Breaking Out the Blurb

Adventures in novel writing…

I feel like I’ve been working on Breaking Bread forever! But at last I’m finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. As long as it’s not an oncoming train… and frankly the way the past year has been? That could very well be the case.FullSizeRender

I’ve reached that stage in novel development that I like the least — writing the synopsis, or blurb that goes on the back cover of the book and in the description on the Amazon page. How do you distill 85,000+ words down to a few sentences or a short paragraph? And write those sentences in such a way as to suck your potential readers into buying your novel? Ugh. It’s agonising!

Why is it so hard? Fellow writers, do you struggle with this part, too?

The blurb needs to convey the mystery, the suspense, the drama of the book without giving away the details or the ending. It also has to be concise and attention grabbing. I either end up with three sentences or an entire page. Finding the happy middle ground is elusive. So as I work on the blurb for my fifth novel, Breaking Bread, (and yes, I’m going with that title – more about that in another post), I rant, I rail, I stomp and I curse. That is ridiculous, right? Temperamental artist stereotype, right here! (She says throwing herself onto her Victorian fainting chair.) After I’ve had enough wallowing and whining, I get angry. What?!? Angry, you say? How does that help?do-not-keep-calm-anger-is-an-energy

This is not the path I would recommend to you all, but for me, getting angry energizes me. It sets me on fire and it feels kind of good. Maybe that makes me a dangerous psychopath, or possibly The Incredible Hulk’s previously unknown twin sister, I’m not really sure. Whatever the case, anger makes me feel alive. Once I get the frustration out of my system, I can move on, rejuvenated.

I nailed that blurb today. And if I didn’t nail it, I want you to tell me. Here it is below. All suggestions are welcome.

Breaking Bread, Book Five in the Bucks County Novels

Maya Kaminski has achieved her dream of owning a French bakery cafe, even though her family opposed her every step of the way. It hasn’t been easy, but her hard work and dedication have paid off —the business is thriving and she’s slowly getting ahead. Just as things seem to be going her way, her childhood friend, Brad Logan, moves back into town and with his recent inheritance, buys Maya’s building, intending to help her out. However, Maya is so used to relying on herself that it’s a struggle to accept help from anyone, let alone a man with whom she finds herself falling in love. When the cafe comes under attack, first by what appears to be petty mischief but quickly escalates to dangerous sabotage, Maya will need all the help she can get to save her business and her life.

(‘Keep calm’ image credit: farenheit211)

Self Editing – Being Brutal

“If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favorite scene, or your very best idea or set piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable.” – Joss Whedon.

When I decided to begin writing a few years ago, I began reading as much as I could on the craft of writing as well. Believe me, there is no shortage of advice out there. Occasionally, I would find one bit of information, which in just a few words or sentences, would convey a profound truth. The above quote from Joss Whedon is one such gem.

I soon discovered that stories and the scenes within them can get away from us as we write them. This is how it happens to me. One of the ways I like to combat the dreaded writer’s block is to write ‘garbage’ scenes. If I can’t figure out how to get to my next plot point, I will keep going by writing my characters doing mundane things like having dinner, doing their laundry, shopping or something like that. This often helps me think my way through to the important stuff and the garbage can be edited out later. Occasionally, though, I will have written a part that I rather like. Perhaps something funny happens at the grocery store or the washing machine malfunctions and hijinks ensue. I may have crafted a witty or clever bit of dialogue between two characters, or maybe the conversation my character has in his head is poignant or thought provoking, giving us a glimpse into their background or personality. It seems a shame to cut that stuff out.

Unfortunately, just because we love it doesn’t mean it will work for the story. And that is why we have to be brutally honest with ourselves. Ask: does this scene help the story move along? Do we need to know this information? Does it help the plot develop? Or is it apropos of nothing? And don’t mistake what I mean, garbage scenes aren’t necessarily garbage writing, they are just not useful to the story. And there is no reason not to save the scene to modify for future use in another project. Nevertheless, extra material that does not in a substantial way contribute to the plot, the background or the atmosphere of the story has to go. Snip, snip…

Another experience you may have, especially if you are the sort of writer who has a detailed plot worked out ahead of time, is that you reach a point in the story where a flash of inspiration hits you and you see the story winding down a completely different path. This new idea is much better from the one you began with and you decide to go with it. The trouble is that not everything you’ve written previously will now work with the direction you’re taking. If you read along with Breaking Bread, you may remember this happening in the midst of that story. I did quite a bit of brutal revising about halfway through it. However, the revisions were absolutely worth the time and effort as I am much happier with it now. (Just got word from my editor that he’s happy with it, too!) The worst thing you can do is ‘force’ the new plot to conform to the previously written material. It will be messy, it won’t flow naturally and very likely, it won’t make a whole lot of sense. Remember, writing is not a sprint to the finish. You may walk, trudge, limp or even crawl across the finish line, as long as you cross it with the best manuscript you are capable of writing.

Wishing you happy writing and productive (even if it’s brutal) editing.

(Blah blah image via TV Tropes.)

Naming Names

How do you choose a name for a character?  Some of my characters’ names came from deceased relatives, old family friends, and a particularly useful website:  Since names fall in and out of popularity throughout the years, one way to name your character realistically is to see what names were popular for the year in which they were born. That’s what this website can tell you –the most common names given to the children of that age.

For choosing surnames, I carefully watched film and TV show credits, paid attention to the last names of athletes, people in the news and even place names. Detective Jack Staley, for example, arose from – Jack: a consistently strong male name (think Jack Kennedy, Jack Ryan, Jack Reacher, Jack Bauer) and Staley which I borrowed from former Philadelphia Eagles’ running back Duce Staley. (Also giving it a Philly connection). Maya Kaminsky is a combination of – Maya: Russian engineer from Kim Stanley Robinson’s book, “Red Mars” and Kaminsky: the last name of one of my childhood friends.

How do you feel about graveyards? They are another excellent source of names. Go have a wander in the local cemetery – the older, the better. Finally, to make sure you aren’t using the name of someone already ‘famous,’ google the name you’ve chosen to see what comes up. Although, the name might not belong to a celebrity, it could be the name of a business leader or politician that is well known in their field. You may want to think twice about using it, especially if it is the name of your villain!

Another caution: don’t have too many names that look or sound similarly. For instance, naming Maya’s sister Mary, or having a Jack and a Jake in the same story. They will easily be confused and that is frustrating for the reader.

May your characters be unique, their names be memorable and your book a best seller!