Let’s face it. The best stories are complex, convoluted little things. We love it when fantasy and sci fi attack the usual tropes from new angles and make the weirdest premises feel completely natural. That’s the wonder of it. But trying to put these ideas into a story’s blurb can be a real challenge. There’s barely enough space to write out the bare bones of plot – and that’s without that extra paragraph saying “Wait, wait, this makes sense and it’s actually really cool!” What to do?
But before we get into that, let’s see this week’s blurb from Amy Rareberth Mead’s dark epic fantasy novel, Dragon Marked:
In Mead’s blurb, we get an intriguing premise; the characters journey to a mysterious objective and overcome overwhelming odds. We also get a lot of other information that might be important and clever in the story itself, but which sounds odd and unconnected when placed into the short form of the blurb.
The first step to revising a blurb is to take that necessary step back and say, “What is this blurb really saying?” The challenge for an author is to erase all of the insider knowledge for a brief time. Friends and online forums can be of great use for this, by the way. So in revising Mead’s blurb, I went after these ambiguous and odd bits, cut them out, and made sure that the short blurb told a single, focused story. Take a look and see what you think:
In this case, I focused in on Riyin’s tale as the main character, and his journey to the gate. However, there are several other ways to do it that make it a group adventure or highlight the twin element. There’s even the temporal element that we discussed in an earlier Pitch Slapped article that asks, “When does this story actually start?”
But in the end, it’s important that the story the blurb tells has its own internal logic – that it makes sense even if the reader hasn’t cracked open the novel (which is almost always the case, anyway.) Of course, the revised and stripped version of the blurb above can also come across as more generic than the original. At this point, the trick for the author is to take this bare outline and inject it with one or two details that set the story apart as unique in the dragon/adventure/quest genre.
The Short Pitch:
Mead also sent in the short, 30 word elevator pitch for her story. Take a look:
Short Pitch: Riyin’s dragon mark is a mystery, until the day she whispers, “Go to the Gate”. Hunted at every turn, Riyin’s dragon forces him to find her brethren and lead them there.
This short pitch raises some of the questions as the longer one – how does a “mark” talk, for one? But it also has some new ones. For example, the main actor seems to be the dragon, and not Riyin. Was that intentional? Or how about this one – surely the dragon mark starts being a mystery when it starts talking, and not the other way around. And finally, is it significant that the dragon is female and Riyin is male? This is different from the main blurb, and I wonder at the decisions that place them there:
Here are a couple directions that short pitch could take:
1. Riyin’s dragon mark is just a birthmark, until the day he hears a whisper, “Go to the Gate.” Riyin is hunted at every turn as his dragon forces him to find and lead its brethren to the Gate.
2. In Riyin’s birthmark lies the spirit of a dragon, and one day, she awakens and whispers, “Go to the Gate.” Hunted at every turn, the dragon must force Riyin to find her brethren and the Gate to survive.
In the end, make sure that the questions that the blurb asks is the one you want to leave the reader asking. Instead of confusion (a tattoo is talking?), leave the reader with intrigue (What does the dragon want? Will Riyin be okay?).
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!
Read more slapped pitches here
Check out our sister series, Pitch Pecked, here.
It seems to me a good blurb should start before the story in the novel, and finish with the question readers should be asking within the first few chaptes, am I on the right track?
Where we go wrong, most often, seems to be when we just pare down our synopsis and stick it on the back – potentially giving too much of the game away.
Thank you! This was so helpful. Want to see my revision?
New: Promises of eternal life and five million dollars lead four unsuspecting volunteers to Dr. Carr’s deadly experiment. Will they make it out before it’s too late?
Old: The fanatical scientist, Dr. Charles Carr, is on the brink of discovering a formula for immortality. The only problem is that his first twenty-four volunteers have died from exposure to his experiment. If someone finds out, the lab will be shut down and he’ll be charged as a serial murderer. Charles recruits his unsuspecting friend, Alexander Lucido, to help him in case something goes wrong. What Charles doesn’t know is that an enemy has already discovered his dark secret and is waiting for the right moment to expose him. In the meantime four new volunteers start the experiment and could be the next ones to disappear.
One of the hardest things for a writer to do is pull back and look at a blurb through the eyes of someone who’s never even heard of their book. There is so much complexity in a manuscript that I believe authors often feel overwhelmed and try to express too much at once–leading to confusion and readers asking the wrong questions as you say. I am banging my head against the keyboard trying to perfect this query, but I know when I’m finished, I’ll need to try it on my thankfully receptive family and friends. Then revisions, rinse, repeat. 🙂
Exactly. The moment we get invested in something, we’re way too close to be able to explain it. Because, let’s face it, any simple explanation of our book, favorite show, or beloved book is…too simple.
Good luck with that query. SLAY THAT DRAGON! Chirp.