Siren: NA Romance

Siren

Intended Audience: New Adult (18-30 years)
Genre: Romance
Length: 80-90k words

Logline: Ashlyn Holland, a mute woman haunted by the tragic loss of her father, learns that sometimes she must let people close in order to heal the wounds of her heart and move forward.

Summary

Since losing her father to a violent storm, Ashlyn’s struggled with the emotional pain it caused. Finding comfort in her silence, she withdraws from people to protect her heart.

When Ashlyn meets Derek, their newest fisherman, he doesn’t withdraw as she expects. Guided by the secrets he keeps, Derek refuses to be pushed away, and Ashlyn can’t help being curious why this gentle guy with the warm smile cares.

Pushing people away had always been easy, but when Abel, the closest thing she has to a father, suffers a heart attack, Ashlyn’s walls shatter. There amongst the broken mess, Derek finds her and provides the comfort she desperately needs. Exposed and no longer capable of shutting him out, Ashlyn’s resistance weakens. Derek continues to push back against every wall she builds, something he failed to do when his friend needed him most. Motivated by his need for redemption from his guilt, Derek remains patient, and it doesn’t take long to see a breakthrough.

When he says ‘I love you’ her fear returns, drowning her hearts whispers. Just as Ashlyn manages this fear, a ghost from Derek’s past arrives projecting their guilt, and Derek re-acknowledges his guilt and transfers it into trying to fix Ashlyn. Secret appointments and betrayals amount before the truth comes out, and both are forced to acknowledge what holds them back.

Having always struggled to get past all the hurt and grief of losing her father, it takes Derek pushing her to see a specialist for Ashlyn to acknowledge these feelings and accept that the only way to move forward is to finally let go. Ashlyn realizes her grief affects more than just her, and she doesn’t want to be held back anymore. She wants the joy and hope that Derek’s love has given her. So she resumes her therapy, finds healthier methods for processing her grief, and with some help from her family, she finally accepts what happened and looks ahead.

After twenty years, Ashlyn feels a weight lifted, and the only person she wants to celebrate with is Derek. But then Derek says he must leave to face his own demons. Her doubts return watching him go, not knowing when, or if, he’ll be back. Two weeks pass as Ashlyn anxiously awaits his return while preparing for the approaching storm.

When the storm arrives, Ashlyn’s relief over Derek’s safety is short-lived when she learns he had returned early that morning and is out amidst the storm. Watching their fishing boat try to port safely, Ashlyn is confident of only one thing; she won’t lose Derek.

Braving the turbulent waves, Ashlyn steals a boat and rows out to help, desperately trying to find her voice. A large wave flips her boat before she makes it and Ashlyn is thrown into the ocean. Several men, Derek included, witness this and jump in to help. Help arrives shortly after.

Once safely back on land, Ashlyn speaks for the first time, telling him she loves him.

Major Plotlines:

  • Ashlyn’s journey as she moves towards finding closure in what happened to her father and acknowledging that she has allowed her grieving to control her life ever since, closing her off from the people who love and care for her.

  • Derek’s search for redemption after he failed to be there for his best friend through his illness. Derek regrets not fighting harder to be there for his friend when he needed him most and starts to believe the only way to be freed from his guilt is to ‘save’ someone else, which reflects in how hard he pushes Ashlyn at times. Through the story, we experience his journey towards realizing his need for self-forgiveness.

  • Ashlyn’s exploration of the friendship that grows between her and Derek, and the eventual realization she has that she loves him.

Other Notes:

  • Ashlyn has psychogenic mutism, initially bought on by the trauma of witnessing her fathers fishing boat go up in flames. With time she found comfort in not speaking with people and the extra distance it created between her and others, that she chose to continue not speaking into her adulthood.

  • Ashlyn’s journey through her grief, and similarly Derek’s understanding of his guilt and search for redemption, factor heavily in this story. I also seek to highlight the importance of a loving and supportive community and how it can impact a person on their journey.

  • This story is currently a work in progress. I have begun writing this and am a third of the way into the planned plot.

