Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blurbing, Part Two

Welcome back!

To recap, the first post on blurbing was basically a presentation of the 10 story elements that contribute to a blurb (courtesy of former romance author Suzanne McMinn.)

The Hook
The Conflict
The Hint of Emotion
The Touch of Danger
Characterization
Setting
Goals
Motivation
Who/What is Stopping Them?
Will They Overcome?


Once we’ve nailed these 10 points, our next step is to pull from them to create a blurb. At this juncture, it’s really helpful to look at the structure (and length) of blurbs for best-selling or favorite books in our chosen genres. In Romance, for example, it’s typical to have a 3-paragraph structure:

First paragraph for the lover who the story “belongs” to. You can have equal POV time between the lovers, but a story often (not always!) belongs to one more than the other--usually the MC who we meet first. The paragraph should highlight this MC’s goal, motivation, and conflicts.

Second paragraph to the other lover, again focusing on their goal, motivation, and conflicts.

Third paragraph focusing on their shared romantic arc in the face of whatever the central story conflict is.

Other genres, stories with only one protagonist, or stories told in first person are likely to have a very different structure, so study the variety of blurbs being used for books like yours. Look at new releases for clues about the story elements which have proven eye-catching in the current publishing market. Look also for presentations of stories whose “vibe/ tone” feels similar to yours, or those which seem to be telling the same type of story: road trip, secret baby, Chosen One, fantasy quest, etc. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt exceeds the 100-word limit. More concise is better, but the most important thing is nailing these elements down. You’ll get more fabulous at honing them as you go along, and some books may need more words in order to cover aspects of world-building or plot, anyway.

A last word of advice before we move on: Definitely do this exercise with another writer or group of writers, when possible. As the author of the story, we can often be too close to the plot or characters to do justice to articulating some of these meta elements, and having other people brainstorm with us/ for us can be amazingly illuminating. It also tends to be a blast.

Now for an actual example. I recently finished Kristina Douglas’s 2011 paranormal romance, The Fallen: Demon, and thought I’d break down the story elements, then show how they were combined in Demon’s back-cover blurb. Here we go:


STORY ELEMENT

The Hook
A grieving fallen angel must find the legendary siren meant to take his lost lover’s place...and kill her.
An angel falls in love with a demon.

The Conflict
ANGELS AND DEMON’S DON’T MIX.
Azazel is forced to betray the memory of his beloved wife with a demon who has been his enemy for centuries. If he refuses, the archangel Uriel will destroy all of mankind.
Azazel struggles to deny his unlikely new bond with Rachel, a bond he’s also going to be forced to betray if he wants to defeat Uriel.
Rachel doesn’t remember her past life as the seductress Lilith, and Azazel’s animosity towards her is at odds with the overwhelming sexual hunger they experience with each other. When Azazel chooses to offer her up for torture at Uriel’s hands, Rachel must struggle to forgive the unforgivable.
The archangel Uriel is bent on destroying the Fallen and their mates, preventing any possibility of resurrecting Lucifer, the only fallen angel who could ever challenge his control of creation. If Uriel can trick Azazel into betraying Rachel to her death, the prophecy of Lucifer’s resurrection will never come to pass.

The Hint of Emotion
true love, desire, grief, carnality, danger, deadly wrath

The Touch of Danger
Azazel’s threat to Rachel’s life and heart; the threat of Uriel’s wrath; the threat to Azazel's self-control

Characterization
Azazel: fearless, grieving ruler; “a devil of an angel”
Rachel: legendary siren; “an angel of a demon”
Uriel: wrathful destroyer

Setting
Sheol, the hidden refuge of the Fallen angels and their mates. Uriel’s Dark City. Australia.

Goals
Azazel’s goal is to capture Rachel, and surrender her for information critical to Lucifer’s rescue.
Rachel’s goal is to survive her encounter with Azazel without surrendering her heart or her life.
Uriel’s goal is to trick Azazel into giving Rachel up to torture and death.

Motivation
Azazel is motivated by his duty to the Fallen and to mankind, and an unwillingness to acknowledge the attraction and the love that he feels for his former enemy.
Rachel is motivated by fear and necessity, and a desire to believe that she can transcend the horrors of her servitude as a demon.
Uriel is motivated by absolute confidence in the rightness of his dominance over Creation, as well as an all-encompassing belief in the innate sinfulness of Creation in general, and the Fallen in particular.

