Limelight, or Take Another Shot, or Dark Secrets –
(Current Working Titles)
Former Green Beret Luke Alexander just wants to forget his past, and mind his own business in the wood of east Tennessee. And, his park ranger job seems just the solution…until into his world walks a diva movie star looking for someplace to hide. But the Cherokee forest isn’t big enough for the both of them, not if you include the trouble MacKenzie has dragged along behind her. And soon she’s stirring up his own murky past – a past out for revenge. Which trouble will find them first? It’s going to get much darker for Luke and MacKenzie in the hills of Tennesse…
[okay, that is what I call the big bang, or one-two punch of the first paragraph. I also use it in the query letter, (sometimes abbreviated). Basically it’s an intro into the entire story, a “story at a glance” so to speak.]
If he could Luke Alexander could break free of the darkness holding him to the past. It’s not the years he spent as a Green Beret, working undercover to stop the flow of drugs into America from Mexico that imprison him in darkness, but the memory of the day he and his buddy Darrin got ambushed and the dark nightmare of six months of torture at the hands of drug smugglers. Darkest of all is the explosive escape that cost Darrin his life, and also killed a nine year old boy working to free them. It’s not that Luke can’t remember – in fact, he remembers too well the screams of his friend, his warm blood on his hands. But he can’t tell the world how Darrin kept Luke alive and gave his life for his. In fact, the army won’t even let him acknowledge that Darrin existed…and died in action, even as they touted Luke as a hero.
But Luke’s not a hero. Because heroes didn’t numb their regret with pain pills, despite the very real agony of rehabbing his shattered leg. And heroes didn’t ditch the people they cared about without a word.
No, Luke isn’t a hero. He’s a man tied to lies, to secrets, unable to live with himself, unable wrestle himself free. Probably it’s a good thing he lives alone in the woods, working as a park ranger in the hills of eastern Tennessee, minding his own business, and fighting his PTSD.
But not for long, because God has a plan to show Luke that he is a hero, and give him a second chance to prove it.
[okay, in that introductory paragraph, I set up who Luke is, and what God is going to do in his life…the promise of a takeaway.]
Actress MacKenzie Grace has always wanted to change the world. Okay, maybe her dreams of world peace might be a little overreaching, but certainly she could use her fame for good, right? At least it would justify the compromises she’s had to make along the way, compromises that have only pushed her outside the pocket of her relationship with God. The only daughter of two mentally-challenged adults, Kenzie has spent her life protecting her parents, but seeing their challenges – and occasionally the way the world preys on them – has made her heart soft toward the helpless. Like children caught in the web of human trafficking, a horror she became aware of while filming an international spy thriller in Thailand. It’s taken every last penny she has, even with her as director and lead to film a docudrama about the issue, and now, film in the can, she’s hoping it’ll take the independent film circuit by storm. But while she’s been working on her pet project, life back home in Hollywood has left her behind. Her husband of three years, sexy actor Nils Bruno has moved onto his most recent leading lady. And the backers of her film have pulled their funding. Worse, a stalker from the past has returned, this time with a deadly calling card – a bomb disguised as a gift. Broke, and unsure why life has turned against her, Kenzie has to decide what road she will take – changing the world or playing the role of action adventure heroine Hayes O’Brien, a role she’s come to personify.
Burned, and shaken from the attempted murder, Kenzie agrees to lay low in Tennessee for a couple weeks at her agent’s family vacation home while the cops hunt down her attacker. Maybe she can also figure out why the future seems so blank, and her heart so empty. Kenzie is about to discover that God hasn’t left her – and if she’ll let him back into her life, he’ll fill her empty places with more than she could ask or imagine.
[The same set-up goes for MacKenzie’s character. I want to establish who they are, and what makes them tic. And, again, end with the promised take-away for the reader. Remember, you are trying to prove to the editor that you know your characters and your story. I also included the inciting incident in this paragraph.]
Luke can’t believe how fast the Alzheimer’s has stolen his father, a man of only seventy-two years. Worse, the last memory his father has of him is of Luke decking him while in a drugged haze, then racing away on his motorcycle. Luke counted it a miracle that he didn’t kill anyone, and came to his senses long enough to check into treatment. Shame kept him away as he finished college and pulled his life back together, long enough to lose his father. If only he could make the old man proud, one last time.
[this paragraph tells Luke’s long term greatest dream – what he really wants in his heart. It’s this desire that will compel him to make smaller choices throughout the book. Sometimes referred to as the Noble Cause, it’s what he has to live for.]
Meanwhile, he’ll just try and show up for family events, and keep his nephew out of trouble. When the six year old hijacks a wheelchair, Luke just barely rescues him before he’s flattened by a semi. The heroic act is picked up by the local newspaper, and it doesn’t take long before a reporter shows up on his doorstep wanting an interview.