8 Likes

I think you can get away with removing “it caused” from the first sentence since the opening phrase makes the cause clear enough. I’d personally reverse the phrases in the second sentence so it ends with “finding comfort in her silence,” since the silence is probably what you want to emphasize (especially given the ending and the name of the book).

In the first sentence of this second paragraph, you may want to choose a different way to describe how Ashlyn expects Derek to react to her — especially since the same verb is used in the previous sentence. Somebody usually “withdraws” from something that causes repulsion, pain, or fear, while I’d assume that somebody reacting negatively to another person’s mutism would come from a place of discomfort, which doesn’t quite match up. I think the way you worded it in the next sentence, “refuses to be pushed away,” fits better.

Also, I’m not clear on how “the secrets [Derek] keeps” are informing his actions, so as it is, that phrase isn’t giving me much useful information.

In can be inferred from the first paragraph, but this part of the summary might be enhanced by a nod towards what Ashlyn stands to lose if she lets somebody in (and therefore what’s motivating her to keep pushing this guy away). It’ll also emphasize the consequences of what happens with Abel in the next sentence.

“There amongst the broken mess” isn’t a bad description, but I think we’re already getting that image from “Ashlyn’s walls shatter,” and the sentence makes as much sense without that phrase. Same goes for “Ashlyn’s resistance weakens,” which is better illustrated by “exposed and no longer capable of shutting him out.”

These sentences feel artful but vague. Essentially, this section seems to exist in order to inform the reader that Ashlyn and Derek’s relationship progresses, which can be inferred from the next paragraph. I’d suggest either cutting these sentences out altogether or replacing them with a specific moment that brings them closer.

The important information in the first sentence seems to be that Derek says “I love you,” causing Ashlyn to have a strong negative reaction. Technically, “when he says ‘I love you’” is an introductory phrase, and so should have a comma after “you,” and there should be a possessive apostrophe in “hearts.” However, “drowning her heart’s whispers” feels vague, as does “projecting their guilt, and Derek re-acknowledges his guilt and transfers it into trying to fix Ashlyn” (especially since it’s not said what Derek’s guilt stems from). Since the third sentence seems to be summing up the first two sentences, I think you can condense this entire paragraph.

If I’m interpreting this paragraph correctly, something reminds Derek of past guilt, which causes him to overcompensate by clinging tighter to Ashlyn, which makes her feel suffocated and pushes her away. This seems like an important conflict in their relationship, so definitely find a way to include it.

Basically:
Derek pushes Ashlyn to resume therapy to get over her father’s death. As a result of her character development, this time she’s ready, and it works.

It’s unclear whether it’s been twenty years since her dad died, or a twenty year time jump in the story. I’m going to guess it’s the former. To avoid confusion, I’d suggest removing this phrase. I’m also unclear whether “the approaching storm” is literal since it’s a commonly-used metaphor. To clear that up, maybe be more specific with the type of storm (hurricane? tropical storm? blizzard?).

Ashlyn’s next action is driven because she’s not confident that she won’t lose Derek, so maybe rephrase that second sentence to emphasize the tension.

“Rows out to help” and “brav[es] the turbulent waves” describe the same action. Since the latter is stronger, I’d suggest going with that option. “Desperately trying to find her voice” is a nice callback to Ashlyn’s mutism.

Awesome way to tie it up.

You can easily cut down on word count by replacing artful language with more utilitarian phrasing. The core relationship progression seems solid. With those extra words, I think this summary could benefit from a greater indication of Ashlyn’s character and her goals/motivations outside of her future with Derek. Overall, it sounds like a cute, emotional story with a well-structured plot that doesn’t sound too contrived and has the right amount of conflict.

3 Likes

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I really appreciate the time that you have given to read through this pitch and leave such constructive and insightful feedback. Everything that you have said and the suggestions you have made make sense. It helps to clarify some of the errors that I now see could have been stronger and better explained, and I am looking forward to working on these changes in the next couple of days. Thank you (:

2 Likes

The second half of the story doesn’t really need to exist for the first half to make sense/have closure. If anything, it opens up a little more confusion.

