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Write your book blurb first to stay on track

In working on my new manuscript, one of the things I do from time to time is look at my main idea to make sure I’m on track or to see if it’s changed. In The Writer’s Guide to Writing Your Screenplay by author and screenwriter Cynthia Whitcomb, she suggests that you spend a little time figuring out if you can tell your story in an abbreviated fashion.

She’s talking about screenplays here, but the advice also holds true for novels or nonfiction books:

“Write the ad copy. Write the TV Guide blurb. Write what people will tell their friends about this great movie they saw last weekend. Word of mouth is powerful…. This simple exercise, done before you write the script, could be helpful all the way down the road. If you can tell it in a strong, abbreviated version now, it will be easier for you to get it right as you write (And then to pitch it, too).”

I’ve heard this advice before from NY Times bestselling-author Bob Mayer, who suggests writing down the kernel idea for your book before you start writing in order to stay focused for the long haul.

If your kernel idea or blurb can also incorporate the conflict in your story, even better. Whitcomb gives this example of a blurb: “A Roman general defies the evil emperor, is sold into slavery, and becomes a gladiator who challenges the emperor in the arena.”

Notice that the verbs “defies” and “challenges” inspire a sense of conflict in the story.

Exercise: Try writing out the blurb for your current project (even if it’s not a book). Work with it until you can also add in a sense of conflict. Can you use stronger verbs?

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