Tuesday, November 08, 2005

TTT: The Four Horsemen part 1

You'd think it'd be easy to write explanations of your own book. But it's not. It's a pain. You have to fit an entire story into a few lines or pages. But what do you put in? How do you know if you've done it right? What belongs in the little things and what do you have to take out of the big things. First off, you need to know what each one is. I like to think of them as The Four Horsemen...because submitting often feels like trying to survive the Apocalypse

Now, commonly, people think a blurb is what goes on the back of a book. It sort of is. It's both more and less. There are four things a writer must master to have a successful career: The LogLine, The Blurb, The Short Synopsis & The Long Synopsis. Each one is a nightmare unto itself, but thankfully, if done in the right order, you can do one and expand it into the next. The key three things to include in ALL of them is this: Hooks, Characters, Conflict. The more room you have, the more you can expand into motivation, plan to solve problem, etc. But if you don't have those three things at even the shortest level, your logline, blurb, SS or LS is incomplete and will likely fail. Today we will cover the first two.

The Logline is a one or two line sentence that conveys the hooks of your story, the characters and the conflict, usually into a compelling statement or question that draws the editor (readers don't see these too often) into wanting more. Loglines are used at the top of a query letter and most effectively in an editor pitch, where you have to describe your book in 25 words or less. They maximize your time and the editors interest.

ex) "Girl next door Jenna McCain's lifelong plan to marry rancher Cord Erikson would have gone off without a hitch, but how was she to expect his ex-wife to interfere...and bring a baby along?"

Hooks: Girl Next Door, Rancher, Secret Baby
Characters, Jenna and Cord (includes villain, ex-wife)
Conflict: she's loved him forever, he has a past, can she get in the way of that and live with herself?

Now that you have those elements in a sentence, you can use them to stay concise while you enlarge The Logline into The Blurb.

The Blurb causes trouble because it's much larger, roughly 30-200 words. It is the length of the back of the book and it, too, must contain the three elements listed above. If you do a one paragraph blurb--my personal favorite--you discuss both main characters in the same paragraph. You START with your hook and your character. Move next to your alternate character's problem (conflict). Then wrap it up with what needs to be done to solve the problem. If you choose the two paragraph type (the 200 word version), then you will need a paragraph for each character that states their individual hooks, character, conflict and plan to solve their issues.

To help you do this, I've created a way to build a paragraph blurb using three simple questions:

1) HOOK: Why do people want to read this book? Because "Girl Next Door Jenny McCain is finally marrying the man of her dreams."

2) CHARACTER & CONFLICT: Why is this important? She's spent her life in love with Cord Erikson, despite heartbreak and loss, and now their day is finally here. Or, it would be, if Cord's ex-wife hadn't materialized on his doorstep, holding a baby she claims is his.

3) PLAN TO SOLVE PROBLEM: What do they need to do to solve their problem?With the wedding just around the corner, Jenny knows that Cord has an impossible decision to make. Can she finally stand up for their love, even if it means raising another woman's child?

Then, when you have those sentences, combine them in a para:

"Girl Next Door Jenny McCain is finally marrying the man of her dreams.She's spent her life in love with Cord Erikson, despite heartbreak and loss, and now their day is finally here. Or, it would be, if Cord's ex-wife hadn't materialized on his doorstep, holding a baby she claims is his. With the wedding just around the corner, Jenny knows that Cord has an impossible decision to make. Can she finally stand up for their love, even if it means raising another woman's child?"

Since this is a completely made up story so far, an exercise for you might be to try to write a paragraph for Cord using this process.

Remember, editing is always a writer's best friend. Things to look for when going over your finished blurb, is where you can remove to make it more stream-lined. Connective words can be a real word-cutter: but, that, and, and whatever possessive pronouns you don't strictly need. Particularly with blurbs, you want to avoid buts, ands and especially thats. They can drag a sentence into the ground. Keep the pace quick and direct. That'll grab people every time. 

1 comment:

Jaye said...

Good post, Deedle. I've emailed it to myself to save for future reference. :-)