Monday, July 9, 2012

What makes for a great blurb? Start with a great story.

Ever go back and forth on whether your story is ready for submission or needs to be revised? Or wonder whether your work-in-progress will work? Try writing a blurb. Those 150-word summaries that introduce your characters and your plot are not just great for selling books. They’re terrific tools for analyzing your story.

How? Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time on TWRP’s blurb committee, it’s this: blurbs shine a megawatt spotlight on plot flaws. Lack of romantic conflict? The blurb falls flat. Lack of motivation? The blurb feels unfocused. Too much plot at the expense of characterization and romance? The blurb is an info dump. In fact, it’s almost impossible to write a great blurb for a story that doesn’t have a good balance between external and romantic conflict, or one that has too much plot and not enough characterization.

So the next time you’re trying to decide if your most recent draft should be your last, or even when you’re outlining a plot before you begin writing, try crafting a blurb to make sure your story works. The easiest way to begin is with the standard blurb formula:
Optional tagline: Phrase that captures essence of the story 
First paragraph: She wants this (Goal) because of this (Motivation) but can’t have it because of that (Conflict).
Second paragraph: He wants this (Goal) because of this (Motivation) but can’t have it because of that (Conflict).
Third paragraph: Give a sense of the hero and heroine's adventure and the outcome of the romance (Hint: it should be happy :)
Need some help getting started? Poke around our website and read some blurbs, or consider this example from our Honky Tonk series, Nothing But Trouble:
Chase Paladin avoids commitment like a patch of stinging nettles. He's seen how love can trample a man, and he doesn't plan to get hitched—ever. But when Honor Jackson walks into his life, hell-bent on keeping her distance, she turns his convictions inside out.
One look at the too-handsome cowboy with laughing green eyes and a killer smile, and Honor knows he's nothing but trouble. She's come to Redemption, Texas to help an old friend, not to let another man charm her into certain heartache.
But every time she turns around, Chase is there, and the closer they get, the more she fears he'll break her heart. So when anonymous threats make it clear that someone in Redemption wants her gone, Honor is ready to oblige. Only now Chase isn’t certain he can live without her.
Will two wary hearts take a chance on love before it's too late?
Nice, right? Notice how it shows the conflict—both romantic and external—and shows what each character has at stake? Here’s another great example from Something to Talk About:
Born-to-be-bland meets born-to-be-wild...
Annabelle Leahey is ready to be bad. Fed up with quilting bees and bridge clubs, Ann has to change or grow old alone. But going from bashful to bold won't be easy—especially since thong underwear is her idea of risqué. So Ann needs a guide, and rancher Mitchell Black is the perfect candidate.
The last thing Mitchell needs is more trouble. He hasn't lived down his bad boy days yet and he has no intention of resurrecting them now. But when Ann asks for his help, he can't refuse. Especially since the preacher's daughter has suddenly become a fireball of temptation.
Mitchell's determined to keep his role in Ann's research hands-off, but Ann has plans of her own. She intends to show Mitchell what he's missing—and that being bad with the right person can be o-o-o-oh so good.
See how the blurb concisely summarizes the characters, shows the reader what is at stake, and sets up the conflict between the hero and heroine? That's a sign of a well-plotted story.

So next time you’re working on a manuscript and wondering if it’s good enough to submit, try writing a blurb for it. If you find that you can’t sum up your characters and their romance in 150 words or less, chances are the story needs some work.

But if you find you can write a dynamite blurb, you’ll not only know that your story has a good plot, but you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes time to write a query letter and submit your manuscript!


Nancy Jardine Author said...

I've never yet written a blurb at the outset, but it's an intriguing idea, and sounds like an 'I must try it sometime'. Thanks, Susan.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Nancy! Yes, it's amazing what a great exercise writing a blurb can be--it really forces you to focus on the essential elements of the story.

AJ Nuest said...

Oh my gosh, what a great, sage piece of advice. I shoulda known...coming from the best editor in all the land. I'm bookmarking this and using it...repeatedly. Thank you, oh wise editor! Hugs, AJ

Anonymous said...

Now you're making me blush, AJ! I'm glad you liked it :) I took a plotting class once that advocated something similar, but it wasn't until I started "blurb-ing" regularly that I really appreciated how valuable it could be.

Jannine Gallant said...

Wow, I'm so honored you used my blurb. Honestly, I adore writing blurbs. They just flow naturally for me. I think it's because I go through the steps you mentioned. Hero's emotional problem, heroine's emotional problem, external conflict, how can this be resolved. Thanks for spelling it out.

Anonymous said...

It's a great blurb, Jannine, and illustrated my point perfectly, I think. Thanks for stopping by!

Lynne Marshall said...

What a great tool for testing whether or not a story had solid conflict!

I've copied the formula and will definitely use it in the future.

Thanks for an eye-opening blog!

Anonymous said...

So glad it was helpful, Lynne!

Julie Harrington said...

Great tips! And I'm thrilled that the blurb for my book (Something To Talk About) met your criteria. I love a good blurb and nothing hooks me faster, as a reader, than a blurb that lays it all out there and lets me know exactly what story that book is promising to give me when I pick it up. Not only do you get a glimpse at story - with character and conflicts, but the writer's tone and style. Blurbs are so important.

Again, great blog entry!


Anonymous said...

Well, I may be prejudiced, Julie, but I loved your blurb for Something to Talk About :) Thanks for stopping by!