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Wednesday, October 18

Day Eighteen: Idea to Novel Workshop: Turning the Summary Line Into a Summary Blurb


By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Eighteen of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. For the rest of the month, we’ll focus on plot and the major turning points of a novel.

Today, we’re essentially writing a query blurb (but don’t panic!). This summary blurb is a very useful tool to ensure you have all that you need to write your novel.


Turn the Summary Line Into a Summary Blurb


Yesterday, we developed a one-sentence summary of your novel. Now, we’re going to develop that summary line into a summary blurb (like a rough query letter) that fleshes out the core elements of the plot. This is where you’ll eliminate any vague statements and choose specific details to illustrate your novel idea.

This blurb is for you, not an agent or editor, so it doesn’t have to be polished or even well-written. It only has to contain the information that will help you write your novel.

What’s In the Summary Blurb


A good summary blurb captures the important elements of the idea in a way that allows you to more easily craft a novel. It introduces the protagonist and any other critical characters to the plot, states or hints at the antagonist, shows where the novel is set, and what the core conflict is.

Let’s explore those elements and how to capture the essence of what matters to the plot and story. After the previous exercises, these questions should all be easier to answer (which is why we did all that work).

Who Is the Novel About?


This describes the protagonist. It can be a single person, or a group of people if it’s an ensemble cast. It says a little about them, something that is important to the overall novel. This detail is probably the reason you chose her (or them) to be the protagonist.

What’s the Main Problem to Be Faced?


This describes the core conflict of the novel. What the book is about. In most novels, this will be an external problem. Literary novels often use internal growth instead of external conflict.

Take a moment and think about:
  • What is the one thing that has to be resolved or you have no story?
  • If the protagonist has a character arc, how does she need to grow in this story? What is her fatal flaw?

Where Does the Novel Take Place?


This describes the setting. It gives a sense of place that often shows some inherent conflict or problem in the setting itself or the life of the protagonist.

What Triggers the Novel’s Problem?


This describes the inciting event and what happens to set the protagonist on the path of the novel’s core conflict.

Why Does it Matter?


This describes the stakes. It explains what will happen if the protagonist fails and what’s motivating her to act.

How Does the Novel End?


This describes the resolution, and often it’s the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the protagonist. Overcoming that obstacle constitutes a win for the protagonist.

These details combine to craft your summary blurb and capture the critical elements of your novel.

EXERCISE: Write your summary blurb.


A summary blurb can be basic information, or contain the voice or style of the novel. Sometimes it helps to use this exercise to get a feel for how a character might sound or what the novel’s tone might be.

If you need a little help in crafting the blurb, try this general template. Feel free to move parts around as they pertain to your novel. This template is a guide to help you think, not something you have to follow exactly as written. You can even cut some of the parts out if they don’t work.

[Introduce the protagonist] is [tell a little about her] who [why she’s in the right place to have something happen to her]. She [what leads her to the inciting event] where [the inciting event happens].

She [reacts to what’s happened] and finds herself [how the inciting event has made a mess of the protagonist’s life]. To [fix this problem] she must [the main thing that needs to be accomplished to win] before [the antagonist does what she needs to do]. If she doesn’t, [why it’s bad, and what she has to lose if she fails].
Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Nine goes into much more specific detail on the summary blurb and the individual pieces that make a strong blurb. It offers more explanations, questions, and exercises to better answer the above six questions.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at basic story structure and the easiest outline you'll ever find (it even works for pantsers).

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

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A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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5 comments:

  1. This is very helpful. I did the exercise for the ms I need a query for and it's starting me off on the right foot. Thank you!

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  2. This series has been amazingly useful in helping me take an idea that's been in the back of my head since 1993, and get it ready to be my second book! Today, though, I have a question - how is this summary blurb different from the hook in day two? The exercise below, which I wrote for day two, feels like it could serve for either, or both... do you mind if I ask which category you think it should go into?

    Thank you, and thanks again for doing this!

    "Nikolai Stoyanovich Krisayev is the last of a long line of Russian rat nobility, living in exile in 1880's Paris. When he rescues a visiting mouse princess from armed kidnappers, he is thrust into the midst of a silent war being waged secretly in the streets and sewers of the city.

    With only his wits, his father's sword, and the aid of a shadowy figure who may or may not be on their side, he will have to fight to save both the princess and the city he loves."

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! The summary blurb is larger, usually two to four paragraphs. It's more like a query letter than the logline.

      That feels like a good summary blurb to plan your novel.

      Apologies for not getting back to you sooner :) I was presenting at a conference and lost a week.

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