[The inciting incident for Luke.]
However, she’s not really after a real interview…she wants a reaction to a tell-all book, Dark Secrets, put out by Darrin’s widow on what really happened during Luke’s rescue. Based on speculation, is a book filled with questions, conspiracy theories and the contention that Luke left a bleeding, but alive Darrin, behind.
It’s an accusation that has Luke fighting the memories of his own failures that dark day – unfortunately right after Kenzie shows up at the ranger headquarters.
[Now we also know the conflict – how it is opposite Luke’s goals of becoming a hero. If this gets it, it shows him as a coward.]
Armed with directions from Greg, her agent, Kenzie’s arrived hoping to find Luke waiting to show her to the vacation home. Unfortunately, Luke hasn’t picked up his cell phone messages, what with him living off the grid, and he has no idea who Kenzie is, assuming she’s a nosy reporter.
[The moment when they meet, and their initial and external conflict.]
As if. Kenzie would rather have her legs waxed than be a reporter. And seeing the reporter go after Luke – well, despite his rude mistake, she’s not going to let him be dismantled by the press, either. She goes on the attack, and sends the reporter packing.
[Note here: at this point, and for the middle of the book, I alternate povs, summarizing the story in Luke and Kenzie’s povs, so we can sort of hear their voice.]
Thanks, but Luke doesn’t need her help – although he can admit it feels good, just for a second, to have someone take up for him. Still, after an illuminating conversation with Greg, Luke knows is that Kenzie needs a safe place…and to stay out of the public radar. However, she’ll have to curb her she-bear propensity if she hopes to dodge the press, even out here in East Tennessee.
What’s more, the news of Dark Secrets, has stirred old worries – and nightmares – inside Luke. It’s an apropos title, because yes, dark secrets surround that day. Luke’s worst fear are that yes, Darrin did live through the attack…only to be tortured to death years later. It’s a scenario the army refuses to admit. Beyond that lingers another fear…what if Darrin gave up Luke’s stateside address? A sudden appearance from Luke in the media could raise the heads those left behind…and hurt the people he loves. His greatest fear is that his past would find him today, and destroy his future.
But his old captors wouldn’t come after him in the states, right?
[I know I talk about this a lot, but knowing your character’s greatest fear will allow you set up the black moment later in the story. You want to set up that greatest fear early in the synopsis, so it has an opportunity to build. Sometimes the easiest way is to just state it.]
Kenzie can’t believe that Greg’s “vacation home” is nothing more than a one-room cabin in the woods…a cabin without plumbing, no less. Yes, okay, she grew up in sketchy living accommodations, but she’s left that world long behind and grown accustomed to things like…um, plumbing. Hot showers. A daily latte. Is this what she has to look forward to if her career crashes, and she goes bankrupt?
[More conflict from Kenzie…and a hint at what her greatest fear is…that she won’t make it out of her current career slump. Also, her attitude will change as the story progresses, until she starts to appreciate the simpler things…and the freedom of this will allow her to take a risk that she so fears. Showing the change is an important part of the story arc and synopsis.]
Good grief, who is this princess Greg has sent to the woods? Worse, she’s a wreck in the kitchen, and what’s the deal with her needing fruffy coffee? How does Greg expect him to protect a woman who refuses to be protected…and proves it by trying to hike out of the woods, and nearly getting killed? Maybe she imagined the stalker…
Especially since the so-called stalker is proved innocent. Suddenly eyes are on Kenzie…who really was trying t hurt her? The media has decided it’s an event designed to create sympathy, and suddenly she’s being sued by her ex-husband for defamation of character. Is this all an act – by a talented actress – to raise sympathy and court media attention for her film?
[So, now I’m hitting all the major story points – making it worse for each character, increasing their obstacles to love, as well as raising the tension. Note too that I’m keeping a wide-angle view of the story, not zeroing in on one particular scene.]
Kenzie can’t believe the lies the media can pile up. And sitting around this cabin isn’t relaxing…it’s suffocating. Not only that, her cell phone doesn’t work, and there isn’t a even a radio. And it would help if Luke didn’t treat her like a prisoner. So she burned supper – she could cook, just hadn’t done it for a while. And, okay, maybe she shouldn’t have shrunk his wool sweater…that was an accident. How was she supposed to remember that wool shrunk in a dryer? It’s bad enough she’s doing laundry in town, at a Laundromat, but she hasn’t worn wool in years. Ever, maybe.
She needs a decent meal – preferably away from Luke’s dead zone cabin in the woods.
[So now I’m adding in some personal tension – and perhaps some humor, all in Kenzie’s pov so we hear her voice.]
Fine. Luke relents and takes her to a local roadhouse where they’re having open mic night. He probably shouldn’t be surprised that Kenzie wants to get up and sing, but most of all, he can’t believe that he finds himself up right next to her, singing an old Sonny and Cher song. What’s wrong with him?
