Watts (chipotle) wrote,

The art of the blurb

I’ve never been good at blurbs. (Frankly, I’ve never been good at marketing or self-promotion, period, but that’s another topic.) A blurb, if you haven’t heard the term, is the pitch for your story: a paragraph or two that sells someone on it. It’s the answer to the question, “What’s it about?”

In the screenplay business, this is called the “logline,” and it’s usually just one line. An example from Blake Snyder’s screenwriting book Save The Cat! is: “A cop comes to LA to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists.” In one sentence you have a hook and outline the protagonist’s story: “who he is, who he’s up against, and what’s at stake” (again quoting Snyder).

Now, if I’m bad at blurbs, I’m terrible at loglines. Knocking a story down to one sentence is excruciating. A story of any length has two arcs in it, the plot arc and the main character arc. (Arguably most stories, including “Indigo Rain,” have a third for the “impact” character, a term I’m shamelessly stealing from Dramatica, about which I’ll eventually write more.) Trying to get the story down to only two sentences hurts.

For “Indigo Rain,” I don’t need to write a logline—I’m not trying to sell a screenplay—but I do need to write something for the back cover. A blurb! It needs to be short, in part because I don’t want to cover up too much of Sabretoothed Ermine’s gorgeous cover artwork and in part because I’m assuming that the person picking it up is going to make a decision in a few seconds. In those few seconds, I need to get across all those things that Snyder said, and get across the story’s genre—which is harder than it sounds: it’s action/suspense with a romance subplot, and it’s set in a fantasy world (one which some fans will recognize by name).

I came across an older but thoughtful guide on this from Marilynn Byerly, who describes herself as writing “cross-genre adventure novels” (a lot of which could be slotted into the “paranormal romance” category). The key points I took away from her mesh with Snyder’s; you want to communicate four things:

  • The main character and her setting
  • The overall story conflict
  • The main character’s interior conflict
  • What’s at stake

Byerly changes the balance of these depending on what genre she’s writing for, but those are pretty much always present.

So for “Indigo Rain,” I’ve come up with this:

Roulette’s dreams of a better life in Ranea’s capital city-state turn upside down when a horrifying encounter leaves the dancer fleeing for her life, plunging her into the midst of a struggle she’d never been aware of—one that will turn tragically violent unless the mysterious Brothers of Atasos can be stopped.

And as if her life hadn’t gotten complex enough, Roulette may be falling for entirely the wrong person…

I’m not completely happy with it, but I’m not sure how to improve it at this point, either. If I explain a few things a little more—for instance, if I say that the struggle Roulette finds herself in is essentially about civil/racial rights—then I need to explain things more than a little more to be able to say that no, it’s not a didactic political diatribe masquerading as fiction. I can say that in exactly those words here, but I can’t say it that way on the back cover. Also, “entirely the wrong person” isn’t fair; it’s more accurate to say the person isn’t anything like who Roulette pictured in her daydreams. Again, that’s tough to boil down in a very nuanced way (especially without giving away who it is).

But I’ll keep poking at it and see if it changes shape.

(Originally published at Coyote Prints)


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