Writing blurbs can be considered the ultimate challenge. You’ve finished a full-length story–now write a brief statement that encapsulates your tale in a few paragraphs, using language that will entice, interest, and intrigue a would-be reader.
Oh, and keep it consistent with the story inside so that the two match. Simple, right?
Unless you’re a born salesperson, blurbs can be a challenge, which is why I offer blurb coaching as an option to where you don’t have to “go it alone.” But there’s also a basic formula you can follow to at least get your blurb started.
- Answer the Who, What, When, Where, and How questions. I wrote about how these can help you focus a novel here, and they come even more in handy when working on your blurb. There isn’t usually room to cover all your answers, but you do need to know who the story is about, what they want in life, what they’re up against, when and where they live (because your setting should matter), and then hint at how they might overcome their problems (mastering a magic wand, using their intellect and various skills, destroying a ring of power, etc.).
- Don’t give the story away. This is a blurb, not a synopsis. It’s meant to give readers enough information to where they can decide if they’d like the story or not. It’s not meant to tell the whole story, relate every element, or suggest the ending.
- Don’t introduce every character. Usually, it’s not recommended to talk about one character, though two or even three can be acceptable…but any more than that, and you run the risk of confusing the would-be reader and bogging down the blurb.
- Use third person. Even if your story is written in first person or second person narration, even, you should keep the blurb in third person. After all, it isn’t flash fiction, or a snippet of the story (though you might include that in the sales pitch as a separate line above the blurb, for example). The blurb is advertising, written as though someone is telling another person about the story.
- Get to the heart of the story quickly. The blurb isn’t the place to wax lyrical about the setting, the time, or the world of the story. Readers want to know who they’d be reading about and what the main character is doing, facing, fighting, and dealing with. Now, if the setting and world of the story really matters, it will need to have a place in the blurb, but chances are, it doesn’t need to occupy the entire first paragraph.
- Keep it short. In this day-and-age, we don’t always have to squeeze a blurb into the back of a book, and we can be tempted to write a longer, more in-depth blurb, just because we can. But I’d still recommend you keep it short, no more than three paragraphs or so. If the story takes longer than that to introduce, it’s probably too confusing for a single novel anyways (or you’re dwelling on the details; remember, your reader doesn’t need every last element of the story to decide they want to read it).
Here’s how it might work, using Lord of the Rings as an example:
Who: Frodo (leaving out mention of all the other hobbits, the elves, the dwarf, etc.)
What: Dealing with the ring his uncle gave him
When: Years after his uncle found the ring (time less critical because readers who don’t know the world wouldn’t know what the time would mean, anyways)
Where: The Shire/Middle Earth
How: By leaving his home, he hopes to find a safe place to hide the ring of power
And here might be the rough draft of the blurb:
Frodo Baggins is a young hobbit who delights in the beauty of the Shire, in a quiet, simple life. All this changes when his uncle gives him a ring he once found on his travels. Suddenly, Frodo finds he must leave his home, as the ring is calling out to all things evil, trying to get back to its master, the evil Sauron who created it and once used it to make war upon all people of Middle Earth. If he regains the ring, all is lost.
With the help of his friends, Frodo leaves the Shire and explores the wide and dangerous world beyond, seeking the house of Lord Elrond, an elf who can advise him as to what he should do with the ring. But even the wisdom of Elrond might not be enough to overthrow the dangerous schemes of Sauron and his ringwraiths or to the save the world Frodo loves from destruction and ruin.
And there you have it! Short and to the point, yet we’re able to smuggle in introductions of other characters (Sauron, Elrond, the ringwraiths) while still focusing on Frodo’s plight.
Now, obviously, this one is a rough draft, and its rather melodramatic (“all is lost,” “destruction and ruin,” etc.), but it shows how you can use the formula above to get started on your blurb.
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Image courtesy of Gratisography