to rely on.
In distress, Tess talks to Michael, who reminds her that he has said all along she should tell Greta the truth. Annoyed and angry (mostly with herself), she demands that Michael should tell the truth himself. Tess says that while she once thought he was still in love with his late wife, she realizes now that his late wife must have hurt him deeply. She asks him what happened that damaged him so much that he doesn’t feel entitled to get on with his life. Michael storms off without responding.
Greta forgives Tess, and Tess realizes that people who love each other take care of each other – it’s not a one-way street. She understands that she could have trusted that Greta would want the best for Tess. Tess finally admits to being in love with Michael but swears she is through with strays. Greta challenges her, saying that she knows there’s a dog at the local Humane Society that needs to be adopted or it will be put down.
Tess wrestles with her decision but finally realizes that there’s nothing inherently wrong with taking in strays. Although she often feels like the stray Greta has taken in, Tess realizes that she gives Greta as much as Greta gives her. In the same way, she knows she gets comfort, affection and companionship from her dogs in return for the affection and care she gives them. It’s not about rescuing dogs – or people – but about creating good relationships with them.
When Greta informs Michael that Tess hasn’t stopped taking in strays after all, he comes to visit Tess, telling her that she was right. He explains that when his wife died, she was pregnant – but it wasn’t his son. Because Michael wanted a family, he was still willing to raise the child as his own. His wife despised him for it, claiming that he couldn’t hold any woman, believing that his kindness and love were a sign of weakness. The betrayal was shattering to Michael, and her taunting him about it, eviscerating. But she died before he could ever earn her respect or decide her opinion of him wasn’t the truth.
Tess knows she loves him and he loves her – and Belinda – but her fate is sealed when she looks at the glider and realizes that he has hidden tiny painted animals all over it for Belinda to find. His whimsical side no longer buried, she knows he’s going to be fine – and they’ll get to live happily ever after.
My colleague, Julie Mettenburg, a writer, provides this excellent tip sheet for writing a synopsis (she uses it for romance but it can be adapted to almost any genre). With her permission, I’m including her tip sheet here:
Plot play-by-play bogs [a synopsis] down, while the key points the editors look for – character set-up, emotional turning points and resolution – are buried. If you just focus on getting across those 3 elements of the story, you will be totally fine and the blow-by-blow isn’t necessary.
Here’s my formula for a successful synopsis (a compilation of best tips I’ve found):
- Tell who the heroine is, including what she wants (her external goal or what she will seek through the plot) and what’s standing in her way.
- Describe her first meeting with the hero, how they react to one another and why (emotions plus thoughts – such as pushing away the visceral reaction because of whatever the internal problem is). The why is important because it’s what will change in the throughline of the story/synopsis as you give the high points, and show the editor you have an actual story that develops.
- Tell us who the hero is, including what he wants (his external goal), why he wants it, and the reason he can’t have it/what the barrier is.
- Now that we know who the H/H are and how they meet, give us the set-up of the story in one paragraph: how they join together with an external goal that will keep them together for a while (there needs to be clear causality of plot and/or choices that drive them together. . . i.e., because of their goals together, they have to accomplish certain tasks. . . . Voila, scenes!).
- Because they have to be together to accomplish things, their internal goal- motivation-conflicts will start to come to the surface, and those are the key emotional turning points that need to be described in the rest of the synopsis. So, the next point to cover is: the first turning point, usually predicated by a physical touch or kiss, plus the external plot situation they are in, and describe how it emotionally changes them and their situation through the next portion.
- Describe the middle turning point, which is probably again a physical connection. How it happens, what else is going on with the plot, and each of their emotional reactions to it, and then how it changes their actions or decisions/plot afterward.
- Describe the third turning point, which sets up the black moment.
- Describe the black moment, when all is lost.
- Describe the resolution.