Searching through my Netflix instant viewing options, I was struck by the similarities between a movie blurb and a book blurb. When we’re pitching our novels, especially in person, we often have to be able to explain our brilliance in only a few sentences. Even when talking about our work with other writers, it’s helpful to be able to give a quick “this is my book” speech. Reading movie blurbs can help give us a sense of what works, and what doesn’t.
Below are some of my favorite bizarre, disturbing, and completely unnapealing choices:
MUTANT HUNT, 1987. “When a corporate executive named Z comes morally unhinged and unleashes an army of cyborg robots on an unsuspecting New York City, there’s a lone mercenary who can save the Big Apple from complete and total annihilation.” What is it? Are they mutants, or cyborgs, or robots? Pick one!
NARCOSYS, 2000. “The world is ruled by the heartless IT Corporation, which controls citizens through manufactured drugs and a destructive virus that’s spread through the streets. Can a gang of cyber-punks stop the mammoth institution bent on domination?” Aside from the awful plot, the grammar makes this blur read like there’s a diseased street out there, citizens, so watch where you step!
PROTOTYPE X29A, 1992. “When a disabled veteran accepts the government’s offer to restore his faculties in exchange for participating in an experimental program, he accepts, not knowing that he’ll be asked to kill his soul mate, the last surviving member of the resistance.” How is there a resistance if there’s only one person left? He or she”s really more of a protester, at that point. Perhaps it’s an elderly woman holding a sign up while standing outside of a grocery store. Perhaps, he’s an angry guy in his basement, writing letters to the Editor. We’ll never know, because I’m not watching this movie.
TIMESTALKERS, 1987. The tagline, “It’s way past time to kill the future…” made sure this film appears on my list, but the description isn’t helping: “Traveling from the far future, Joseph Cole wants to change the past for his own nefarious reasons. Another time traveler, Georgia Crawford, needs history professor Scott McKenzie to help her stop Joseph, who has now fled back to the 1880s.” I’m not sure which is worse, the fact the the female time traveler doesn’t know any history and needs a professor to help her (whereas Joseph-the-bad-guy clearly doesn’t) or the fact that the villian is described as “nefarious”. Unless he’s twirlinga big black mustache every 5 minutes, we’re going to need to pick another adjective.
CHASING THE KIDNEYSTONE, 1996. “When his grandfather comes down with a mysterious ailment, young Simon shrinks himself to miniscule size and embarks on an odessey through the old man’s body to seek and destroy the culprit: a nasty kidney stone.” How did this movie even get made?
ROBOGEISHA, 2009. (live-action, not anime) “Hyper-violent and hilariously grotesque depiction of a very angry army of butt sword-wielding geisha robots with enough strength to embed tempura shrimp in villans’ eyes.” There’s nothing sane about this description.
MINUTEMEN, 2008. “Offering their services to fellow misfits, high school outcasts Virgil, Zeke and Charlie design a time machine that allows a user to travel back into the past to correct embarrassing social gaffes,” isn’t so bad, except the description goes on to add, “a “do over” opportunity, so to speak.” Really should have quit while they were ahead.
But picking on sci-fi movies isn’t fair, when there are so many other terrible film blurbs out there.
STRANGER THAN FICTION, 2000. (No, not that one.) “Jared shows up at his best friend Austin’s place covered in blood, declares he’s gay — and spews a strange story about a dead guy in his apartment. Now, Austin wants to figure out the real story.” Because Jared can’t be gay! Oh noes!
GUNMEN, 1993. “Against their wills, a bounty hunter and a con man team up to battle an elite quad of mafia assassins to obtain a $400 million treasure of stolen drug money.” You know, I think the $400 million might be the reason they’re doing this, which makes it not quite so much “against their wills”.
SWEET KARMA, 2009. “When her sister Anna becomes a tragic casualty of Toronto’s underground sex trade, mute Karma embarks on a vengeful quest from Russia to Canada to single-handedly bring down the lowlifes responsible for Anna’s death.” 1) Mute, really? 2) Murdering people is bad, but murdering them for revenge is ok? 3) Anna can be a Russian name. Karma is not. “Oh, but the title, look at the funny!” you might say. No, it’s not clever, it’s just stupid.
Your book blurb should never, ever, sound like one of these. Promise me that, will you?