Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Winging it... Or how to write a decent synopsis when you hate the flipping things.

With the news on I Heart Presents that Harlequin/M&B are running a brand new writing comp for aspiring authors to Modern and Modern Heat, I thought it might be useful to give some tips about writing the dreaded synopsis by posting the synopsis for my first ever published book, Bedded by a Bad Boy (aka Bedded by a Playboy in the US).

I'm also going to post some notes tomorrow about what parts of this
synopsis didn't work for the editor - and what bits I changed and strengthened when revising the story.

But before I do any of that I should point out that I am no expert on synopsis writing. Being a complete pantser, I generally avoid them with a passion (and have only had to do outlines for the books I've published since). So if you want tips on how to write a synopsis that will dazzle the editors with its brilliance and originally and beautiful craftsmanship. Forget it... You ain't getting any help with that from me, because I've never managed it myself... But if, like me, you can't stand writing the damn things, but know it's a necessary evil (especially before you get published), I can offer advice about how to make the process work for you and your story.

So here's my top tip: The synopsis is a narrative describing your characters and their conflict and NOT a description of the plot.

What that means: Stay focussed on the internal conflict between your H & h like a rottweiler with a juicy bone. Make sure that conflict springs from your characters and their emotions and not from outside influences, that it drives the story, works itself out through the course of the plot, reaches a crescendo and is resolved and is, at all times, one hundred per cent consistent. And describe that in your synopsis. Your plot is only relevant as a narrative of your characters and their conflict, not the other way around.

And another thing to remember. The synopsis is really just a tool to show the eds you actually have a book worked out after that wham-bang opening scene and that you've got a basic understanding of your characters and their conflict. But it's still your voice they'll be looking at most, your storytelling ability, because
everything else can be revised. And if you're like me, the chances of you ending up with the same story you wrote in your synopsis once you've written the book are pretty much ziltch.

Okay so here's that synopsis I was talking about. See what you think....


Bedded by a Bad Boy

aka Bedded by a Playboy

by Heidi Rice

JESSIE CONNOR is an impetuous, wildly romantic English girl in America who believes that family is everything. As long as she can remember, she’s dreamed of having a gorgeous husband and a house full of beautiful children -- just like her big sister Ali. So when Jessie and the heavily pregnant Ali return to Ali and her husband Linc Latimer’s seaside home in Long Island and spy a naked trespasser taking a swim in the pool, Jessie knows just what has to be done. The guy may have a body like Brad Pitt but he’s on private property and she’s going to sort him out. Nobody messes with her family.

MONROE LATIMER is a loner who’s spent the last 14 years roaming America on his Harley. He believes in nothing and nobody, except himself. After two spells in prison as a teenager, Monroe knows that he’s the only person he can count on. He’s driven to the Hamptons out of curiosity, but no way is he going to visit his long-lost brother Linc once he sees the swanky neighbourhood where Linc and his family live. But then he spots an empty house with an empty pool and figures, what harm could a little swim do, before he heads back to the interstate?

Turns out quite a lot, when he pulls on his jeans and is tackled by a beautiful girl with a crisp English accent, firecracker hair and a temper to match. Then Linc and Ali and their two young children show up and Monroe is trapped, forced to accept an invite to stay in their garage apartment. The apartment — full of light and overlooking the beach — is the perfect place to paint and Monroe’s secret passion is painting, so he agrees to stay, but only if he does yard work to pay his way. He’s no goddamn freeloader. The one other compensation is Linc’s feisty little sister-in-law who Monroe thinks is cute as hell when she’s riled, which is whenever she’s around him.

Jessie decides Linc and Ali must be insane. What are they thinking inviting a stranger into their home? He may be gorgeous but he’s obviously a complete reprobate, why else would he get such a kick out of making her mad?

After a trip to town on Monroe’s Harley, an errant kiss in front of the A&P on Main Street and the discovery that Linc and Ali’s five-year-old daughter Scout has become Monroe’s biggest fan, Jessie’s opinion of the new house guest begins to change. She loves art, but she’s never had the talent to create it herself, so when she discovers that Monroe is an artist, she finally has to admit she’s hooked. But still she resists. He’s way too dangerous for her.

