Summarizing a 300+ page novel into a few paragraphs is hard and it’s not something that usually comes naturally to us novelists. It took me a lot experimentation to get good at it, but here’s how I learned to do it.
I read the backs of a whole pile of books, and then I emulated them, practicing narrowing my book’s crucial aspects into 2-3 paragraphs.
At least for fantasy/sci-fi there seems to be only a few styles when it comes to the blurb. But no matter what genre you write in, I recommend finding bestsellers within that genre and critically breaking down their blurbs to see what makes them so successful.
For our purposes, I’m going to break down the two most popular styles in sci-fi/fantasy that I’ve come across. The Plot-Oriented style and the Character-Oriented style.
The Plot Oriented Blurb
Example: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.
Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another…
First, we have a powerful statement, a hook to draw the reader in. What makes this book interesting, what is it about?
In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord…1743.
Next we have the time period (which tells us this is a historical piece, or a futuristic sci-fi if the year was 2750 instead), we have the main character’s name and identity, we have the inciting incident and we have the setting.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire’s destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life …and shatter her heart.
A little more detail about the plot and subject matter of the book.
For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
And then we have the theme, and the last sentence drives the hook home so you want to pick the book up right away and read it.
The Character-Oriented Blurb.
Example: Mirror’s Hope by Justine Alley Dowsett and Murandy Damodred.
Everything has a price…
In a self-serving dystopian society, Mirena’s kind-hearted nature leaves her socially outcast. Daunted by the task of trying to initiate change herself, she tries desperately to conform to the expectations of the cruel society around her.
The setting, the main character and her identity/circumstance.
That is, until she meets Tendro… General to the Panarch’s armies and a rising star in government, no one expects Tendro Seynor to be the prophesied Avatar of the Light, but that’s exactly what he’s become. Alone, he doesn’t have the resolve necessary to follow the path destiny has set before him; but that all changes when meets Mirena and falls in love with her simple faith.
The secondary character and his identity/circumstance.
Brought together by fate, Mirena and Tendro must find a way to change their world for the better or risk the consequences of being on the wrong side of an all-powerful tyrant and his unforgiving Generals. Can they tip the balance of power in their world, or will the lengths they have to go get them in too deep to get back out again?
The inciting incident and a hint at the theme, while giving the hook.
If you’ll notice, all the same crucial aspects are present in both styles: the setting, the characters, the inciting incident, the theme and the hook. They’re just presented in a different order with a different aspect emphasized. As for which style is right to use for your book, it’s probably best to ask yourself, what is the most important aspect of your book? If your story is character-driven, maybe the character style. If it’s more about the setting or the plot, then maybe the plot-oriented style. You can always do what I do and write out a few options in each style until I find one I like.
Thanks for reading!
Have you written a blurb for your book? Share it in the comment section below!