[Remember to develop the romance thread, along with the plot and emotional threads…it can be simple…the set up and reasons why they “won’t work,” the little things that draw them together, then their reasons for loving each other, and finally why they can’t live without each other. J]
Maybe he’s going stir crazy. Yes, maybe they’ve been sitting around the cabin too long (forty eight hours can seem like an eternity with a woman who can quote every line from the Princess Bride). Luke takes her on a hike up the Appalachian Trail, hoping to distract her.
Okay, and yes, she makes him laugh. And, on the hike he realizes there is more to MacKenzie Grace than the tabloids make her out to be. She’s refreshing in the way she sees the world – as if it is something to be experienced, even devoured. She thrives on discovery…and Luke finds his skills as park ranger appreciated for more than just clearing forests and tracking down poachers.
Maybe bodyguard duty isn’t such a chore…
And neither is living in the woods. So maybe there is a charm to waking to birds serenading the dawn, listening to the tall red and white oaks brush the sky. The fragrance of loam mixed with the smoke from the wood fire, the wild asters and buttercups blooming in the yard have eased the knot in her chest. That, and Luke’s easy manner – no agenda, no expectations, just a clear smile and an appreciation of the simple things.
Not unlike her parents, who taught her that love, friendships and faith were the keystones to life. She’s forgotten that, somehow.
And Luke has helped her remember.
[so now we have moved the romance forward. Now we can go back to the regular plot.]
Luke wants his sister, who is a giant MacKenzie Grace fan to meet her, and the dinner out at the roadhouse seemed to go without a hitch…maybe no one will recognize her. But what Luke doesn’t know is that someone has recognized Kenzie – the reporter from the Nashville paper, and she’s hanging around town to get the inside scoop.
A scoop she plans on selling to a national gossip magazine – MacKenzie Grace, hiding from her fans, in torried love affair with man accused of being a fraud.
While buying Kenzie ice cream, Luke sees the reporter…and intercepts her. Unfortunately, she is the snake Kenzie predicted…she’ll trade the truth about Kenzie for an exclusive from Luke.
Kenzie revels in the feeling of being a normal person, instead of a celebrity, diving into the simple pleasures of backyard barbeque, and playing croquet. Maybe this is what she really wants – a home, a family…a man like Luke, who seems to enjoy her company…without the trappings of what her fame and money can bring to him. He seems to care for her – Kenzie Grace Nave, the girl who grew up in a trailer in the backhills of North Carolina. The girl she’s nearly forgotten, and is starting to discover again. If only she could hide here forever.
[so now we’ve raised the stakes again – Kenzie loves staying there, and has feelings for Luke; Luke is starting to have feelings for Kenzie…but now their little world is threatened…]
Luke can’t believe he’s been blackballed into giving an interview – especially one that probes into his darkest fears, and of course, it sets off his feelings of being trapped…the kind that ignites his old issues of PTSD. Suddenly he’s irritable and angry…and feeling trapped, wanting to run, to leave it all behind. He finds himself sitting in his father’s room at the hospital, wishing the old man could give him advice, wishing he hadn’t wasted his last years with him.
[So now we’re going to bring up Luke’s past. The point of a story/journey is to put pressure on the hero/heroine until they are forced to confront something inside them that has held them back from their greatest dreams all these years. I often call it the “lie they believe”…which I’ll reveal in a future paragraph. In this one, we see Luke buckling under the pressure.]
Kenzie, however, isn’t as naive as Luke thinks…she knows something is wrong, thanks to her years researching roles, and when she runs into the reporter, she puts it together.
[Note: You always want to give your characters some special “skill” they can use/tap into in defeating the “enemy” of the story, in this case Luke’s tendency to hide from the world.]
No, she and Luke aren’t an item. But no, she’s not going to let him do an interview about an event that still torments him – evidenced by the way he wanders around in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. He’s been nothing but a gentleman to her and she’s not about to allow him to take the fall for a job he never wanted. She tracks down the reporter and agrees to an exclusive interview…if she’ll leave Luke alone.
But the story is to lucrative to let go…and the reporter broadcasts to the world photos she took of Kenzie and Luke at the roadhouse, getting chummy….Photos that are reprinted for the tabloids and end up on the grocery rack in town. Kenzie’s identity is out, and yes, the hordes descend…along with her nightmares. Her stalker is back and this time, leaving a much more deadly gift on her door…a skunk, skinned and pinned to her door.
[So, now they have both made mini-sacrifices for each other, but the tension rises because she’s been found…]
Maybe Kenzie has been telling the truth – and not just acting — after all. Disgusted with himself for doubting her, Luke packs their bags and takes her into the wilderness…the only place he feels safe.
Especially since, in the back of his mind, Luke fears the message is really from the drug smugglers who have tracked him down, bent on payback.
