By now, probably everyone knows Rick Polito’s brilliant summary of The Wizard of Oz: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again.” Did you laugh when you first read it? If so, you’ve never had to compose a Kindle “short blurb,” for which one is limited to 400 characters. The first reaction to Mr. Polito’s work for those of us who’ve written a short blurb is to say, “My God, only 143 characters! Including spaces! The man’s a genius.”
All the books I write are long; and some (like Ant-Lands) are very long indeed. In fact, when I finish a book, the first thing I have to do is put it on a strict reducing diet, shedding incidents; characters; sometimes whole sub-plots; in order to make it fit into that pretty prom-dress I have picked out for it—a salable-length manuscript. I love long. Long is easy for me.
Fitting it into four hundred characters, on the other hand, is a total bitch.
It honestly took me more time to write my “short blurb” for Ant-Lands than my first chapter. Every attempt I made to summarize the plot, was, like Polito’s summary of The Wizard of Oz, accurate in its essentials, but terribly, terribly misleading (not to mention longer than 400 characters). My first effort made Ant-Lands sound like one long battle; and a second was a string of clichés about can’t we all just get along, please. I don’t even want to talk about versions three, four or five.
Happily, I finally figured out the secret of short, and it is: Forget the plot.
I know: Heresy, right?
Much as I love plotting, I have to admit that every time I try to recount one, I end up sounding like a four-year-old retelling a Road Runner cartoon
Forget plot, and not just for 400-character blurbs. Forget the plot any time anybody says, “What’s that book about?” No good plot can be related in a few words, because a good plot is a complex thing. It’s made up not only of that super, easily-stated plot idea you had in the first place, but also of all the twists and turns in it introduced by your characters, with their complex personalities and backstories (right?). Much as I love plotting, I have to admit that every time I try to recount one, I end up sounding like a four-year-old retelling a Road Runner cartoon: “So then the coyote paints this tunnel, see? –Wait; I forgot to mention that he got this tunnel-paint from a company called Acme, which is kind of a running gag. Anyway, so he paints this tunnel—or, a thing that looks like a tunnel, anyway, and…”
For short, stick to theme. Theme can be done short—sometimes in one word: Love; redemption; courage; forgiveness… Heck, you can put a shovel-full of themes into a short blurb and still have two or three hundred characters left for other business.
Also, theme is flexible. I intend to take advantage of this.
Currently on Smashwords, which requires that an author pick categories under which to list his book, Ant-Lands, with its blurb emphasizing its post-apocalyptic, redemptive aspects, appears as science fiction and fantasy. If it doesn’t sell that way, I’m going to change the blurb. I’m going to write, “An allegory of the reintegration of a shattered human psyche, in which the raw but unregulated potency of the Id (represented by the so-called ‘Ants’) is subdued and civilized by the Ego (the ‘Men’) and the Superego (the ‘Foresters’)”, and list it under Psychology.
Perfectly accurate—in its way—and only 232 characters! I’m getting good at short.