More Query Thoughts: Deconstructing a Blurb

August 29, 2012 § 12 Comments

As follow-up to my notes on query writing, I thought I’d go head and deconstruct a blurb so my talk of stakes and hook and conflict make a little more sense. I’m going to use the blurb on my site here for After You, with the understanding that 1) it is not the blurb I used in my query (but would be if I were querying now – it’s been edited to reflect revisions in the story) and 2) it’s not the blurb that will end up on the book (more than likely).

Seventeen-year-old Camilla Jay has the power of second chances. She can rewind time and she remembers everything. A tragedy like the death of her twin sister Madelyn shouldn’t be possible. Camilla rewinds to the day, but Madelyn dies each time – by her own hand. Madelyn doesn’t want saving. As Camilla searches for answers, she grows closer to handsome loner Wall. Together, they uncover Madelyn’s secrets: she was convinced her death was the only way to prevent Camilla’s. If Madelyn is right, then in saving her, Camilla could lose everything. Is she willing to gamble her future for her sister’s?

- blurb for After You, by me, coming Winter 2014 from Dial BFYR

So, let’s start.

“Seventeen-year-old Camilla Jay has the power of second chances. She can rewind time and she remembers everything. A tragedy like the death of her twin sister Madelyn shouldn’t be possible.”

This is my hook: this is the set-up (or even sometimes backstory), that orients the reader to my novel. It gives us a taste of what’s going on and, if your story is high-concept, this is where that concept tends to go. (The more high concept a story is, the shorter the blurb will tend to be. If your story isn’t high concept, don’t worry about it. Not a big deal, I mention it for thoroughness.) Note I start with my protagonist right away – this is who the reader will connect to, and unless you’re writing something like fantasy which requires more set-up, is a good rule of thumb (see the HSL blurb on my Books page).

“Camilla rewinds to the day, but Madelyn dies each time – by her own hand. Madelyn doesn’t want saving. As Camilla searches for answers, she grows closer to handsome loner Wall. Together, they uncover Madelyn’s secrets: she was convinced her death was the only way to prevent Camilla’s.”

This is my conflict. Here’s something to note: AY is high concept, but it’s not commercial or strong genre; it’s much more quiet, dark, and literary. There is no villain in AY; but Madelyn’s goals are in opposition to Camilla’s, so the conflict focuses on her. I included mention of the romantic subplot because I had the room and because it ties directly into her character arc – if Cam has to potentially choose between Madelyn’s future and her own, we should get a sense she has things in her life she really wants. The basic conflict in AY is the first two sentences – Madelyn dies by her own hand and doesn’t want saving. I add the next two as further complication.

“If Madelyn is right, then in saving her, Camilla could lose everything. Is she willing to gamble her future for her sister’s?”

And lastly, we have the stakes. If Camilla succeeds, she could potentially be risking her own life. Whoa! The motivation is woven throughout the blurb, not just in the stakes here: Camilla and Madelyn are twins and we can infer very close, so she wants her sister back, and in the conflict we’re told Madelyn had secrets, and Camilla is thus also motivated by a desire to find them out.

Some other things: that blurb is only 99 words. It takes up only about a quarter of a page. (Queries should be single-spaced and always written in the present tense.) Yet there are 9 sentences. This is because it uses my book voice, which is short, sparse, and unflinchy. If you write long, lyrical sentences, your blurb should be lyrical and the sentences a bit long to reflect your voice and style of writing. But do not write run-on sentences just to cram more information into your blurb. If you find yourself wondering how to shoehorn in mention of the worvils on Mars, you may need to revisit the query thoughts post. :)

And now a bit of fun! I recently got to help several various people with their queries; it’s something I love doing, as you know, and I’ve been told I’m not half bad at. Want some help with yours? Just comment on this post between now and midnight Thursday and you could win a query + 10 page critique from me. Contest is international (since prizes are by email!) but the catch is you have to have a finished manuscript (see query thought 1 for what that means!). I refuse to encourage jumping the gun.  :)

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