In the previous post of this series, I emphasized limiting details when writing blurbs. But why do that—and how? How does an author narrow down exactly what to mention, and what to exclude?
Limit or eliminate place names
The most obvious reason for this is to avoid visual clutter. Especially in fantasy or historical fiction, wherein names and places might be unfamiliar to the reader, too many proper nouns can be bewildering. If the blurb is too difficult to read, readers may assume your book is going to be too much work—and move on.
Unless your novel is set somewhere recognizable and real, unless that somewhere affects the context of your plotline, you don’t really need to mention it. Setting your blurb in a land of snow and storms is far more informative than saying in faraway Rendovia or whatever, isn’t it? So save your reader’s mental headspace for the nouns they need to know.
Limit people names
Again, clutter is confusing, but there’s a more subtle truth at play here as well. Your job in the blurb is not only to hone in on what’s most important to the novel overall; it’s to convince the potential reader to care. We open a book because we care. Whether it’s induced by an emotional connection or simple curiosity, we care to know what happens or how it begins.
Thus, arguably the most important part of a blurb is to direct the reader’s attention towards what they should care about. In such little space, the most efficient way to do this is to name who/what they should most care about. Too many names beyond that may only provide distraction and confusion. Any additional names that you must provide, make sure to explicitly derive from and point back towards the main character.
If I write “Kara and Big Max set out on the adventure of a lifetime when Johnny down the road steals Grandma Jones’s secret pecan pie recipe,” the reader must assign a measure of importance to each of those names. Why is this a bad thing? Because now the reader has to remember all of them, and their roles, without a lot of context. Also, while they do gain a sense of who the good guys and bad guys are, it’s hard to understand specific relationships—or even who the main character is, for sure.
If I write, “Kara and her uncle Max set out on the adventure of a lifetime when her lifetime rival, Johnny, steals a secret family recipe,” now every mentioned character derives from their relationship to Kara. Subliminally, the reader is set up to understand that Kara is the main person to root for above any other. The writer is also set up to continue building on this foundation in one single, fluid direction towards Kara’s conflict and Kara’s stakes, without spiraling into subplots.
Which brings us to…
Prune your branches
A blurb is not the whole novel. It is a narrow, streamlined progression from character, to conflict, to stakes. A good blurb doesn’t tell you the story; it tells you why you want to know the rest of it.
Most stories have subplots. Subplots are great, but not for blurbs. A blurb is about momentum. A blurb should go in only one direction.
Every time you draft a blurb, read every sentence carefully and ask: does this feed into a fast-paced progression that sets it up to the final, essential question? Does this sentence build my momentum towards that climactic conundrum? Does this sentence belong in the main trunk of my plotline, or is it one of the branches?
If you can follow these three essential tips, you have the tools you need to grab a red pen and tame that blurb you’ve been fighting with—so get to it!
Don’t feel ready to start yet? That’s ok. Watch for the next installment in this series. We’re going to talk about the elements of successful blurbs and how to build the right progression, start to finish!
About the Writer: Kathryn Tamburri (@KathrynTamburriAuthor) writes clean YA epic fantasy novels which seethe with slow-burn romance. You can find more of her writing tips on #ThePantsersGuide and follow her new #AdventureLog on the blog at KathrynTamburri.com, and be the first to know when her novels publish by subscribing to her fun author newsletter.