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Thursday, October 4, 2007


I had some very good news yesterday. I’m looking forward to sharing more info with you in the weeks to come.

I was going to talk about weasel words, but I’m in much too good a mood to talk about negatives, so we’ll talk about something constructive.

Let’s discuss blurbs, sometimes known as loglines.

I will preface this with the fact that I’ve been in advertising for a very long time. I started out as a graphic designer, but eventually clients would ask for copy suggestions or headlines and I found I had a natural aptitude for this kind of writing, and it segues effortlessly to writing blurbs.

Blurbs are important. Not only will you use them in your query letters and pitches, but if you’re like me, you may use them as a base to write your story. Writing the blurb or logline is not that difficult. What is difficult is culling for the right words.

Most people, (including me) are often overwhelmed by all the information stored in our brains on any given novel we’re working on. So to compress it down to two or three sentences feels terribly harsh and inadequate. We want to tell the reader EVERYTHING because in our minds, it’s all important.

I won’t kid you. I blather something awful in a live situation. There is so much going on in my little rabbit brain it’s hard to spit out only the important stuff. This is one reason I write everything down. Once I see all the facts in front of me, I start pulling only the most important details so I’m not boring people with TMI (too much information).

With a novel, the most important elements are the hero(es), the conflict, and maybe the antagonist. If it’s a character driven conflict, say, one man against another, I might identify the antagonist by name, but if it’s a broad conflict (like so much in fantasy is) I prefer to focus on the main characters and the most critical conflict.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I write the logline first, then build upon it to create my story. But today we’ll treat this as if you’ve already written your novel and are now looking for a way to encapsulate it down to a few sentences.

Here’s an exercise for you.
1. Describe your hero/heroine with one or two adjectives, but no more than three.
2. Describe the core conflict in one sentence. (Yes, you can do it!)
3. Describe (in a few words) what makes this particular story different. For example: You don't want another vampire story. It has to be definitively unique and intriguing, something the reader hasn't seen before.
4. Fold gently.

Set this aside and dig a little deeper.
1. What does the protagonist(s) want?
2. Why can’t s/he get it?

These are the steps I take every time I build a logline. It might not be the one I use for my eventual query, but I find it forces me to look at the bones of the story and gives me a good base to refine the blurb until it’s shiny.

Sometimes, just for practice, I’ll read the tv guide for the synopses of various shows. I also watch trailers for movies and listen to the narrator describe the film. I also look up books that might be similar to mine at Amazon or B&N and see how they've condensed their titles.

If you study these long enough, you’ll find the language is super tight and active. More importantly, the successful ones urge the reader/viewer to find out more. They engage us and pique our curiosity.

Advertising works exactly the same way, which is probably why I’m comfortable with blurbs. You'll find it's not such a scary process if you simply break it down to: needs, obstacles, and characters. Wrap these up in an active and personal voice and you’ll have yourself a very workable blurb. Perfect for queries, synopses and elevator pitches.

One of my favorite links for writing the blurb/logline is here. Gregory Browne even includes examples.


Mike Keyton said...

Dammit Girl I was looking forward to 'weasel words' then I read the Browne link're forgiven.

Maria Zannini said...

Says the man who finds more of my weasel words than any other CP in my circle.