[Pitch Slapped] First Person Time Travel, and why it’s a bad thing in blurb-writing.

When in doubt, use a third person point of view. It’s that black dress that never goes out of style. But sometimes, you venture into the world of magenta skirts and bright blue collar shirts, and the question of place and time rears its head. Author Sonya Lano came to us with the just such a fashion statement when she sent in a short first-person-point-of-view blurb of her Fantasy novel, “Dance of the Tavyn.”

And in this pitch slap, we’re gonna talk about how you too can be a bright yellow canary and rock a first person point of view.

But first, the blurb itself:

As always, my very first instinct when seeing a pitch (any pitch) is to start trimming, rewording, and tweaking the word choice and sentence structure, even as I start in with everyone’s favorite floating canary bubble questions. Here, however, the usual approach just wasn’t working. Something was off.

It wasn’t the story: political intrigue, silver-haired assassins, what more can you ask for in romantic fantasy? It wasn’t the word choices: a few things to tweak for clarity, sure, but it got the story across. It wasn’t the rhetorical question at the end–though anyone who follows my pitch slaps knows I am all but allergic to them. It wasn’t the first person point of view: different, but fantastic dramatic potential.

Pause. No, back up. It was the first person point of view. No, not the fact that the pitch was written in first person, but rather what the use of the first person meant for the story.

Using First Person in Blurbs

Any stylistic decision in blurb-writing comes with a suitcase full of baggage. The language you use, the tense in which you write, the characters you introduce (or don’t), they all create an impression. They all say something about the story you’re giving to the reader. The point of view in a blurb, for example, will indicate how the story will be presented, when it starts, who’s narrating, how we’ll be “seeing” the story…

Here is a nifty chart describing the different combinations of blurb vs story points-of-view.

So on the most surface level, the fact that Lano’s blurb is in first person tells me that the entire story will be in first person. Some of the advantages of writing in first person is the immediacy of the character. We get to experience the character’s story first hand. When paired with past tense, a first person point of view creates a sense that the story is a testimonial; the character tells us about her story directly, as she lived it. As she remembers it. With present tense, we are hit with an even stronger sense of the action. We’re reading the story as it’s happening right now.

This also means that the blurb is a kind of testimonial. In the blurb, the narrator-who-isn’t-Alynah is catching us up on her story. She’s telling us what happened (her making the decision to live the lie) and then tells us where she’s at (kidnapped! Befriending traitors! Assassin is hot!).  So keeping all that in mind, let’s see what I came up with…

Revision 1:

But wait, what about the rest?

Going back to the original blurb, there’s more to the story than this! In fact, the full story goes something like this:

  1. Girl saves family by sacrificing self for unsavory alliance.
  2. Gets kidnapped by hawt assassin and company.
  3. Starts falling for hawt assassin and co. while pretending to be enemy.
  4. Gets kidnapped by hawt assassin’s brother and taken to enemy lands.
  5. Gets rather concerned about the whole killing people thing the hawt assassin has going on.
  6. Has moral dilemma RE: duty vs love vs trust…

So why did I cut the blurb off at Plot Point #3? Mostly, it’s a question of blurb setup. Right now, the main character is presenting the story premise in first person present tense. The plot is happening right now. She lied, and now she’s been kidnapped. If she has just now been kidnapped, she would need to see into the future to see her subsequent capture by Kirian’s brother and her moral dilemmas.

Problem: What if I want more of the plot included? The brother’s dastardly plot is important and the story actually starts way after the kidnapping. (Hey, maybe the story is a sequel!)

Solution1: Change the way the story is presented.

It’s still told in first person POV, but now she’s looking back on what brought her to enemy lands with her silver-haired assassin. This approach assumed that the core of the story will begin after the kidnapping and after the main character’s has met Kirian, but hasn’t really gotten to know him. He’s still a wild card.

Problem: No, no, I want the reader to get an overall sense of the story, but I still plan to dive into it from the very beginning.

Solution2: Third person past tense.

We’re back to the land of black dresses and classic approaches. You can’t go wrong here (though okay, on a reread, I’d probably clarify “into enemy lands where enemies lie in wait”). Still, pretty straight-forward!

Problem: Well, that’s all fine and nice, but I still want Alynah’s voice come through and I also want to tell the entire story from kidnapping to the appearance of Kirian’s brother. Can I have my first person narration back?

Solution3: Take the best of both worlds.

