How To Write Better Stories, OR: Harry Potter And The Blurb.

 

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your humble host

Writing the hundred words or so that adorn the back of your book – and the Ammy listing – is hard. Looking at examples of other people’s work, when applicable, is… well, it might be easy to look at their blurbs, but what can we learn from their blurbs?

Aha. Glad you asked.

Let’s start yet another analysis of blurbs by studying a book we already know and seeing what information the blurb includes or doesn’t include.

For this, we need a popular book where many of us know the story. That way we will know if it’s accurate or gives away too much, etc. Harry Potter is called upon once again.

Blurbs are advertising copy.

The dreaded M word – Marketing.

And it’s easier for most writers to write 100,000 words of a story than it is to sell a potential reader in 100 words. We all struggle with that. It’s a different skill set than storytelling, but as wordsmiths I believe we can eventually master it.

Although there there are numerous formulas that will give you a blurb you can live with, you want a blurb that sells books. Maybe studying Rowling’s blurbs will help us do that; maybe not – but we will almost certainly learn something, so let’s have a look. (Her books seem to have sold well, after all. Maybe the blurb played a roll.)

If you could look at an example of the original cover in the original blurb, and then maybe tweak it for today’s standards, you might learn a lot about blurb writing.

After reading the story, I finally turned the book over to read the blurb. Because I was reading it not for the story per se but to find out about the description of the castle and to see what all the fuss was about, I never read the first blurb until I was done with the book.

And what I see is kind of a formula. Yes they do ask some questions (which is considered bad form) but really, who cares – if it works?

You could ask yourself now that you know the story – as most of you do – read the blurb and see: does it tell you enough to make you want to read the book? Does it say too much? Does it skip things that you might have put in?

First, some givens:

  • You must write a good story.
  • It must be as error free as possible.
  • It needs a professional-looking cover.

After that, let’s look at a blurb – because the best blurb likely won’t get read if the cover sucks, and if the story is awful, you’ll die a slow painful writerly death of by way of many bad reviews.

Here’s the back cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Yes I know it was originally the “philosopher’s” stone, and maybe the blurb changed with that wording, but we have to work with what we have. Maybe those changes helped it become more successful.

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yes, that’s my thumb. we’re working on a budget here

I’ll transcribe the text so we can play with it:

Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He’s never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or help hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursley’s, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him… If Harry can survive the encounter. (125 words)

Okay.

Allison did an outline of the steps necessary in a traditional blurb. Let’s put HP into it.

  1. The situation. This is where you briefly describe life as it was for your character before the crap started hitting the fan. (Depicted in GREEN TEXT as follows.)
  2. The Problem. This is where you describe a few of the rocks you’ve thrown at your character, and use only the rocks that are in line with your main plot. (BLUE TEXT)
  3. New hopes/stakes. This is where you describe how your character starts to address the problem and the stakes, which also functions as THE HOOK. (If the character must do something but can’t, what happens?) (RED TEXT)

I’ve color coded these steps (GREEN, BLUE, RED) so we can easily identify the following text parts in the same manner (on some phones, you won’t see the colors so I’ll make them Green/bold and underlined/blue and plain/red):

Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He’s never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or help hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursley’s, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him… IF HARRY CAN SURVIVE THE ENCOUNTER.

Okay, now: having identified the parts, let’s see what was told here and what was left out. You’ll need to know the story, and for this one, the book and movie are pretty much the same story line.

We can see what was left in, but think about how much of the story you read in the book before you get to the part where Harry is living in a closet under the stairs – which is basically where the blurb starts. There’s no mention of the wizards that take him to the Dursleys’ as a baby. No nastiness explained in detail of his treatment by Dursleys (aside from “miserable” and “awful”), nor about how fat Dudley is, or how spoiled, or how there appears to only be one child living in the house when there are two. (That got me; I’d have included it – wrongly). There’s not visit to the zoo mentioned nor the ability to cause errant stuff to happen – like the snake glass disappearing, or Harry flying onto the school roof when the bullies – Dudley’s gang – are after him.

It’s gloriously narrow in its information.

Next, the blurb for HP2:

img_0470-1
yes, that’s my thumb again

I’ll transcribe the text so we can play with it, too (already color coded):

Ever since Harry Potter had come home for the summer, the Dursley’s had been so mean and hideous that all Harry wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts school for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature who says that if Harry returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck up new professor and a spirit who haunts the girls’ bathroom. But then the real trouble begins – someone is turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, who’s mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects… Harry Potter himself!

Again, look ho0w much of the story is not included.

