Lesson 4: Getting to the essence of the Story
The essence of the story- and no, it’s not a synopsis!
My stories come to me in the form of movie trailers that hint at what a movie is about. They’re vivid, intense and they grab my attention from whatever else I’m doing. When I jot the story idea down, that’s when the trailer leads into the opening sequence of the story. This is why I find myself writing the first chapter or so of the book before I do anything else. How can I use that movie trailer to work for my writing? If you’ve ever read the back of a book before you bought it- then you’ve read a movie trailer. That’s right; we’ve come to turning our loose idea with hints of what will happen to a fully fledged blurb to hook the reader’s attention. It’s time to get to the essence of our story to give us a framework for our characters.
Many writers that plot will write a synopsis either before; during or after plotting their novel but before they write it. I’m not one of them. I hate writing a synopsis before the story is written and don’t want to do it after it’s written either. To me, it’s nothing but a reduced version of the story I’m telling and I shouldn’t have to tell it twice.
Yet, a blurb is different and very necessary to both my writing the story and to selling it. The differences between the two are night and day to me. I might write my book without a synopsis, but I’d never write it without my blurb! The blurb is a quick look at the story with a hook to make you want to know more. A synopsis is a lean, bare bone story with no dialogue and covering GMC and how things play out.
I know you’re wondering how blurbs have anything to do with role-playing games. The truth is that those blurbs are what make up not just the back of the module, but how the modules that your characters go through are built upon. More importantly, when you’re sitting there as a player character, the DM oftentimes reads a small blurb giving you basic details of scene and setting before allowing you to begin your journey or even during certain parts of it. It’s what helps you to let go of the here and now and see what will happen next through the eyes of the character.
So let’s talk about blurbs. Blurbs–they can get people reading or they can make people pass on by. Yes, many will tell you that a good cover alone is the be-all, end-all of your book hooking readers. Yet, there are those who think a good blurb is the ultimate point on where you can gain a reader or lose one. So, how do you write a blurb that hooks your attention without giving too much away?
First off, there are many kinds of blurbs, not just the one you often read on a back cover. I classify them as High Concept, Back Cover, and the Query/Highlight blurbs. Each of these has a place within publishing both for non-published and published authors. Once you know the basic requirements to write each kind, you’ll find that it becomes second nature to you to have each type ready. Let’s look at the High Concept blurb first since it’s the shortest, and in some ways, the easiest to write.
What does High Concept mean? Simply put, high concept blurbs use already well-known items–books, movies, phrases– together in combination to showcase the essence of your story. An example is how Gene Roddenberry billed Star Trek to the Desilu executives. He called it “Horatio Hornblower among the stars.” This concept caught the executives’ attention and asked him to explain more about it. Another example is my story called Argent Valkyrie. I call it “Manchurian Candidate meets Star Wars with a twist.” If you’re familiar with what the stories are about–you then can see the essence of the story being spoken about. You’re linking familiar themes in a way to give the core gist in less than a minute and have it stick.
So, how do you write a high concept blurb? Sit down with your story–finished or not, and ask yourself a few questions like: What does this story say in general terms? What movie/book/TV show does this story remind you of? (It can be more than one or two.) Is part of the story the reverse of a story that is out somewhere? By asking yourself these questions, you can now put together a one sentence high concept blurb. Play with it, refine it, and watch a few movies or shows to capture the feel of your story better. By having this high concept blurb–we’re ready for the next stage: Back Cover Blurb.
Assignment--- Create a High Concept Blurb for your story idea and post it here.