Blurbing, dear friends, is the art of condensing. We’ve talked about what a blurb is and discussed its essential elements. We dove into how to streamline a blurb and build emotional momentum by limiting proper nouns and decluttering our details. What’s left is to discuss is writing blurbs that progress —how to take those minimal details and set them in an order to build ever upwards, from foundation to climax.
You have 2-3 paragraphs to write a blurb that progresses enough to catch your reader’s attention. It CAN be done. Read any successful blurb, and you will most likely notice a distinct progression: background, characters, tension, and stakes. Keep these in mind as you choose and trim your details; each one should be directly relevant.
Background & Characters
The first, and most brief, part of your blurb has to contain the background: the essential context in which the rest of your blurb makes sense. Usually, this includes something about the setting of your story: time and place, fantastical or historical, or simply an element that the following details are all wrapped up in (for instance: “amidst a guild of thieves” or “at the onset of the Great Depression”).
Ideally, you can enhance this single sentence with the first mention of your main character and how they fit within that background. Example: Once a part of her kingdom’s highest society, orphan Cinderella now slaves for her selfish stepfamily.
See? We know it’s a kingdom, which is critical to how the plot unfolds, but we don’t have the kingdom’s name to keep track of—we’ll read that in the story! We see exactly how our MC fits into this setting, past and present, and we’ve even set up our antagonists, again, without a clutter of names to remember. Most importantly, we know who we’re rooting for and why.
Tension & Stakes
The next step to writing blurbs that progress is to include tension and stakes. What are the problems in your novel? Is there a central antagonist? A central question or a central goal or dilemma? A second essential person with their own goal that twines with that of the MC?
In the case of Cinderella, we’re talking about a love story. That means we need to talk about the love interest, what stands in the way of the relationship, and finally what stands to be lost if our MC fails in achieving it.
Example: Once a part of her kingdom’s highest society, orphan Cinderella now slaves for her selfish stepfamily. A chance meeting with the Prince of the realm threatens to upset what little peace she has left in her home—but he is also the first glimmer of hope and happiness she’s had since the death of her father.
Yet how can Cinderella tell the Prince of her growing feelings when her scheming stepmother has plans to use him through her? How can she expect the heir of the realm to discard every tradition and the command of the king to love her? For the Prince, of course, has been betrothed since infancy.
Will Cinderella remain under her stepmother’s heel forever—or is there a way to freedom that won’t lead to civil war?
Don’t forget—if you’re keeping the fairy tale elements of magic in the story, that feel needs to be sprinkled in; if your novel is gritty, the blurb should be too. The tone of your blurb is a promise about your book. But do you see how every character, event, and question points to the same simple problem for the same person?
Progressing in a blurb with multiple characters
Writing blurbs that progress can seem difficult when you have more than one character, but it’s absolutely doable. There are many novels with two primary characters, both with goals and stakes to include; Cinderella is a very simplistic example. Nonetheless, even in the case of two characters, we need to move in one direction. The basic way to achieve this is to focus on how those two sets of goals and stakes interact.
If I’ve done this right, I still have a clear MC, but I also have a well-defined counterpart with his own history and stakes. Throughout this blurb, the goal is basically to bounce. Every detail I give for person A bounces back to person B, and vice versa, so that their actions and motivations play off of one another but continue moving in the same direction: towards the same crux of tension, the same pair of stakes. Hopefully, there’s just enough explanation and just enough mystery.
Keep your blurb moving
The main thing to remember with writing blurbs that progress is to constantly build upwards in intensity. Keep going until the reader is left hanging, wanting to know the rest. If you’re struggling, just go to the library and start reading the backs of books in your genre. And don’t forget– Moms Who Write is here for you!
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.