I’m going to interrupt my series on the structure of a short story to talk about something we all love to hate: writing a blurb. There are different names for it, but a blurb is the bit of copy that tells potential readers what a book is about.
Examples of kick-ass blurbs:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling:
“Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That's because he's being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he's really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny. (103 words, Unknown)”
Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien:
“In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit. In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.” (132 words, Unknown)
Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming:
“In the novel that introduced James Bond to the world, Ian Fleming’s agent 007 is dispatched to a French casino in Royale-les-Eaux. His mission? Bankrupt a ruthless Russian agent who’s been on a bad luck streak at the baccarat table.
“One of SMERSH’s most deadly operatives, the man known only as “Le Chiffre,” has been a prime target of the British Secret Service for years. If Bond can wipe out his bankroll, Le Chiffre will likely be “retired” by his paymasters in Moscow. But what if the cards won’t cooperate? After a brutal night at the gaming tables, Bond soon finds himself dodging would-be assassins, fighting off brutal torturers, and going all-in to save the life of his beautiful female counterpart, Vesper Lynd.
“Taut, tense, and effortlessly stylish, Ian Fleming’s inaugural James Bond adventure has all the hallmarks that made the series a touchstone for a generation of readers.” (153 words, Unknown)
Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, by Nathan Bransford:
“Jacob Wonderbar has been the bane of every substitute teacher at Magellan Middle School ever since his dad moved away from home. He never would have survived without his best friend Dexter, even if he is a little timid, and his cute-but-tough friend Sarah Daisy, who is chronically overscheduled. But when the trio meets a mysterious man in silver one night they trade a corn dog for his sassy spaceship and blast off into the great unknown. That is, until they break the universe in a giant space kapow and a nefarious space buccaneer named Mick Cracken maroons Jacob and Dexter on a tiny planet that smells like burp breath. The friends have to work together to make it back to their little street where the houses look the same, even as Earth seems farther and farther away.” (140 words, Nathan Bransford)
A blurb is a succinct summary of the book, one that communicates the essence of who the main characters are, what they want and what is preventing them from getting it. In other words, it tells potential readers everything that you’ve written in your 100,000 word book (except the ending!) but in 200 words or less.
Yep. Sure. No problem.
Sometimes I think writing the blurb is more difficult than writing the book!
A Blurbing Strategy
Before I even think about starting to rough out a first draft of my blurb I’ll sit down and answer a few questions about my story (see below). Of course I’ve already answered these questions before I sat down to write the book but, let’s face it, things change. I often start out writing a book with an extensive outline only to have it unravel while I write. But that’s okay. As Lee Goldberg has said, he finalizes his outline only a few days before he finalizes his novel! For me, an outline is something that helps me keep track of where I’ve been, where I am and where I’m going, wherever that may be!
What your blurb needs to reflect is the finished book. If you write something in your copy that sounds great but doesn’t reflect the book, disappointed readers will come searching for you with hot tar and feathers.
As I mentioned, above, before I start writing a blurb I’ll answer the following questions just to get my mind running along the right track. This helps give me the words and phrases that I’ll use in constructing the blurb.
To make things more interesting, I’ll answer these questions about the story of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
1. Who is the main character of the story?
A: A young orphaned boy by the name of Harry Potter.
2. What is the hero’s initial goal? (The goal he has at the very start of the story. For example, Luke Skywalker’s initial goal in Star Wars: A New Hope was to go to the academy and become a pilot.)
A: Harry wants to be accepted by others, to be surrounded by friends and family.
3. What person or force opposes the hero achieving his initial goal?
A: His mean aunt and uncle and their horrible son, Dudley Dursley.
4. What is his story goal?
A: To stop Voldemort getting his hands on the philosopher’s stone. In preventing this Harry will save Hogwarts and the rest of the world.
5. What person or force opposes the hero achieving his story goal?
A: The main force that opposes Harry is Lord Voldemort--He Who Must Not Be Named--acting through his human agent.
Forming The Blurb
There are a many different ways of doing this. I’ll go through it two different ways. For my first try I’ll write three paragraphs. In the first paragraph I’ll tell readers about the hero and his goal. In the second paragraph I’ll introduce opposition to that goal and in the third paragraph I’ll make the stakes clear.
Harry Potter saved the world when he was a baby. Of course he didn’t know what he was doing, but it was still a pretty great thing to have done! Unfortunately, Harry had to go live with his mean aunt and uncle who never, ever, told him who he really was: the most powerful wizard in all the world.
One day an owl delivered a message that would radically transform Harry’s life, if only he were allowed to read it! After a giant forces Harry’s relatives to tell him who he is really he’s whisked off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. For the first time in his life Harry is surrounded by people just like him; he feels accepted and happy.
Just when it seems Harry’s new life is guaranteed he learns that a plot has been hatched that will destroy both Hogwarts and its beloved schoolmaster. Harry is faced with a choice: leave it to the grownups or risk everything to defend what he loves.
That was under 200 words. But we can trim that down. How about this:
Harry Potter, the most powerful wizard alive, lives with his decidedly non-magical and very mean aunt and uncle. Life would be much easier--or at least more interesting--if Harry knew he was magical, but he doesn’t.
All that changes when a giant arrives to take Harry Potter off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry loves it at Hogwarts where he is surrounded by children just like him.
When-He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named endangers the school, Harry risks everything to save Hogwarts and the rest of the world from destruction.
That was 95 words. This last blurb was a bit different. In the first part the reader is introduced to the hero, in the second part the reader is introduced to the special world of the adventure (rather than the complication) and in the third part we introduce the complication (the threat) as well as the stakes.
Do you have tips for writing a blurb? What works for you? Or perhaps you have a blurb you wouldn’t mind sharing. If so, leave it in the comments with a link to where folks can buy your book.
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Photo credit: "Bedruthian Steps -9-" by *Light Painting* under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.