When in doubt, use a third person point of view. It’s that black dress that never goes out of style. But sometimes, you venture into the world of magenta skirts and bright blue collar shirts, and the question of place and time rears its head. Author Sonya Lano came to us with the just such a fashion statement when she sent in a short first-person-point-of-view blurb of her Fantasy novel, “Dance of the Tavyn.”
And in this pitch slap, we’re gonna talk about how you too can be a bright yellow canary and rock a first person point of view.
But first, the blurb itself:
As always, my very first instinct when seeing a pitch (any pitch) is to start trimming, rewording, and tweaking the word choice and sentence structure, even as I start in with everyone’s favorite floating canary bubble questions. Here, however, the usual approach just wasn’t working. Something was off.
It wasn’t the story: political intrigue, silver-haired assassins, what more can you ask for in romantic fantasy? It wasn’t the word choices: a few things to tweak for clarity, sure, but it got the story across. It wasn’t the rhetorical question at the end–though anyone who follows my pitch slaps knows I am all but allergic to them. It wasn’t the first person point of view: different, but fantastic dramatic potential.
Pause. No, back up. It was the first person point of view. No, not the fact that the pitch was written in first person, but rather what the use of the first person meant for the story.
Using First Person in Blurbs
Any stylistic decision in blurb-writing comes with a suitcase full of baggage. The language you use, the tense in which you write, the characters you introduce (or don’t), they all create an impression. They all say something about the story you’re giving to the reader. The point of view in a blurb, for example, will indicate how the story will be presented, when it starts, who’s narrating, how we’ll be “seeing” the story…
Here is a nifty chart describing the different combinations of blurb vs story points-of-view.
So on the most surface level, the fact that Lano’s blurb is in first person tells me that the entire story will be in first person. Some of the advantages of writing in first person is the immediacy of the character. We get to experience the character’s story first hand. When paired with past tense, a first person point of view creates a sense that the story is a testimonial; the character tells us about her story directly, as she lived it. As she remembers it. With present tense, we are hit with an even stronger sense of the action. We’re reading the story as it’s happening right now.
This also means that the blurb is a kind of testimonial. In the blurb, the narrator-who-isn’t-Alynah is catching us up on her story. She’s telling us what happened (her making the decision to live the lie) and then tells us where she’s at (kidnapped! Befriending traitors! Assassin is hot!). So keeping all that in mind, let’s see what I came up with…
But wait, what about the rest?
Going back to the original blurb, there’s more to the story than this! In fact, the full story goes something like this:
- Girl saves family by sacrificing self for unsavory alliance.
- Gets kidnapped by hawt assassin and company.
- Starts falling for hawt assassin and co. while pretending to be enemy.
- Gets kidnapped by hawt assassin’s brother and taken to enemy lands.
- Gets rather concerned about the whole killing people thing the hawt assassin has going on.
- Has moral dilemma RE: duty vs love vs trust…
So why did I cut the blurb off at Plot Point #3? Mostly, it’s a question of blurb setup. Right now, the main character is presenting the story premise in first person present tense. The plot is happening right now. She lied, and now she’s been kidnapped. If she has just now been kidnapped, she would need to see into the future to see her subsequent capture by Kirian’s brother and her moral dilemmas.
Problem: What if I want more of the plot included? The brother’s dastardly plot is important and the story actually starts way after the kidnapping. (Hey, maybe the story is a sequel!)
Solution1: Change the way the story is presented.
It’s still told in first person POV, but now she’s looking back on what brought her to enemy lands with her silver-haired assassin. This approach assumed that the core of the story will begin after the kidnapping and after the main character’s has met Kirian, but hasn’t really gotten to know him. He’s still a wild card.
Problem: No, no, I want the reader to get an overall sense of the story, but I still plan to dive into it from the very beginning.
Solution2: Third person past tense.
We’re back to the land of black dresses and classic approaches. You can’t go wrong here (though okay, on a reread, I’d probably clarify “into enemy lands where enemies lie in wait”). Still, pretty straight-forward!
Problem: Well, that’s all fine and nice, but I still want Alynah’s voice come through and I also want to tell the entire story from kidnapping to the appearance of Kirian’s brother. Can I have my first person narration back?
Solution3: Take the best of both worlds.
Here, we get a bit of Alynah’s voice from the beginning, but still explore the rest of the plot, from the kidnapping to Kirian’s dark past. It’s a compromise between the two styles and it pretty much reveals that Alynah falls for Kirian (the suspense revolves around what happening in enemy lands, not whether Alynah and Kirian are attracted), but it does it in style.
Note that I completely cut the part of the blurb that discussed Alynah’s moral dilemma. Beyond the time issues I talked about, there comes a point where an author begins to try to cover too much ground. Is Alynah’s beef with her romantic interest because Kirian kidnapped her and she has to lie to him? Or is it because he’s an assassin? Is it his dastardly brother? The book has the word count to cover all these issues, but a blurb doesn’t have that luxury.
In the end, be aware of the effect elements like point of view, tense, and structure have on the reader. Then write just enough to give readers a glimpse of the story and leave them wanting more.
Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Pitch Article Submission” in the subject.
What do you think about the blurb, Canaries? Authors love input!