Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Blurbs -- make them work for you

It's that time again. Yep. Blurb time.

While many of you have submerged yourselves in the NaNoWriMo (productive) hole, I've been working on the blurb for my upcoming book, If I Speak True. If you haven't done so yet, writing a blurb is actually a good thing to do during NaNoWriMo, too. It took me a couple of years, but I finally learned that writing the blurb at the beginning of writing a book makes a major difference in knowing which direction the book is going. (Versus having no idea what is actually supposed to happen at all, and writing blind, which can be frustrating.)

So. Here's the universal formula (ish) for writing a blurb (A.K.A. a brief synopsis -- but blurb is less scary of a word than synopsis, right? Ha.)

1) Forget everything detailed you've written and separate yourself from your story. I know, this sounds hard and maybe a little mean, but it's necessary. Yes, it's good, yes it's the best you've ever written (let's be honest, we're proud of our work), but for now, step back a bit and imagine only needing to know a couple of key elements. Then prepare yourself to possibly not use all of those, even.

2) Start your blurb out with the current situation. Is Moe heading to the store to get a cup of Joe when a car falls from the sky, severing his toe? Then start there, using a quick, easy-to-understand summary no longer than a couple of sentences.

3) The issue. Now what? Imagine inserting the word "but" here, then hearing the dun dun dun... because something is about to happen.

Moe heads to the store to get a cup of Joe, when a car falls from the sky severing his toe. BUT.... without his toe, he can't prove he is an alien from Schmoe. If he can't prove he's from Schmoe he can't marry their princess visiting earth, Lady Doe. What will he do? How does he prove this? Where will he go?

Here's where you throw out the problem that gets things rolling.

4) A lot of times the thing the character is set to lose is mentioned here. (Think: stakes.) The more I read, the more I see there aren't always huge stakes, though... life isn't always like that. So use this to work for you, but make sure to pull in the reader and make them go: I need to know what happens after this. Now.

Remember: Make your words count. 

* Anything that stands out or goes with the title/storyline will bring your book back to mind again and again. That's a good thing.

* Don't go all crazy on the adjectives. ("Silly, exuberant, klutzy Moe and his big, swollen, alien toe...")

* Pretend you're watching a commercial for your new book on TV. What would stand out and make you go, I AM SO GOING TO WATCH THAT? Here's an example of an upcoming show I can't wait to see (Notice any key elements that get you anticipating the show's arrival?):

Last, this is the time to show off your writerly voice. Don't let the summary turn into a Ben Stein commercial. Give them a taste of who you are; set them up for what's to come.

Here are three blurbs I really liked -- you can see they're all very different (one is contemporary, one dystopian, and post-apocalyptic).

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham 17, finally confronts her past. Hannah, the closest adult she has to family, disappears. Jonah Griggs, moody stares and all, is back in town. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future. ~ Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death? ~ The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Feel free to share blurbs you've enjoyed in the comments!


Angelica R. Jackson said...

Great examples! I hadn't seen the full trailer for Almost Human and that definitely makes me want to watch.

I worked on my blurb for Crow's Rest before ever writing down a word of the actual book, and it was so helfpul. Kept me on track, kept me motivated, made me fall in love with the story again when it was hard slogging.

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

Yes! Exactly, Angelica. I found it really does make things much easier to know where you're going from the very beginning. And I hope Almost Human is as good as it looks! :D