When do you write the blurb for your publication? I start it as the idea of the book is forming, because giving yourself a rough outline of the main points of the story is important. This, later, becomes the structure of the blurb, the write-up you see on the book’s back cover and/or on the sales pages. To my mind, these things need to be succinct while offering the potential reader an outline of what to expect.
The Blake Inheritance
I’m going to give you a quote from one of my unusual romance stories, The Blake Inheritance, and here it is in sections:
An inheritance, a ring and a church organ; three clues to the Blake family mystery.
Twenty-five and fleeing a stale relationship, Ryan Blake returns home to find some answers. What he discovers is the impish twenty-two-year-old, Charlie Hatch, a homeless scamp who has a way with words, a love of mysteries, and a very cute arse.
As the two set about unlocking the Blake family secrets, Ryan finds himself falling for the younger guy. But is he ready to commit again? And can Charlie learn to accept that someone loves him?
What we have here is not a synopsis (never write a synopsis as your blurb) but it outlines the story in 91 words. It may not be the best blurb ever written, but it contains all the elements of the story while, I hope, enticing the reader to buy the book, which you can do here:
“Let us go then you and I, to the place where the wild thyme grows.”
The first line tells us it’s a mystery. The second paragraph tells us the main character, Ryan, is overcoming a problem, meets an impact character (one who will affect a change in the MC) and there’s a hint of something sexy. The last paragraph suggests the love story and the conflict, and that’s all we need to know. Combined with the cover that shows two young men and a lighthouse in a slightly twisted way should add a visual to the blurb. What this blurb doesn’t overdo, though, are the ‘power words.’ Then again, it doesn’t use weak words, and your blurb should be about power, not weakness.
What do I mean by power words? Let’s move away from the blurb and look at fuller storytelling. Which sentence tells you more?
Edward went to look.
Edward forced himself to look.
Went is a weak word, forced is a power word; it tells us something about his state of mind and has a clearer meaning than ‘went.’ In this case, we can assume Edward didn’t want to look. Here’s another example taken from my upcoming ‘Starting with Secrets’:
… she said, moving to the stove
… she said, drifting to the stove
I don’t mind ‘moving’ too much because it’s vague and in this scene, ‘she’ is being vague, but ‘moving’ is an opportunity for something better. Here, she drifts to the stove because she is reminiscing as she’s talking, but were she angry, she might stomp, or if she was in a panic she might fly, she might ‘scream her way to’ or ‘bustle to’, ‘stagger in the manner of a drunk toward’ or, if you want to use ‘move’, ‘moved to the stove like a galleon in full sail’, but then, ‘sailed’ would be better, or ‘tacked’, ‘lurched’… In other words, ‘move’ is a weak word, and the others are power words.
Other weak verbs to be wary of include, stand, walk, look, feel, think, said, have, got, go. Example:
He knelt beneath the bell and looked inside.
He knelt beneath the bell and squinted inside.
Squinted suggests poor lighting or eyesight, so it adds more to the scene than looked.
As we can replace weak words with more powerful and descriptive ones, and we can improve our writing by looking out for other weak words which are easy to use but can always be bettered. I, for example, now look out for my use of the word ‘it’ because unless the ‘it’ is obviously the thing I am referring to, the word can confuse the reader. Sometimes, when editing, it confuses me, and I have to read back to remind myself what’s being talked about. So, look out for your use of the weak word, ‘it’ and see if it isn’t better replaced by something more specific. Other weak words used in this way include replacements for ‘it’ such as ‘one.’ For example:
Not as public as the one in the cathedral,
Not as public as the plaque in the cathedral,
That’s also from ‘Starting with Secrets’ and the ‘one’ we are referring to, the ‘it’ if you like, was mentioned a few sentences back, and because things have happened in between, ‘one’ might be too vague for the reader. Obviously, there are times when one, it, them, they etc., work, and you don’t want to repeat ‘plaque’ or whatever too many times.
She taught him how to make pastry and roll it.
Makes sense but there was that dreaded ‘it’, and something didn’t feel right. I changed it to:
She taught him how to make and roll pastry. It reads better and makes more sense; it’s not as clunky.
Here’s another way I try and improve my writing by swapping weak words for more powerful ones. This is an actual edit from my first draft to my second. Which do you think is more descriptive?
… but no light appeared at the window.
… but daylight refused to breach the window.
Okay, so I could have gone further: … but daylight refused to breach the grime-encrusted, leaded windowpane that stood as a barrier to the dawn… But let’s not go over the top.
‘Stood’, by the way, is another weak word. Always ask yourself how? How did he stand? How did she move?
Get/got is another one to avoid.
When he got to the junction…
When he arrived, reached, staggered to, fell upon, finally found… the junction. Much more descriptive.
However, when a character is speaking, always write as he or she would speak. Don’t put in unnecessary power words for the sake of it, not in dialogue. A character would be perfectly justified saying, ‘When you get to the junction.’
A slight aside, but while editing the next book, I came across this sentence:
… and enjoyed standing beside her drying plates.
There’s nothing better than watching plates dry is there? Why was he standing beside plates that were drying? Why was he enjoying such a dull spectacle?
I changed the line to:
… and enjoyed drying plates beside her, which is what I actually meant to say.
I could have improved the initial sentence with a comma, I suppose, but it still felt clunky. … and enjoyed standing beside her, drying plates.
I was trying to think of a way to end this post, and came across another short piece on Before You Publish that included a list of strong, mild and weak words. It’s not that easy to read unless you enlarge it, but I’ve added it to my bookmarks as a resource. You might find it interesting when you are editing. I’ll be back on Wednesday with more news on ‘Starting with Secrets’ my current work in progress.