All of my writerly friends have struggled with this topic at some point in their careers: the dreaded blurb creation.
As readers, we look at these book descriptions on the back flap or on the Amazon listing and tend not to give them much thought. They either pull us in, or they don’t. But as a writer who is used to using tens of thousands of words to tell a story, condensing that story down into 200 words or less is a major struggle. If you’re one of those people that know how very real that struggle is, this post is for you.
Caveat: I don’t consider myself an expert in much of anything. As with any advice you read or hear, your mileage may vary. This formula method is my preference, and works well for me. I’m an analyzer to the core. :)
I’m going to break this down into different types of blurbs that might be appropriate for different types of fiction. It’s not an all-inclusive list, but it’s a good starting point.
The Single Character Point of View Blurb
- Starting point
- Plot spark
Evolution: ANGEL (one of mine)
“Candace Bristol has always been obsessed with comic books, but in a world where the nightly news often mirrors these inked stories, her dreams of becoming a real superhero could actually come true. After being rescued by members of the government’s AdvaNced Genetic EvoLution (ANGEL) Project four years ago, getting recruited for this elite team is all she’s wanted.
Now 18, she’s finally reached her goal after years of study and physical training, but little could have prepared her for life as a genetic experiment. As though coming to terms with her new ability to manipulate water isn’t tough enough, she never expected to be swept off her feet by one of her fellow recruits.
With genetic alteration, the threat of physical and mental instability hangs over every superhero like a shadow. When one of their own tumbles over the edge of madness, Candace will have to choose between protecting the world, and saving the one who holds her heart.”
So let me show you how the basic elements come together in this style.
The first paragraph of this blurb introduces the hero and where she’s starting from as a character: Candace, her dream, and her state of mind. The second paragraph is the plot spark: she’s on the road to achieving her goal when an unexpected wrench is thrown in her plans. The third paragraph is the stakes: she has a choice to make and that will shape the rest of her life (and possibly the entire world).
Just from this, you can see how starting with a simple list of the most important elements is going to put you on the right road to successful blurb creation.
The Multiple Character Point of View Blurb
- Person (repeat as needed)
- Uniting event
The Night Bridge (again, one of mine)
For twelve years, she tried to convince herself he wasn’t real. The beautiful man by the lake was simply the product of a child’s overactive imagination.
For his entire life, all he has wanted is to be one of the elite protectors of humanity, but the only charge he’s ever known is a little girl who didn’t need him. Now, she is his last hope.
Together, the foundations of their realities will be stripped away.
Together, they must find a way to save two worlds.
To survive, they must fight.
But to live, they need each other.”
How this works is pretty simple. One character is introduced, along with some very basic information, usually their internal struggle or the difficult foundations they’re starting from. You follow this with another character, remembering to keep it very short, especially if you’re including more than two characters in this format. Repeat that as needed until you’ve included all the major POV characters. This one can be tricky, as you don’t want to overload a reader with characters. I’d not go with more than four at the very most, and two is probably best. Any more than that, and you should consider one of the other formats for your blurb.
The next thing you need is the uniting event or idea that brings the characters together. Maybe it’s a massive plague, one night of partying out a lake, an alien invasion, whatever. Make the uniting event short and powerful, to really sock a reader in the gut. Follow that up with what’s at stake if the heroes fail in their quest. Blurbs aren’t meant to be book synopses. They’re teasers, and you only want to give away just enough to entice a reader to explore the book in-depth.
Detached Point of View Blurb
- Major players
A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One (George R. R. Martin)
“Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.”
If you have multiple POVs in your book, this is probably the format you want to run with. Let’s break this one down so you can see all the elements I’ve listed.
Setting: “Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall.”
Epic fantasy and science fiction can be really difficult to condense, so make sure when you’re describing the where, throw in a little of the circumstances to help build tension.
Events: Some of these are listed amongst the setting description (example: “sinister and supernatural forces are massing”), but also scattered amongst the third element, major players. This is a perfect example of how to blend multiple elements so they’re not boring lists of stuff.
Major players: “At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.”
You get smatterings of there being other people in play, but it’s easy to pick out who the story mostly follows.
Stakes: “Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.”
