A lot of
new (and not so new!) writers struggle
to summarize their brilliant, multi-layered,
emotionally-rich stories into the short
synopsis format required for an initial
query to lines such as mine: Silhouette
How can you do that story justice in
a couple of pages?
It isn’t easy. Yes, I struggle,
too, and am rarely happy with the result.
But, the synopsis is a vital selling
tool and writing a decent one is a talent
Instead of attempting to TELL what to
include or how to structure the synopsis,
I’ve decided to SHOW what I include
with an example. The sample is a short
synopsis of my July 2005 Desire, THE
RUGGED LONER (book 1 in the “Princes
of the Outback” trilogy.)
The original length was 2 pages single
spaced (approx. 1000 words.) I have added
some comments (bold, italic) on what’s
included, but also note what isn’t
included: no character description, no
secondary characters (although there
are several with key roles in the story,)
minimal setting, no back story (although
this couple has plenty,) no detailed
To keep the synopsis this brief, I concentrated
on the two main characters, their goals
and conflict, on the romantic and emotional
turning points, the black moment and
Short Synopsis: The
After losing his wife in a plane crash,
Tomas Carlisle has cut himself off from
everything except working the Australian
outback station that is his home and
his only reason for living. But his father’s
death and an unexpected will clause shocks
him out of his self-imposed isolation.
To inherit his family’s cattle
empire, Tomas must father a child within
His solution is a baby-making deal with
Angelina Mori, a lifelong friend who
wants to repay his family for her education
and upbringing...and who has wanted Tomas
for most of her life.
***Opening paragraph introduces hero
and heroine (very briefly,) the situation
or point of change that starts the story,
and his goal.
Tomas spells out his position clearly:
he is doing this because he has to; he
doesn’t want any emotional connection
with the baby or its mother. Angie is
confident she can change that position.
She believes she can teach Tomas to live
and love and laugh again—that’s
the real reason she has agreed to have
his baby and why she insists it is conceived
the natural way.
***Here is the conflict—a heroine
prepared to help him achieve his goal,
but with a conflicting viewpoint on the
method and how it will pan out.
At first Tomas resists, insisting they
choose artificial insemination, but Angie
stands her ground. (NB: For the first
several chapters of the book Tomas resists,
but I have summarized this into one sentence.)
When they do climb into bed he attempts
to keep the connection purely physical,
but the open sensuality of Angie’s
lovemaking blows his control. Afterwards
he scurries straight back into his emotional
rabbit-hole. He is afraid of enjoying
her too much and wanting her too much.
His wife couldn’t handle the harshness
of his rugged outback home, and Angie
has grown from a teenage tomboy into
a social gadfly addicted to the bright
lights. He doesn’t think she will
adapt any better.
***This paragraph serves several functions:
we learn Tomas’s motivation for
maintaining emotional distance and it
also shows that the book is going to
be a sensual/sexy read BUT that the lovemaking
will have deep emotional overtones (both
points, crucial for a Desire synopsis.)
He retreats to the outback, leaving Angie
to await the results of their one passionate
night. She placates herself with the
knowledge that it was more than sex,
that it was a connection of more than
bodies. When she discovers she’s
not pregnant, she travels to the outback
to try again...not only to conceive the
baby Tomas needs, but to convince him
she is his ideal partner.
***Next plot-point ups the stakes and
an active character (our heroine) doesn’t
sit back. She acts, driving the story
Tomas doesn’t want Angie in his
home, insinuating herself into his life.
Yet he can’t send her away, not
when she provides the key to keeping
his home. If he makes her pregnant. He
wants her but he hates wanting her, knowing
how much harder it will be when she leaves.
To maintain distance, he declares that
the only sex they’re having is
baby-making sex. And she is not sleeping
in his bed.
***Conflict, conflict, conflict.
Angie hides her hurt well, even as Tomas
works longer and longer days and spends
more nights away from home. But when
he returns home for his brother’s
engagement party, Angie has moved into
his bedroom. Guests have taken up all
the spare beds so what can he do but
Tomas tries to keep a lid on his libido,
not easy when Angie whispers in the dark
that she’s missed him. She admits
that she may be pregnant, and they talk
about the reality of a baby. When she
reaches for him, when she puts his hand
on her still-flat belly, Tomas’s
willpower cracks. They make love with
a passionate intensity, and this time
it’s not about making a baby. For
the first time Angie sleeps in her lover’s
***High point where everything is wonderful;
where both our heroine and the reader
feels the HEA is in sight. EXCEPT...
Angie’s euphoria, however, is short-lived.
Despite her missed period the home test
proves negative, and Tomas insists she
return to the city to see a doctor. Afraid
this separation will drive them apart
again, Angie admits that she loves him,
that she always has, that he broke her
heart by marrying her best friend.
***Confession of a secret leads to a
dramatic dark moment.
Sucker-punched by her confession and
her insistence that they have a future
together, with or without the baby, Tomas
protects himself the only way he knows
how. He retreats behind the wall he built
after losing his wife, a wall built on
guilt and anguish because he couldn’t
make his beloved wife happy. That he
drove her to her death.
He tells Angie that he can’t love
her and that he will never marry again.
***Angie’s black moment. All is
lost and hopeless.
Finally Angie is forced to accept the
truth. No matter how hard she tries,
she can’t make the stubborn, wounded
man open his heart to the possibility
of love. And she wants nothing less than
his love—she deserves nothing less
than his heart.
Although Tomas planned to accompany her
to the city doctor’s appointment,
he returns from an overnight muster to
find her gone. Her note says she doesn’t
want him holding her hand out of obligation.
She will let him know the result.
Tomas discovers how empty his home and
his life is without Angie, but he is
determined to get over it. Until he receives
her brief email confirming she isn’t
pregnant. His initial disappointment
turns to indignation—there’s
no hint of emotion, no explanation, no
sense of how she’s taken the news—and
quickly changes to concern for her well-being.
He stuns his whole staff by flying to
Sydney in the middle of his station’s
***Tomas drives the resolution through
action precipitated by change—he
has to change his goal and his belief
(that he can make this woman happy) and
in order to achieve this goal he has
to risk his heart again.
Angie appears underwhelmed by his arrival,
coolly chastising him for interrupting
a meeting at her new job. When she starts
to walk away, he is stricken with the
realization that she has moved on, starting
a new life. That she really is gone from
his. Unable to contemplate a life without
her color, her passion, her enthusiasm,
Tomas tells her that he wants her as
his wife, in his bed, in his life.
***Show that resolution won’t be
too quick and neat with a final obstacle
or show of resistance. What change is
necessary? What sacrifice or risk?
Angie is not convinced. She keeps on
walking, only to hear his declaration
of love clear across the hotel conference
room. He tells her—and every client
within earshot—that he doesn’t
give a fig about the baby or the inheritance,
not when he stands to lose the woman
When she turns and sees the depth of
emotion in his eyes, she knows he has
finally opened his heart. She walks back
into his arms and lets him know she will
guard that heart carefully, ardently,
forever. She wants to do whatever is
necessary to keep the home they both
love. If that means keeping him in bed
for a whole month in a last-ditch effort
to make a baby, then so be it!
Tomas, of course, is happy to oblige.