I’ve never been good at summarizing anything, let alone my own work. Trying to learn how to write that enticing snippet of text for a book jacket, I decided I’d do some proper research. I looked at the blurbs for five popular sci-fi/fantasy YA novels (Divergent, The Maze Runner, Red Queen, The Hunger Games, and City of Bones) and picked them apart to see how they worked. I found that there’s a basic structure that runs through all of them.
- Introduce the world and main character. This sets your reader up with the nitty-gritty details that they need to know in order to understand what’s to come next. These are generally introduced together and are explained in two to three sentences.
- Explain the plot-based conflict. This is what most people think of when they think of a book blurb. What’s happening? What about the plot do we need to know in order to get sucked in? This will take up about half of your entire blurb, but should still only run three to five sentences.
- Explain the emotional conflict. This usually ties into the plot but has more to do with the character’s well-being. What trauma does she face early on in the work? What is haunting her? What holds her back or pushes her forward? This can be set up in one to two sentences.
- Set the stakes. This is your punchline. This is what the reader ends on and therefore what needs to be the most powerful. If the heroes fail, what will be the consequences? What do they stand to lose? What do they stand to gain? This should be one sentence, maybe two. Keep it punchy and sharp.
There are some other things you want to keep in mind:
- If there’s a romance, mention it.
- Keep it short.
- Don’t reveal anything after about the one-quarter mark in your novel.
- State your character’s age.
So there’s your set-up, more or less. I decided to try it out by coming up with the plot for a fake novel (though it’s actually loosely based on a story I wrote when I was nine. Aww.).
Alice Jackson is seventeen years old when a ghost murders her family and sends her into a world unlike her own. In a place where spell-casters reign, dragons fly, and evil sorceresses threaten the land, Alice is completely out of her element. But the longer she stays in this fantastic world, the more she realizes she has more to do with this realm than she may have first thought. Struggling with the death of parents and her strange affection for the assassin known only as K, Alice will have to uncover her past if she wants to make sure Earth has a future.
It’s not perfect, but it has great potential. Remember that this set-up isn’t law. It’s popular, but even some of the books I listed deviate from it somewhat. Think of this as a framework for working on your own blurb.