Basically, everyone’s life is going to be decided by who wins. But if you’re familiar with GRRM, you already know: EVERYONE YOU LOVE DIES. (insert dramatic wailing here)
The Quote Style Blurb
- A book quote that encompasses the feelings/conflict in the story
- A shortened form of one of the above styles
From the Wreckage (Michele G. Miller) (this book is FREE, btw)
“’In a matter of minutes on a Friday night, I lost my school, my identity, the security of my first love, the personality of my sweet fearless brother, my best friend, my town, everything as I knew it. Everything changed.
‘Minutes – that’s all it takes to change your entire life. How do you deal with that?’
For high school senior Jules Blacklin surviving the storm is only the beginning. Faced with the new reality of her life, she must find a way to rise From The Wreckage and answer the question – how do you get back to normal, when everything that was normal is gone?”
If you use this style, it’s imperative to find the right quote that elicits the tone you want to set for readers. In this case, this quote speaks to the main conflict not only of this book, but of the entire series. From the Wreckage follows its characters on their journey during and following a devastating tornado, so this quote is completely appropriate.
In the remaining paragraph, you have a condensed version of the Type 1 blurb. It lists a main character, very briefly tells who she is, the plot spark, and the stakes. I’d also point out that the question asked in the blurb is NOT an easily answerable yes or no question. Avoid those if at all possible. Saying “can she overcome the devastation?” is probably answerable with a yes, otherwise there’d be no need for a story. It’s in asking HOW she can accomplish that goal that maintains the teasing suspense a blurb should contain.
The “Ancient Tome” Blurb
Mostly it’s a vague sort of prophecy written with obscure hints at the plot and hero(es)
Shadows on Snow (mine again)
“Once upon a time, a dark evil crept into my kingdom, stealing my loved ones and the happy life I knew. The world turned against me, and I swore to become stronger, to keep myself safe.
Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince, hair dark as ebony, skin as pure as the freshly driven snow, and I became the only one who stood between him and death.
Once upon a time, our stories intertwined, and now, healing my heart may be the only way to save us all from the evil that threatens to destroy what little we have left.”
Now, you can go at this a few different ways. If your book contains an actual prophecy written all omnipotent-like, that might be perfect for your blurb as-is. You’ll probably want to include quotation marks and then an attribution to where the fictional prophecy originates (spooky ancient book, or the prophet who did the prophecy-ing), and maybe a sentence or two before it or after it to set the story tone. Like so:
“In a land torn asunder by war, the people wait for hope…
The signs have appeared in Calinor. The bringer of death arises, and it’s time for heroes to take up arms.”
You get what I’m saying. That’s one way to accomplish it. In the case of Shadows on Snow, I blended this Ancient Tome style (in this case, a book of fairy tales/bedtime story), with the Type 2 style, the Multiple Character POV blurb, and stuck it in first person. What can I say? I’m not a fan of being shoved in a box. LOL. I use it as an example here because it has the ancient tome voice, but I wanted to show that this style could still have a personal feel to it. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is also a good example of this style of blurb. It’s a “written down for posterity” type of blurb. It doesn’t always work, so use sparingly, and make sure it coincides with the voice of the actual story, or you’ll be giving readers false expectations, which can really hurt an author.
With all of these types, it’s all in the execution, and your success is going to vary based on the words you choose. You don’t get a lot of space in a blurb, so making every word count is absolutely crucial. I won’t go into specific writing mechanics in this post (and kudos to everyone that’s read down to here!), as there are much more knowledgeable sources out there on filler words and cleaning up sentences for the most impact and passive voice, but I’d recommend reading up on that stuff regardless if it’s for blurb creation or novel writing in general.
I’d also note that this post doesn’t cover series blurbs, as that’s another topic that would include style continuity, spoilers, and other tips. I did say this wasn’t an all-inclusive list, so if you’ve seen blurbs that really stuck out to you as unique and don’t quite fall within some of these types, I’d love to see them. Feel free to share those and any other advice you can think of in the comments, as the information of the hive-mind is boundless, and we should all strive to help each other when we can!
Now go forth and craft ye a perfect blurb, and be prepared to defend your word choices!