A cute fishing village romance is fine, having mutism caused by trauma and pushing people away in response makes sense, as does the original motivation of Derek in wanting to make up for guilt of prior issues by helping a new person. Both characters have something to learn in each other (pushing away versus pulling in).

But then it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. They get close enough to talk love, which makes her shy all over again (fine) and someone from his past shows up and projects guilt? How? Who is this person? What are the secrets? What spills out? This is the critical moment, the bottom of act two where all things are now at their lowest point and instead it is lacking in specific detail.

Then, somehow, she goes to therapy and just gets better? But then it goes on, she still doesn’t talk, and he has this random outing twenty years later, which doesn’t align with the momentum of the plot at all. If she’s finally gotten over her issues and starting to come around, why does she just not for an extra twenty years? And then having him also go out to sea feels pretty forced and arbitrary, just existing so that she can basically re-experience her past trauma (which she supposedly already got over in therapy the healthy way).

You have two characters coming together through their mental states (push/pull) and past traumas. They then do something which separates them and then they overcome it and get better. That’s a perfectly reasonable story. It has a climax built right in. It does not need this bigger, second climax showing up later to really test them, especially at the expense of glossing over the critical moment earlier.

4 Likes

Hey Nick,

Apologies for the delay on getting back to you with my revised pitch. I wanted to spend a bit more time working on the outline and the story itself to get a better gauge of how it progresses so I could better capture the ARC in this summary.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and suggestions on the initial pitch. I have taken into consideration everything you’d mentioned, and have hopefully been able to clarify on the aspects that were not initially detailed appropriately.

Thank you!

Revised Summary

Since losing her father to a violent storm twenty years ago, Ashlyn’s struggled with the emotional pain. Withdrawing to protect her heart, she finds comfort in her silence since the accident.

Derek, Glassmont’s newest fisherman, doesn’t withdraw like everyone else. Drawn by her kindness and curious silence, and guided by his own burdens, Derek refuses to be pushed away, and Ashlyn can’t help wondering why.

When Abel, the closest thing she has to a father, suffers a heart attack, Ashlyn’s walls shatter. Amongst the broken mess, Derek provides the comfort she desperately needs. Now exposed, Derek continues to push back against every wall Ashlyn builds, motivated by his underlying need for redemption.

When Derek says, ‘I love you,’ Ashlyn panics. Calming herself, she decides to give love a chance, just as a ghost from Derek’s past, in the form of his best friend Liam’s estranged brother, arrives in town, disrupting everything.

As college roommates, Derek and Liam had been close. When Derek learned that Liam had cancer and was secretly receiving treatment, Liam made Derek promise not to tell anyone, even his family. Derek reluctantly obliged only to be consumed with guilt when Liam passed.

Liam’s brother, guilty he hadn’t been there or known the truth, projects his guilt onto Derek, accusing him of failing Liam. His own guilt intensified, Derek pushes back on Ashlyn, desperate to “fix” her and subconsciously redeem himself. Secret appointments and betrayals amount, truths come out, and both are forced to acknowledge their flaws.

Having struggled with her hurt and grief for too long, it takes Derek’s intercedings for Ashlyn to acknowledge and accept she needs to move forward and let go. Realizing her grief affects her friends too, Ashlyn resumes therapy, learns healthier methods for processing her grief, and with some help from her community, begins to accept what happened.

With each session, Ashlyn feels a weight being lifted, and Derek’s the only person she wants to celebrate her progress with. But then Derek, motivated by Ashlyn’s strength and progress, says he must leave for Portland to face his own demons. Watching him go, without having the courage to share her feelings, her doubts return, not knowing when, or if, he’ll be back.

Two weeks later, a storm strikes, and Ashlyn learns that Derek returned early that morning and was out amidst the storm. Watching Derek’s boat struggle to port safely, evading the rocky outcrops of the lighthouse, Ashlyn refuses to lose Derek like she did her father.

