In her fantasy novel, Debbie Howell bases her blurb on the trusty character-oriented method. When a writer has several narrative lines that intersect, giving the reader a glimpse of each character’s motivation and problem is a great way to showcase the story. We have Llewella, Jonas, Braph, and Alvaro, and they all want something. Not only that, but the fantasy adventure throws them into its epic pot and gives it a shake.
The structural problem at the moment? For one, the blurb assumes that the reader is familiar with the characters and their conflict, a priori. (Click for full size.)
- Name of Cheer is important.
- Llewella’s figure is “developing.” And unless she’s developing wings and horns, this screams “there’s a gonna be a lot of them expositions about her beauty” and “O-la-la, here there be heavy-handed romance plot!”
- Wait. Are tits affecting her hand-eye coordination and brains? Is her balance off now?
- Who’s Alvaro and Jonas?
- Dark friend? What does that mean? Personality? Skin color? Inclination towards violence? Byronic brooding?
- What’s this job and how is Llewella qualified?
- Why is Jonas irritated?
And that’s only the first paragraph. Certainly a blurb needs to raise questions and intrigue its audience. But the reader should have question along the lines of “I wonder what will happen next?” and “How will they manage to escape Senor Baddie?”.
Let’s see if we can give the story a shove in that direction…
With this revision, the extraneous information is cut (including the existence of Jonas’ sidekick), leaving just the bare bones of what’s going on. But that’s a problem too. Bones make for good beef stew, but they don’t fill you up and leave you wanting more when you’re browsing for a book. There’s something missing still.
Let’s break down the blurb and the characters introduced:
- Who? Pickpocket in small town.
- Problem? She’s hitting puberty.
- So what? She engages in unspecified risky behavior.
“The day Llewella’s height passed up the tallest man in the city, she knew her time as a pickpocket was over.”
- Who? Alvano’s “dark friend”, last of a race of warriors
- Problem? Ghost infestation and a pretty, murdering knife.
- So what? Well, he wants to prevent more ghosts. (I think?) Also: He’s on a journey and disapproves of Llewella.
- Who? Mighty magician.
- Problem? Jealousy of un-named half-brother’s power.
- So what? Seeks more power through blood (and murder?) for some reason. (Power as an end-all?)
In this format, it’s clear that the character motivation is the weakest link. Every character should want something, and here, I don’t see that flashpoint of urgency that forces the character’s hands and actions down the path of plot. Llewella is vaguely worried about how her growth(s) will affect her work, Jonas is haunted by ghosts, and Braph is as power-hungry as cookie cutter villains are wont to be. What changes and pushes them into conflict? Why are these characters’ goals in conflict? And most importantly, why should the reader care to find out what happens next?
Revison 2: In which TheOtherCanary has a structure coniption
You can see what we did here.
The first phase of editing consisted of cutting all the information that didn’t matter. Then came the question: what is the story really about? In this final version, we can see the overall structure of the story. Whether it is true to the book, we don’t know; we haven’t read the novel. But with the pattern is laid out, the characters introduced, and the hook thrown to the reader, the blurb represents its story.
Here is a promise of drama, romance, adventure, and magic.
Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at email@example.com.
Read more slapped pitches here.
Thanks guys. That was really helpful! Now for me to finesse it a bit!
Our pleasure. It was an interesting challenge! Thank you for offering your blurb up for our sacrificial altar, and good luck with your story.
(Let us know if you ever need an editor to give it a prod with a long stick, and we’ll be happy to refer you to us! )
Thank you for the offer. I will keep you in mind! (Mainly because I love your reviews – you obviously know what you are doing).
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Oooh, I love this series. Can I offer a pitch of mine up? 🙂
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