Who/ what is stopping them?
Azazel’s grief and anger interfere with his relationship with Rachel.
Rachel’s amnesia, and her distrust of Azazel interfere with her acceptance of her role in defeating Uriel.
Uriel is bent on Rachel’s death and Azazel’s demoralization; he hopes to destroy their love and prevent the prophecy from coming to pass.

Will They Overcome?
Can Azazel and Rachel overcome grief and betrayal to defeat Uriel and preserve the safety of the Fallen and their mates?

*Note: If some of these elements seem to echo or re-state each other that’s OK. Having different ways to look at or say the same thing is helpful when you’re brainstorming.

OK, here’s the actual back-cover blurb for Demon:

Once the Fallen’s fearless ruler, a grieving Azazel must find the legendary siren meant to take his lost lover’s place...and kill her.

HE’S A DEVIL OF AN ANGEL.

Azazel should have extinguished the deadly Lilith when he had the chance. Now, faced with a prophecy that will force him to betray the memory of his one true love and wed the Demon Queen, he cannot end her life until she leads him to Lucifer. Finding the First is the Fallen’s only hope for protecting mankind from Uriel’s destruction, but Azazel knows that ignoring his simmering desire for the Lilith will be almost as impossible.

SHE’S AN ANGEL OF A DEMON
Rachel Fitzpatrick wonders how Azazel could confuse her with an evil seductress. She’s never even been interested in sex! At least not before she set eyes on her breathtaking captor. And now she can’t think about anything else--besides escape.

ANGELS AND DEMONS DON’T MIX.

Rachel stirs a carnal need in Azazel that he never thought he’d feel again. Falling for a demon--even if she has no idea she’s the Lilith--means surrendering his very soul. But if he lets her go, he risks abandoning his heart, his dangerous lover, and possibly all of humanity, to Uriel’s deadly wrath.


Aaaand now we’re back.

Note how succinct the hook of Demon is, and how explicitly it’s stated. This is very much Azazel’s story, so it’s his conflict that is front and center. Note, too, that setting isn’t really mentioned; the main characters don’t interact much with their surroundings, because almost everything is about what is happening between Azazel and Rachel. The final paragraph, which is usually about the shared arc of the lovers, underscores the fact that the highest emotional stakes in the book belong to Azazel. Douglas (who also writes as Anne Stuart) tends to write hero-focused romances, so the set up of this blurb is definitely true to the feel of the book.

So what do you think about the back-cover copy for Demon? The art of the blurb is about articulating the emotional ingredients of your story, and combining them in such a way that they give the truest taste of your book--a taste the reader can’t resist. How well did this blurb succeed, in your opinion?

And what do you think you’ll take away from this for the story you’re currently working on? This blurbing exercise is MUCH more dynamic when you’re putting together back-cover copy from scratch, and I’d love to hear what people discover about articulating and honing these emotional story elements. Please share!

8 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post Lucy. I haven't tried it yet, but just reading your post got lots of ideas running around in my head for what to write. I'm going to give this a shot! Thanks :)

Luce said...

You're so welcome, Jemi. I'm glad your ideas are running, and I can't wait to see what you come up with!

dirtywhitecandy said...

Terrific advice, Lucy. I've been struggling to write a blurb for a literary novel. It has reduced me to a babbling wreck as the nuances are crucial and can't be seen from the inside. I've done exactly what you said - look at other books like it and capture that style. Then I've been bouncing versions back and forth between trusty friends who are also reading the ARCs, and they have been nudging me with elements that need to be added, or taken away. Your suggestion about involving others is essential. I'm tweeting this post.

Luce said...

YES. Having trusted readers who can reflect the book back to you in ways you wouldn't think of on your own is a HUGE help. Best of luck with this, dirtywhitecandy (and thanks for the tweet)!

Eden said...

I found writing the back text to be the hardest part of the process with my first book. I wish I'd had this advice then! But at least I can use this post now to help with my next books. Thanks for sharing :)

Ruth said...

Lucy,

I'm always impressed by your knowledge of craft. Great post.

Leslie Rose said...

This structure and example are keepers. Thank you for laying out the blurb format in such a doable form.

Luce said...

Eden: It's a different style of writing, focused on what's most emotionally evocative in our stories, so for a lot of us it definitely requires shifting gears. So glad the posts will be helpful!

Ruth: Awww! Thanks, Ruthie!

Leslie: Suzanne's outline is fantastic, isn't it? And the more you play with the different elements, the better you get at hitting the emotional notes you're aiming for. It's a writing exercise that pays HUGE dividends.

Thanks for stopping by to comment, all!