This is a writing exercise developed by my friend, John Dwight. He ran this exercise for the Hourlings Writing Group back in March.
A plot can be described by the following high-level template:
When [situation], a [specific person] must do
[something] or else [stakes].
Strangely, this is mostly what a good blurb must get across to the reader.
TASK 1: IDEATION
Each victim, er, participant receives three index cards. Drawing on their knowledge of the SF field (including books, movies, and TV), they must write down three ideas that they find particularly interesting. Each idea must be written on a separate card and should include both the idea and the source that it was drawn from.
When everybody is done, each contestant, er, participant should:
- Hand the first card to the person on their left.
- Hand the second card to the second-most person on their left.
- Hand the third card to the third-most person on their left
In this way, each participant should receive three cards from three different people.
TASK 2: BLURB WRITING
Each participant should take the ideas from the three cards they now possess, and synthesize these into a sentence or two that conveys the information from the basic plot template.
When I participated in the exercise, my three cards were:
A young boy has a mark on his palm that indicates he is the king everyone has been waiting for over many generations.
— The Belgariad, David Eddings
There are guide books or rules within the built worlds for how things work (the actual sociology and physics).
— The Dancing Gods Series, Jack Chalker
Alien Parasites with ability to assume control of a human host body. Some are peaceful companions. Some are…not.
— Stargate SG-1
The first thing I tried to do was distill my cards into a discrete list:
- Mark of a promised king.
- Rules for how the world works.
- Under assault by body-sharing beings.
And this is what I came up with for my blurb:
When a wizard accidentally releases demonic body snatchers into the world, only a young man who bears the mark of the old High Kings can save the world. To do so, he’ll have to rewrite the Laws of Magic, or humanity will never be free.
A fun exercise, and a useful one, I think, for anyone who’s ever had to create a blurb for a story. First, try to distill your story down to its essence, expressed as a set of bullet points. Second, try to express the overall plot in a compelling way.