However hard he tries to distance himself, Monroe finds himself falling for the family against his will -- and the gorgeous Jessie is the catalyst. He wants her, badly, but knows he shouldn’t touch her. She’s got quality written all over her and that’s a word he can barely even spell.

When Linc gives Monroe a birthday gift, Monroe’s fear of becoming a part of the family comes to a head and he snubs his brother. Thinking Monroe has been unbelievably rude, Jessie confronts him. During the heated exchange that follows, Jessie sees through Monroe’s cool, cocky facade to the vulnerable, lonely man beneath. He needs love, companionship -- and who better to give it to him than her?

With Linc and Ali and their children away in New York for two weeks, Jessie and Monroe begin a tempestuous affair. But while Jessie becomes convinced Monroe is her dream man, Monroe knows he’s exactly the opposite. He can never give her family or commitment; he just doesn’t live that way.

When Ali and Linc return, Ali cautions Jessie about the affair. The sex may be fantastic, but Monroe’s going to be a hard man to love, especially if he won’t share his feelings with her. Jessie is blinded by her love for Monroe, though, and allows him to dictate the terms of the relationship, especially when she watches him deliver Ali’s baby — the doctor was unable to get there in time — and begins to spin dreams about what a wonderful father Monroe would make.

Jessie becomes increasingly uneasy, however, when she tells Monroe she loves him, countless times, and he says nothing in return. Eventually, at Ali’s suggestion, Jessie gives Monroe an ultimatum she won’t sleep with him anymore until he tells her how he really feels.

Desperate to guard his heart, scared that he is falling in love with someone he can never keep, Monroe closes himself off from Jessie and the rest of the family. If only he could just get on his Harley and go now, but somehow he can’t bring himself to do it.

Jessie makes the startling discovery that she’s pregnant. She tells Monroe and is horrified when he accuses her of cheating on him. The baby isn’t his. It can’t be. His mother -- an abusive woman who hated both him and Linc -- had him sterilised as a young teenager. Jessie flees to New York, now convinced that she has been fooling herself about Monroe all along. How can he ever have loved her if he can accuse her of something so hideous?

Linc forces Monroe to get tested by a fertility specialist. Monroe discovers he is the father of Jessie’s baby, something that he knew all along in his heart. He tracks Jessie down in New York.

Hurt and angry, Jessie resists him. Monroe is forced to finally lay his feelings bare, to admit to Jessie that he loved her all along but was too scared to tell her. Because he thought he could never give her what she dreamed of. Home, hearth, family.

Jessie sees Monroe for who he really is. Not a dream man, but a real one. He’s vulnerable and insecure after the horrors of his childhood, but he loves her, and he needs her and is at last willing to admit it. She doesn’t want a fantasy anymore, she wants Monroe, their baby and a life they can build together.

Phew, that was a bit long... But now you get my drift I hope. Conflict, conflict, conflict....


Aideen said...

I don't know if I'm thrilled or terrified with your synopsis. You made it sound SO easy!!
It's brilliant and had I not already bought this book (and thoroughly enjoyed it) I'd be rushing out to find a copy somewhere.
It's not over the top, I understood where you were going with it and it sold the book for sure.
That doesn't mean I actually learned anything though, LOL. Oh, I hate these things despite knowing that they are crucial to all of us unpublished writers out there. I just have trouble trying to select what's really important but reading this post I realise that the focus should clearly be on the conflict.
Thanks so much for this, looking forward to the notes that will follow.


Heidi said...

Hi Aideen

Good to hear from you, and glad to hear you'll be entering the comp... But balls, I didn't mean to intimidate you... If it's any consolation I have another synopsis (from my first finished ms) which will remain under lock and key and never see the light of day because it is so crap... And I've got outlines from books I've written since that needed major revisions... This is probably the best synopsis I've ever written or will ever write and it took a lot of work. Because, let's face it, I'm not going to stick something on my blog that makes me look bad...