And that’s the key.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the situation? What was life for your character before the crap started hitting the fan.?
  2. What is the Problem? What are a few of the main rocks you’ve thrown at your character?
  3. What are the stakes? (Or what is the new hopes?) How does your character start to address problem and if the character can’t, what happens?

and do not add anything but the basics, then shape it so it attracts readers’ attention.

Okay, so now let’s look at a NEW blurb and see what it tells us. The blurb for Allison’s third book in the Project Renovatio series, Project Ancora, is as follows:

project-ancora

After suffering great loss, Levin struggles to find his place in a world that would see him as an outcast if it knew the truth of his existence. His purpose lies in his charge to keep his siblings and the other genetically engineered youths safe. So when they start disappearing, he has no choice but to use his gifts to find them – a mission that becomes more urgent when his sister, Rana, is among the kidnapped.

As Rana works with the captives on an escape plan, Levin uses his skills to figure out where they are and who is behind the abductions. What he discovers is more serious than he could have imagined, and it’s up to him to not only get them to safety but to keep them hidden from those who are supposed to protect them. (138 words)

Congratulations! She followed her own outline. Now:

  • Does the blurb tell you enough to make a decision about reading the book?
  • Is it confusing? Or enticing?
  • Are there too many names?
  • Is there enough detail or too much?

Post YOUR blurb and let’s see if it fits the helpful outline or if it gets a reader’s attention!

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “How To Write Better Stories, OR: Harry Potter And The Blurb.

  1. This is my blurb. Feel free to help me out here. 🙂

    Seventeen year old James Fitzpatrick is about to explode. With a dark past and little reason to go on, the only thing that keeps him from drowning is his best friend Caleb.
    Caleb has spent the last eight years trying to keep James alive. When a girl moves in next door, the opportunity to have something for himself is too tempting to pass up. Can he put the girl before his friend?
    Dealing with her own issues, Cassie has more in common with James than Caleb. Her slow slide into their lives, changes everything.

    E6

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is gonna be a tough one because I know the story and I know these characters.

      I would want to play up the angle that James is a model and can get any girl he wants, Caleb is his modeling coworker and they live a life of what most guys would consider good times, an endless stream of women and parties.

      Cassie is a sweetheart who starts out with one boy and has eyes for the other….

      Like I said. Tough!

      I’ll tell you what. We should take a few sample chapters and post them here and then maybe give an outline for parts of the rest of the story without giving away the ending so that readers can contribute. Right now they would be guessing at what to say and there’s a lot to these characters that you need to hint at in the blurb.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I think the story follows Caleb but in my opinion the other characters are more interesting. Whoever is least stable is almost automatically more interesting, and James is much less stable than Caleb.

          Cassie plays the role of potentially coming between the two men.

          That makes for interesting.

          Plus, whenever one of the characters is interested in another character, that makes that character more interesting, too.

          So you have three very good characters and they are pretty well intertwined in the story, and it’s kind of a mystery figuring out how it’s going to end up.

          Liked by 1 person

    • May I chime in? I have a few thoughts.
      If possible, I would focus on the perspective of one character. Paragraphs one and two feel like the start of two completely separate blurbs, and three names in a blurb is kind of a lot. I sense your story shifts in POV between these three characters, but that doesn’t mean all three must be named in the blurb.
      Who is the primary driver in solving the main conflict? Caleb? From this it looks that way, so maybe focus on him.
      That said, I don’t know the story, so it’s a little tricky to suggest fixes. I could be WAY off. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • You have the one guy who is good-looking and Ought to be happy, but he is an alcoholic and maybe a drug attic and he’s constantly on the verge of getting too drunk and passing out and somehow accidentally killing himself. His friend watches over him. And when the friend meets this girl, suddenly the alcoholic guy starts falling for her and she starts falling for him and the question is who’s gonna end up with who. Or is the alcoholic just going to end up killing himself. Which I worried about the entire story.

        Will the alcoholic turn on his best friend/brother and steal the girl?

        Will the brother be able to maintain a relationship with the girl while constantly having his life interrupted by the immature and deathly exploits of his best friend?

        Will the alcoholic kill himself?

        Will she remain true to herself or will she fall for the one person in the world she ought to stay away from?

        Can anybody save this guy from himself?

        It was a constant will they/won’t they, Will the brother catch on, and then it was a constant is he going to end up killing himself. I swear I worried about that through the ending. Not “to” the ending, but through the ending!

        Like

      • Caleb started off being the main guy…but the story ran away with James I think. But yeah, the POV shifts. Its interesting that Caleb comes across the focal character when James is mentioned first in the blurb.
        Thanks for replying.
        E6

        Liked by 1 person

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