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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Author's Tip: Writing the Much Under-Estimated Story Blurb by Glenys O'Connell

One of the most useful tools a writer can have when starting a new wip is a blurb, or logline, derived from the idea for the book. Most of us happily launch into producing novels of 65,000, 80,000 or even 120,000 words, yet the very idea of paring down that novel idea to three or four sentences before we start writing terrifies us!
Try it now: boil your entire story idea into three or four crisp, bright sentences. This usually sets my writing students off into groans and moans, but later they're delighted when they see what a valuable exercise this is, so bear with me.

Why do you want to express your idea in so few words? Here are some of the reasons:
1) You want to know how strong your idea is. Will it last to The End? If you are able to write it down in two or three sentences, and it still makes sense and sparkles brightly, then you can be fairly sure you've a workable idea. If not, it might be that you need to set it aside until other parts of the puzzle pop up. I always keep an ideas file on my computer. I used to just scribble down notes on bits of paper, the backs of menus and receipts, paper napkins - you get the picture - and when I came to look at them the writing was unintelligible and the once great (or so I thought) ideas were meaningless scribbles. I still do scribble down the ideas when they come to me - but as soon as I can, I type them up into my computer file. Funnily enough, by the time I do this I have a lot more detail for the idea - and often the blurb is clear.
Antidote for a Weak Idea: Set it aside in your Ideas File, and read it every now and again - strengthening additions will occur to you. Look at other ideas in your file to see if you can see any can be merged to form a stronger whole. Sometimes ideas do not arrive in our heads fully formed - they come in bits and pieces and the smart writer is alert enough to capture them as they arrive.
2) This short paragraph becomes a kind of mini outline. It keeps you focused on your story - write it out on sticky notes and apply to your computer monitor, your diary - even the bathroom mirror if you dare!
3) This short form is your pitch to an editor or agent. In screenwriting it's called a 'logline' and is used to capture the attention of producers and directors. In our case, we're going to nurture this simple paragraph, use it at the beginning of query letters and as the basis for the synopsis which is our selling tool when the book is finished and ready to do the rounds of publishers and agents. I have used the short blurb as the opening paragraph of query letters for books and articles that have sold!

See how useful it is? So, how do you do it?

Take the most important part of your idea, add the names of the two main characters and a little bit about them, ie, if they are a doctor, detective, mother of three, etc., if it's relevant to the predicament they find themselves in, and describe the problem they must overcome. I usually end with a question sentence that describes the main conflict in the story. You can bolster your blurb skills by reading the storylines on the backs of novels, and by writing them for books you have read.
Here are some examples from my own books:

Resort to Murder, coming soon in print and ebook from The Wild Rose Press:

Falsely disgraced police detective Ellie Fitzpatrick is prepared to face a vicious killer to redeem herself but is she also brave enough to make peace with the man she loves? When her meteoric career crashed and burned after she was accused of accepting bribes from thugs running a protection racket, Ellie is suspended from the job she loves and believes herself abandoned not only by police colleagues but by her lover, Detective Liam Reilly. She is called back to work when a biography of a serial killer she arrested suggests the man may be innocent. Reilly vows to protect Ellie from the gang who tried to frame her and the vicious killer who's stalking her. Can she trust him with her life?

And from Winters & Somers, published as an ebook and soon-to-be print by Red Rose Publishing:

Irish PI CĂ­ara Somers makes a good living testing the 'temptability quotient' of men for their insecure lovers…but when NY homicide cop and author of red hot romances, Jonathon Winters, makes her take him on as a partner in her Dublin agency, he gets the wrong message from her raunchy style..…especially when he wants her for himself.
Somers isn't the type to let a man push her around - the incorrigible Grannie Somers raised her to be her own woman. But when she discovers that even Grannie drools over Winters, she can't help but wonder what it would be like to indulge in one of the fantasies that have millions of women reading his romantic books.
And when Somers finally gets her first real case - to capture the notorious jewel thief dubbed The Diamond Darling - she has to survive the help of her weird relatives, the landlady from hell, two stoned friends, a stray dog - and Winters himself…. Ends….

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