Descriptions are IMPOSSIBLE!
Now that isn’t a very positive outlook to have, but any author who’s tried to cram a 150,000 word novel that took five years and a thousand day dreams to produce down into a 250 word query letter or an Amazon description has probably had that thought at least once. Now, before we get into how to write a good description, let’s talk about how to write a bad one (this skill may come in hardy, you never know). I looked up a few words under Amazon ebooks (‘Magik’, ‘Cove,’ & Triangle’ if you’re wondering). The goal here was to leap off the bestselling list and get a better feel for what kinds of descriptions are out there. Um, and words fail me — you probably don’t have anything to worry about, description-wise. It was frightening. Let me share some thoughts about a few things I saw while being scarred for life and why you DON’T want them anywhere near your great book description —
- Putting your page count in your description, having grammar errors, and using character dialogue.
Now Amazon has a ‘print length’ section. You might want to give your readers a heads up if your novel is quite short so people don’t feel cheated (“As small and feisty as Andrea herself, this novel shows her journey. . .”). Errors are far too common (for us all) but rereading, asking friends (on- or off-line) for help or buying a teacher lunch can make you look like a pro in no time. Character dialogue is tough; I think it can be used brillantly, but only if it’s an amazing line AND drives the story forward at the start of the book (Misery by Steven King has some lines I might put in there about his “number one fan”). But 99 times out of a hundred, it looks unprofessional and more importantly — it doesn’t help the reader connect.
- Being boring
This was actually the number one problem I saw. Now, it’s hard to know how not to be boring but when in doubt, use less words (don’t use word count on this post!). Telling about too many characters, worlds, and situations loses people’s interest instead of gaining it. I learned from Janet Reid’s Queryshark that you actually only need a tiny bit of story to fascinate people and when you’ve hooked them — stop talking; they’re already sold.
Avoid it because it is the worse thing ever in the history of the world and no one ever would disagree with that statement unless they were the most crazy person in the universe.
- Make Each Word (or a few words) a Paragraph
I won’t do it here, because it’s very annoying for readers, but trailing off dramatically isn’t really a clever way to bridge these ones and zeroes and tell your would-be readers ‘WHAT IT’S LIKE’ to read your book. I have the same inclinations, but on Amazon, if you use up the small visible area on three lines and THEN get to the heart of your description, most people aren’t going to scroll down. Make those few lines alive up to their maximum potential.
- Describe Your Fantasy World Like a Piece of Beef
I saw someone ‘break the forth wall’ in their description by talking about how ‘The world has its own unique mix of tech steampunk and dark mythological elements, all blended into an epic fantasy tale with classically inspired battle scenes.’ Now, the only thing wrong about this to me (it’s not poorly written) is that it’s showing me the backstage, the bones of the creature, the trap door of the magician’s box. It may help you write it, but why would you introduce me to your world of dirty zeppelins, a man who traded his happiness for power only to abandon that power and overthrow his own government, a world of grand sword fights, and highly combustible steam engines — why remove the magic from your own story before you’ve delighted us with the tricks?
- “this gives you the background for the rest building to the joining of the realms series end book 6”
I’m not going write much about this real description of the first book in a series because I’ve run out to the store to buy the author two things readers love — commas, and story resolutions.
- Avoid Cliches
This is often called lazy writing, but I’ll just say that it’s not worthy of you. You’re talented, original, and very creative. Leave the cliches behind — believe me, whatever you think of will be better (“Happier than a skunk on a possum tree”). Why is that line so weird and yet it makes me happy?
- Don’t Get Too General and Tell Me Nothing About the Plot
This one is related to ‘Don’t Be Boring’ but it is when you tell too little. I need to know what makes your story different, interesting and un-put-down-able. ‘She must overcome evil to learn who she really is’ could be The Silence of the Lambs or Memoirs of a Geisha or, maybe, Bridesmaids. Tell us (or better yet show us) the cell of Hannibal Lecter, the hard wooden piece a Geisha must lay her head on each night to keep her hair perfect, and the woman who’d drink that ‘fresh!’ lemonade. You made a unique, beautiful world — tell me why I want to live there.
Next up — Writing a Bestselling Description.