[Every suspense should have some red herrings…so you want to raise the question of who really might be after them…]
Now Kenzie is freaked out. More than that, for the first time she really understands what being alone and afraid really feels like…a feeling that makes her realize just what it must be like for the hundreds of thousands of girls who are sold into slavery every year. She realizes that despite her attempts to help, she hasn’t really, ever sacrificed anything. Indeed, even the movie she made was to prove herself to her industry, that she was more than an action-adventure heroine.
[This is Kenzie’s dark spiritual moment – where she realizes she has been holding back, even living a lie…]
But, the truth is, she is Hayes O’brien, the rescuer, something Luke points out, along with the confession that he watched one of her movies. And maybe God opened the doors for her so she could bring to life the part she’s always played. An Esther for her times, perhaps she will play Hayes if it means she can invest the proceeds – truly sacrifice – for the ones who need rescuing.
[This is the truth that set her free; sometimes referred to as the epiphany!]
And likewise, maybe Luke is here for this time, also…to save HER life. Because Luke has morphed from sweet Park Ranger to Rambo. Clearly he isn’t going to let anything happen to her, right? Because he’s a true hero –someone who sacrifices himself for others. A hero she loves for his straight-forward courage, his kindness, and even his willingness to put aside his own comfort for others.
[Also, we see the transformation here of how she sees Luke, and the reasons she loves him…note that they are all qualities that she probably wants for herself, or at least, values as a result of her past.]
Luke can’t believe that the diva has turned into a die-hard. In fact, she’s determined to help him lay in wait for his attackers…and they sneak back to the cabin…
But tragedy awaits. His sister has come looking for them. She’s worried because her father, in an amazingly lucid moment, said Luke’s name. Ruthann fears her brother is in trouble again…
He is…because yes, someone is after them, and it’s not Luke’s past, or even Kenzie’s stalker. It’s Darrin’s bitter and angry widow who wants the truth out of Luke. What really happened to her husband? A confession is the currency she demands when she intercepts Ruthann and Trevor.
Luke’s worst fears flash before his eyes – the mistakes of his past finding him today, and threatening the people he love. He’ll have to make a choice…betray the secrets he’s been sworn to keep, or save his family. It’s a no-brainer. He doesn’t care what damage he does himself…doesn’t care that going back to that event just might cost him his sanity, his honorable discharge, or even if the drug smugglers track him down and finish what they started, as long as his family is safe.
And Mackenzie insists that this is what makes him a true hero… Because heroes aren’t those who leap from tall buildings – they’re the people who do what is right, every day, regardless of the fame.
More than that, maybe God has put people in Luke’s life in order for him to be a hero in all the small, amazing, true ways – like showing up at their father’s nursing home, throwing a football with his nephew, and even befriending a Hollywood princess in her time of need.
And they are his heroes right back.
Just like Darrin…who stayed behind to help Luke escape. A truth that the world needs to know.
[Luke’s dark moment, lie, truth and epiphany…]
And perhaps a truth that MacKenzie – the producer – could tell…
Luke confess the truth to Darrin’s widow, offering to allow her to enact her revenge on him – he’s willing to trade himself for his family, a scenario that Kenzie sees a horrific ending.
She steps in with a deal — – if Darrin’s widow will release Trevor and Ruthann, she’ll use her resources to create a docudrama to reveal the army’s lies to the world – and draw the picture of the true hero Darrin was. No more dark secrets.
Meanwhile, the small town law has shown up, on a tip from the reporter, who recognized Darrin’s widow in town. What’s more, Greg is with him with the news that Kenzie’s stalker has been found…and it’s none other than her husband’s new wife, a woman who wanted Kenzie permanently out of his life.
[This is just an SMW thing, but I really love having the heroine rescue the hero back in some way, using her unique talents, and here we can see how God brought her into Luke’s life to free him, too.]
It’s time to start over…and Kenzie knows what she wants to do. Yes, she’ll star as Hayes O’Brien, but this time on her terms. No more compromises, and with themes that showcase her heart issues. And for enough money to fund her production company. The second film on the agenda…the life story of Hero Darrin Gerard.
What’s more, Luke will narrate, because he become a fan of MacKenzie Grace, a woman who loved him despite his dark secrets…and a woman he loves right back, for her courage and bold heart. God has used her to help set him free of the darkness that imprisoned him, and taught him what true heroism looks like. And with Kenzie by his side, it’s time to walk forward….into the Limelight.
[Show the journey God has taken them on, what they’ve learned…and okay, so maybe the last line is a little hokey, but I wanted to work in the title of the book, too…]
So there you have it – the synopsis of Limelight or Take Another Shot, or Dark Secrets or whatever we decide to call it. Hope it helps! As always, hop over to My Book Therapy Voices to voice your questions, comments or suggestions! Every Voice Counts!