Monday, May 20, 2013

For Writers By Writers | How to Improve Your Blurb with Conflict Questions

So you got yourself a blurb. Now what? How do you improve your blurb so it works its absolute hardest for you?

Some agents and publishers have their own formulae for how they like blurbs from their authors to look. Others just like a really good hook. Some like a blurb that reads like a back-cover blurb (and yes, there is a difference, because a blurb on a cover letter or sent with a sample might not necessarily be what ends up getting sent out in press releases, etc.). Others just know a good blurb when they see it.

So what to do? You went through the hell and agony of writing a blurb in the first place, and now you need to improve it?

Yes, you do.

Why You Need to Improve Your Blurb

Not that there's anything wrong with a functional blurb that has a strong foundation with the five sentence plot-points paragraph, but if you are submitting to a publisher with its own way of doing things, you're going to have to mold that blurb to meet guidelines.

Because remember: when going through the slush piles, agents, editors, and publishers (their assistants, really) are looking for reasons to toss yours, not keep it. Not conforming to their requirements for a blurb can see your MS in the circular file before eyes have even scoped out your work.

Naughty Nights Press guidelines are a bit tough. If you're looking to submit to NNP (and if you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you are), it's advisable to keep it short. Aim for 400 characters or less to start with. For most, this makes the five-sentence format far too long.

What to do?

Improve your blurb. Up the stakes. Raise conflict questions.

Deconstructing a Strong Blurb

Let's take a really good example, Phoenix Johnson's The Wolf in the Neighborhood, Book 1 in the Wolf Smitten Series:

What do you do when your past comes back to haunt you? 
Could a dark secret revealed by a new lover be something you could overlook just to have him? 
What kind of secrets could you learn to live with for true love? 

Krissy has a hunky new neighbor with a dark secret; Derek is a vet with an interesting past. They hit it off quickly, but when Krissy’s abusive ex, James, comes to town, Derek shows a side Krissy never could have guessed, but James refuses to give up. 

Can Derek’s secret save them, or will James have his revenge?

Now,  this blurb comes in at just over 500 characters, so it's not ideal. However, it gets leeway because it's well-written and has some really great conflict questions. They start out general and pose interesting questions directed at you, the reader. Notice they go from very general to very specific until you know that Derek has a secret that can A.) destroy his new relationship with Krissy, B.) will put true love under some serious pressure, C.) will most likely challenge Krissy's idea of the world as she knows it, and D.) has the power to save them from the Big Bad Guy...if Krissy can accept it.

That's pretty heavy for 500 words! What's Derek's secret, and what would you be willing to accept if you were Krissy? That's enough to make just about anyone pick up the book.

So how does this blurb work?

It could have been written as a basic --yet strong and efficient-- plots-point blurb, like I outline in Blurb Writing Made Simple. However, you can condense a lot of that by converting a sentence or two into a Conflict Question.

Conflict Questions

What is a Conflict Question? Simply put, it's a question posed to the reader that outlines a central point of conflict within the story.

The first line of Phoenix Johnson's blurb could have read, "Krissy's past as come back to haunt her. A new lover has revealed a dark secret, and she doesn't know how much she can accept just to keep him."

It's good, but it's not great. It doesn't reach out and inspire you to relate to Krissy's plight. In fact, it makes her sound kind of weak and indecisive when it should be gritty and suspenseful.

Some great ways to open with a Conflict Question are:

What would you do if...?
EXAMPLE: What would you do if your past comes back to haunt you? (The Wolf in the Neighborhood)

If you could do/have/be [something extraordinary], what would you do?
EXAMPLE: If you could find someone to explore the depths of your hidden sexuality, would you? (The Training of Tess)

How far would you go to [fulfill a basic human need]?
EXAMPLE: How far would you go to save your home and have the man you love? (Gone With the Wind)

If [something bad happened], how far would you go [to fix it]?
EXAMPLE: If you were separated from your life mate, would you fight to the death to be reunited? (Whisper on a Scream)

Next time we'll look at taking your blurb and converting some of your stronger sentences into powerhouse Conflict Questions.

Until then, Ciao!

Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. That inspiration can carry you through the 90%, but only by understanding the tools at your disposal. Delena knows a thing or two about writing tools and how to make the most of your writing. Want her to prove it? Visit her blog The Printed Fox and check out her series For Writers, By Writers. Delena Silverfox is a historical romance author with Naughty Nights Press.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Delena, Like most authors l hate writing blurbs. You know how important it is to sell the idea but it's hard not to give too much away, especially with a short story. I am pleased that l seem to have got it right with 'A Wicked Game' as l used conflict questions in that blurb without knowing if that was a good thing to do!