Here, we get a bit of Alynah’s voice from the beginning, but still explore the rest of the plot, from the kidnapping to Kirian’s dark past. It’s a compromise between the two styles and it pretty much reveals that Alynah falls for Kirian (the suspense revolves around what happening in enemy lands, not whether Alynah and Kirian are attracted), but it does it in style.

Note that I completely cut the part of the blurb that discussed Alynah’s moral dilemma. Beyond the time issues I talked about, there comes a point where an author begins to try to cover too much ground. Is Alynah’s beef with her romantic interest because Kirian kidnapped her and she has to lie to him? Or is it because he’s an assassin? Is it his dastardly brother? The book has the word count to cover all these issues, but a blurb doesn’t have that luxury.

In the end, be aware of the effect elements like point of view, tense, and structure have on the reader. Then write just enough to give readers a glimpse of the story and leave them wanting more.

___

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way  to canarypost@gmail.com with “Pitch Article Submission” in the subject.

What do you think about the blurb, Canaries? Authors love input!

___

Read more slapped pitches here.

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Chirp! We're the canaries. We read it so you might not have to. View all posts by CanaryTheFirst

17 responses to “[Pitch Slapped] First Person Time Travel, and why it’s a bad thing in blurb-writing.

  • travellerzero

    Just wanted to say you’re amazing. There has to be good money to be made at being a professional blurber, as I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t detest working on their blurb. Throw in author bio work, and you’ve potentially got a multi-million dollar company, not to mention the love and adoration of writers the world over.

  • Sonya Lano

    I love it! Esp. the hawt assassin. Somehow it’s gotten me more excited about the novel! I’m just headed out but I’m already looking forward to tweaking the pitch

  • Iris

    What a good analysis and what brilliant rewrites too. You’ll hear from me again – after seeing this, I’m definitely gonna come for a pitch-slap! (still working on it) I mean, I dread it, but kinda excited too lol. What you’re doing is invaluable to us writers!

  • Eleomer

    I think this is absolutely fantastic! I love how clearly you explain every choice you make and how you went through four different rewrites, each with their own very good reasons for why they say what they say and don’t say what doesn’t need to be said. After seeing several rewrites of her blurb from Sonya herself, I was never able to give her an opinion like this and I even went so far as question why she needed a professional opinion when she could just ask her friends. After reading this, I now know exactly why and I am thoroughly impressed!
    Also I’m glad I don’t have to decide which one to go with, though I will say that I like the last one for it’s hybrid style quite a bit, but like the first one for it’s compelling first person point of view the best.

    If (when?) I ever my own story to the point of needing a blurb, I’ll definitely come to you!

    • CanaryTheFirst

      Thanks. Writing blurbs, I think, is one of the hardest things to do (assuming you’re already slogged over the hill and written the 50,000-100,000 words of your story, of course). There’s something that’s just so impossible about trying to distill the spirit of the story into just a few paragraphs while still capturing everything that makes it great.

      Good luck with your story–we look forward to seeing your pitch on our chopping block someday!

      • Eleomer

        I look forward to it too! I just checked and my story, which is probably not even half written yet, is already over 77,000 words, but it needs a LOT of work yet, so it might be quite a while!

  • Denton Gay

    Excellent! Thank you for taking the time and energy you devote to these blurbs. Every writer should consider doing this before beginning a project. Extremely valuable information and I hope to get pitch-slapped soon.

  • DebE

    I still love this service – and I holler about it everywhere I meet writers struggling with their pitch – I sent Sonya (o; I’m loving the story itself, and really dig what you did with the pitch. That’s a nice plan – the mixed model.
    And I had the same reaction when you slapped my pitch – it’s invigorating.
    I agree with travellerzero above – this is a valuable service – especially the way you show us how to break it down. It’s something all writers should take the time to learn – it really helps put the story’s outline in focus – so, it can help cutting unnecessary scenes (or prevent them being written in the first place) and keeping the story on track if practiced on a regular basis.
    Have I told you how much I love you guys?

  • tonyakerrigan

    Love this, especially how you mixed the two. I would definitely buy this book based on the blurb. I may have to send in mine to get pitch-slapped when I’m ready!

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  • michellejoycebond

    I also like how you cut out the rhetorical questions. :)

    • CanaryTheFirst

      Rhetorical questions are a pet peeve of mine. But they’re used so often, that sometimes I wonder if I’m just crazy. Glad I’m not the only one! :)

      • Sonya Lano

        I try not to use them any more, either! And when I see too many of them I start rolling my eyes. There are tons of them in the current book I’m reading (and this lovely typo: “a slight mile chased across his face.” I keep trying to imagine a mile running over someone’s face :))

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