Friday, 24 May 2013

Write On: BLURBS AND QUERIES

WRITE ON
Posts about writing practice,
with occasional critiques.
Blurbs (back cover copy) and queries can feel like nasty little word-traps for writers. They need to encapsulate the main plot of your story, giving enough detail to make it sound unique, without veering off into a full synopsis. They should also reflect the voice of your novel, and clearly show the premise, conflict and stakes.


"Sell your novel in 250 words or less, making it stand apart from all other novels. Go!"



"Um, OK. It's about..."

"No! Make it catchy!"

"Ken lived an ordinary life until..."

"I said CATCHY." 

"I was getting to that part."

"CATCHY NAO!!!"



It can be hard to be objective about something you've written. Not just about the strengths or weaknesses, but about what will sell the story to a reader. Sometimes knowing the intricate twists and turns of the plot can make it feel like condensing the story into a query/blurb is the equivalent of stuffing a 12-headed gorgon into a pencil case. So, writers being clever with word economy and all, it can be really tempting to use broad strokes to cover everything within an acceptable word count.

'When the unthinkable happens...'
'When her life is turned upside down...'
'He is faced with an unexpected crisis...'


Any of the 3 examples above could apply to hundreds of novels, and say very little about the story itself except something happens. 

"But I can't go into the whole backstory of Reggie being Ken's long-lost twin who was spotted in a talent contest and adopted by a pop star but then lost everything in a flood and now lives next door to Ken, so I'll just say a blast from the past shows up on Ken's doorstep and that'll cover it..." 

No. No, it won't.

Pulling out the vital information is one thing, but being specific enough to make a reader want to find out exactly how Ken's long-lost twin has ended up living next door is the key. Next, you need to set up your conflict: what does Reggie suddenly showing up mean for Ken? What decision will he have to make? And what are the stakes?

The "stakes" are what Ken will stand to lose or compromise if he chooses one option over the other.

When Reggie shows Ken a map marking the location of their grandfather's missing gold, Ken has to decide whether to go with Reggie on a treasure hunt, or stay behind to attend his audition for the Broadway musical of his dreams. 

Ridiculous stakes, but clear: Ken either has a chance to find a missing fortune, or a shot at stardom. He can't have both, and there isn't an obvious, easy choice. Because they're not really stakes if the choice is easy.

Ken must choose between trusting his brother, or dying a horrible and agonising death. 

"Um, I'm going to go with the horrible and agonising death..." ??!!

And that's kind of it, I think. As a reader, if the choice is hard, and I know the set-up and am genuinely wondering what the MC will decide to do, chances are I'm already making my way over to the checkout to buy the book.




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