What I wanted to say, but didn't quite get round to saying in the blog post (duh!) is that you should look at the synopsis as a way of clarifying and understanding your conflict. Free yourself up from feeling you have to describe every single scene and instead use the narrative of your synopsis to look at the big picture and see how your H & h are changing and developing throughout the story. And then it can actually help you when it comes to writing said book.

(or not as the case may be).

Amy Strnad said...

Thanks so much for this! It was very helpful to read the actual synopsis submitted on a book I've read . . . and enjoyed! Damn - I would have loved reading the scene where Monroe delivered the baby, but obviously that was one of the changes suggested. Maybe they figured a hero covered in amniotic fluid wouldn't be attractive?! Tried to leave the same comments on I Heart Presents but for some reason my password isn't working. Neither is the new one they sent me! Oh well.

Thanks again.


Rachael Johns said...

Thanks so much for doing this! ditto what amy said about reading the synopsis of a book I've actually read! Can't wait to hear what the editors had to say!!

Heidi said...

Hi Amy and Rachel

Yeah, Amy you're absolutely right. The amniotic fluids had to go basically. Interestingly, most of the things that got cut out of the finished book weren't actually in the synopsis (which now I think of it should have been a great big clue...). What's perhaps more interesting is all the scenes I had to leave out of the synopsis that were in the book.

Rachel, will contact my editor for that book and see if she's okay with me posting her revision letter. If not will just allude to the actual revs.

Glad it's been of some help. I always like illustrations. Well, they do always bang on about showing not telling, don't they!

mulberry said...

Hey, Heidi, thank you so much for posting this! Synopsis writing is a big scary thing for most of us, I think! I haven't read this book yet but this synopsis is making me want to- can see why the editor requested the full (well, that and your fab writing, of course!)

Jackie Ashenden said...

ARgh, Heidi! What a great synop! Everything turns on the decisions of the characters (she says proudly, having just learned that this is a Good Thing). :-)

I know what you mean about the end product looking like a totally different story from the initial synop though. Already mine is veering wildly from what I sent with my partial. Oh well.

Lacey Devlin said...

I love your title! Flipping things indeed! Thanks for the example :) Now if only I could find a way to channel you the next time I'm writing one... :)

Lorraine said...

Thanks so much for sharing this with us Heidi. With all the advice people have been generously sharing I feel like I'm just about getting there now with concentrating on conflict and character development. What I hate though is when they say they want one page synopses!
Just completing my synopsis re-write so this is brilliant timing.
Thanks again :-)

Heidi said...

Cool. So glad this was helpful... Will do another post soon on what had to be changed etc.

Heidi x

Alaura said...

Thank you Heidi. I must buy that story you really hooked me in. Is your hero wealthy? On the surface he doesn't seem to be even comfortably off but I always thought Modern Heat heroes like Presents heros needed to be wealthy. (Although the new Modern heat guidelines don't actually say this.)

Heidi said...

Hi Alaura,

That's a very interesting question about Monroe's wealth. No he wasn't wealthy, in fact at the beginning of the book all he has is his Harley, a battered box of oil paints, a few clothes and a bedroll (which made the US title Bedded by a Playboy a bit of a misnomer actually).

Now in the epilogue we do discover that Monroe has become a hugely successful artist, so he is aspirational which is how Bryony Green the line's senior editor explained his situation. But yeah, I definitely think with Modern Heat your hero can be 'an alpha in the making' in terms of his wealth or status, as long as he's got all those other delicious alpha qualities.

To be honest, all my heroes since have been rich - but I certainly haven't ruled out doing another aspirational Bad Boy hero like Monroe, because I think the hero's appeal springs from his sexiness, his confidence, his charm, etc, much more than his money.

Lynne Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynne Hunt said...

Oh, thank you for that! I've been kicking myself upside the head because I can write the damn book but panic over a 2-page summary. You made it an awful lot clearer.