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Verbal games

Spoilerless book blurbs game

A conversation on a friend’s journal prompted the discovery of a new game, which all the family can play in the comfort of the comments section of this post.

The idea is to write a brief publisher’s blurb for a well-known book, that avoids spoilering it. This is, of course, particularly tricky when a big plot twist, or unexpected transformation in what sort of book it actually is, is a major feature of the enjoyability of the reading experience. You don’t want to give it all away, but you also don’t want to undersell the book based just on how it initially starts to read.

So there are various ways you can do well at this game. You could write a puzzle blurb which, while entirely accurate about the book’s initial setup scenario, so avoids the major twist that it’s difficult to work out what book it actually is. You could write a bathos blurb about an amazingly exciting book in such a way that it sounds incredibly dull, because of the avoidance of spoilers. You could try to write a sincere blurb that really does a good job of making people think “this book sounds interesting” while not mentioning the most interesting thing about it. You could decide for yourself what will be most challenging / fun / silly / whatever! Or you can take part from the other end, guessing what the books are that are being blurbed.

And, of course, style points are awarded for sticking closely to the curious kind of prose that book blurbs use.

Here’s a couple of my own examples from the earlier conversation, which go for the bathos approach:

  • “Four children go to stay with their great-uncle and are very bored… until one of them discovers something exciting at the back of a large wardrobe.”
  • “Alice, feeling hot and sleepy on the riverbank, sees a rabbit go down a hole. But this is no ordinary rabbit…”

And a funnier one, from onebyone:

  • “A solicitor takes an entire chapter just in travelling to Eastern Europe to do some conveyancing for a local bigwig. The locals are stereotypically superstitious. Towards the end of chapter two, something distinctly uncanny happens, but it would be, like, a total spoiler to say what caused it. Chapter three promises to start getting into the details of the conveyancing. Please read me anyway.”

But you can do better! Go on, prove me right.

23 replies on “Spoilerless book blurbs game”

I took a shamefully long time to recognise Steve’s book! Sigh…

Herewith my contributions (more straps than blurbs):

A Russian student is very very sorry.

With only a tattooed islander for a friend, Ishmael goes to sea.

Santiago is all at sea. Can he save his catch from the sharks?

Extreme London. Extreme Paris.

A prominent jeweller makes a mistake in his masterwork. By a series of unlikely mischances the piece of jewellery ends up in the hands of our hero who, with a group of friends, embarks on a picaresque journey to sort out the problem.

“After a young boy receives a nasty scare in a graveyard he goes to help out an eccentric elderly woman.”

I’m trying to work out how easily recognisable that is while desperately hoping that my memory is good since I’ve not read it for about 15 years. 🙂

“A group of children find themselves alone on a tropical island with no adult supervision. They gather together to live as a group and live as best they can.”

I should stop now. I’m out of books that I know that people might care enough about to recognise. 🙂

The animals of Manor Farm revolt, expel the farmer, and resolve that they alone will benefit from the fruits of their labours. But several buckets of milk quietly go missing–and before long the perpetrator will rock their new society to its foundations.

An entrepreneurial farmer spies a pretty young milkmaid. But will he find the courage to act on his attraction before she leaves her aunt’s farm, and his life, for good?

Rosaline has it all. The son of one of the richest men in town is hopelessly in love with her. Driven to desperation by her calculated coolness, he will risk life and limb to meet her at a masked ball thrown by his father’s greatest rival. Surely once shown the slightest female affection, he’ll propose that very night!

Btw, the first of those is supposed to be in the “sincere” category, although still significantly undersold. The second is “puzzle” in the dull general-knowledge sense that I’d be surprised if anyone who hasn’t read it gets it, and I’ve probably oversold the book to anyone who likes the rom-com premise of the blurb. The third is a new category, namely a perverse misinterpretation of the initial setup based on ignoring the nature and importance of the “twist”.

I haven’t read #2, but I would guess it’s something by Thomas Hardy — at least, it sounds like what I associate with him. Overselling on the rom-com is a valid tactic in today’s market, I feel.

I like #3 — that’s a good idea. Bored blurbwriter, who couldn’t be bothered to read more than the first few pages, but could tell how it was going to turn out: authors are so predictable.

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