Lost in the adrenaline, Ashlyn foolishly steals a boat and braves the turbulent waves, desperately seeking her voice. A large wave flips her boat and Ashlyn’s thrown into the ocean. Several men, Derek included, jump overboard to help.

Once safely back on land, Ashlyn whispers, telling Derek she loves him.

After talking, they both realize they’re tired of denying themselves what they want. They decide to open themselves to love, knowing that despite the long road ahead, they no longer have to navigate it alone.

4 Likes

Couple things on this one:

Derek needs a motivation early on for wanting to be in love with Ashlyn, especially in relation to redemption. It’s not entirely clear why he’s so insistent on liking this woman (maybe he just thinks she’s super beautiful but there has to be something). This makes it so that the later “I need to be redeemed” reason doesn’t come out of nowhere, it’s just an additional layer on something that already makes sense. You can’t bury the lead on character motivations. They can have a true one, but that means they’ll need a fake one until the true is revealed.

Also the story of Derek doesn’t really seem to go anywhere or come full circle in terms of a satisfying resolution. He feels bad about not telling anyone about a friend’s cancer to honour their wishes and his solution to watching the woman he loves go through therapy to face her demons is to not go to therapy himself but to instead go out to sea for no clear reason, and he doesn’t actually resolve anything out there, he just comes back after a bit. Most of it doesn’t really align with his issues or make sense, and feels more like the need for a scene in which he’s out at sea, like her father, so that she can also go out to sea and be saved. Either give him a different issue or relation so that him needing to go out to sea makes sense or don’t have him go out to sea so that he has a more meaningful resolution in relation to his issue.

Lastly, remove the coincidental crash of the ship as part of saving her. It breaks the believability of the moment, saving someone overboard is already tense enough, to have it that her needing to be saved really saved them from a freak accident is a weird moment.

Aside from those three moments, I do enjoy the focus and clarity on their relationship and on someone attending therapy. I also find it interesting that she only goes to therapy in response to being loved and yet the person who loves her isn’t going themselves and is the most personally resistant to it (seemingly). That seems like a really interesting angle to explore.

3 Likes

Wow, thank you for such a quick response, and for some great pointers. I’ve made a couple of additions to the summary to clarify the points you made, and I have removed the part about the coincidental crashing of the ship, as suggested.

To begin with, when he first meets Ashlyn, Derek is drawn in by her gentle kindness and is curious about her silence. While the guilt and his search for redemption are the underlying motivators to his interest in Ashlyn, he is still attracted to the kindness she exudes and her gentle nature. After what he’s been through, he feels that he needs someone like her, someone who doesn’t know his failings, even if it’s just as a friend.

This was an error on my part as I don’t think I’ve worded this part of the summary correctly, sorry. When he goes away to face his demons, Derek returns to Portland, to Liam’s family. He spends two weeks in Portland, talking things over with Liam’s parents, dealing with the guilt he’s been harboring, and learning that he needs to forgive himself for what happened. During his time with Liam’s family, Derek learns that they no longer hold what happened against him, and they help him to realize that he needs to do the same. During his time away, he has minimal contact with Ashlyn as he needs that time to focus on himself and healing so that he can be a better version of himself for her.

He returns to Glassmont early in the morning two weeks later, in time to go out to sea for work. It is during this time while at work when the storm starts to brew and they struggle to steer safely back to port.

Perfect, this part has been removed :slight_smile:

Just as Ashlyn initially believed, Derek doesn’t believe that he needs therapy. He is convinced that dealing with his guilt is something that he can handle himself, as evident by his decision to return to Portland to try and confront it on his own.

While his time away allows him to get closure and support, I don’t doubt that at times he will still have to wrestle with those thoughts of guilt that he’s carried for several years, so the plan had been for Ashlyn to be open about how therapy had helped her process her emotions and the thoughts that she’d been dealing with, in hopes that Derek would see, through her openness and willingness to share, the benefits of going to therapy.

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