Okay, so I started this post out a sort of different route the other day… but now I’m scrapping it and reworking and rewording.
Well, here’s the thing. Personally, I hate writing story descriptions. It’s like… I have to summarize my entire 80k word novel into just a paragraph or two that makes you really want to pick the book up and think it’s worth your time. Um… that’s not easy, and that’s not fun.
So, I originally started this post thinking I’d look at some different descriptions of different books and give very vague and generalized tips as to ‘how to condense your entire story into approximately five sentences for your novel’s label on Barnes and Noble’… but then I realized something.
That’s not me.
Yeah, today I’m serving my own tips to you straight up; I’m not taking the safe, generalized route. So, here’s my own personal advice. You can take it or leave it, it’s completely up to you, but, either way, my goal is to give you some fresh ideas by the end.
So, here we go.
Whenever I write a story description, I take the shortest path possible. Short and simple, that’s how I like it. I use one liners a lot… guilty as charged.
But, there’s a reason behind it.
Ever since I started writing on Wattpad (a long, long time ago…), before I published my first story, I looked around at the other virtual books out there and read some of their descriptions. They were almost always long. There were almost always… boring (to me, at least). Sure, I guess it’s not bad to into the details of Samantha Keeton’s backstory (she was a lonely teenaged outcast… her parents both were broke… all she wanted was a chance at love…), but I feel like there’s a better way to do it, a better way to really pull the readers in.
So… well, here’s a list of my suggestions. Again, take them or leave them, it’s up to you… but, always remember, in the end, you do you!
- If the story is written in first person… then write the description in first person, too!
This tip is probably the simplest change to make. A lot of stories I come across in the world are written in first person… but, their descriptions are written from… just… someone else’s view.
So, just using the Samantha story idea from before… here’s a possible way to change up and start off that description.
So many days have gone by that I’ve felt like an outcast. My parents both lost their jobs in December, my younger sister passed away from an illness three years ago… and all I’ve ever wanted is a friend to call my own.
Yikes, kind of depressing… but, you know, just go with it.
I also like this type of description, though, because it’s kind of like giving you a preview of what to expect from the book… voice-wise and tone-wise. And, again, I think it’s a lot more engaging than the usual ‘her name is Samantha and here’s all of her problems’.
- Use quotes!
I recently used this style with my first self-published book, Cartoon, because… well, it just fit. I used the quote from the second chapter that basically explained the meaning behind the title, and I liked the way it sounded as a descriptor… so, that’s my reasoning for that one.
“You know, I like to pretend like I’m in a cartoon.”
He looked back and forth between me and the road ahead as he continued.
“Yeah, like I’m in one of those crazy violent video games, or a James Bond movie, or a crazy violent James Bond video game… Or, to categorize all of that… a cartoon.”
Also, if you are a tad lazy and do despise writing story descriptions like me… then this is literally the perfect solution for you. You just take a section of words that you’ve already slaved over perfecting for days and days on end… and then slap it on the back of your book (or in the details box on Amazon). Plus, just like the last suggestion I gave, I think quotes are pretty engaging and still do give clues to the book’s tone and voice styles. You are giving them a piece of your mind, after all.
If all else fails, though…
- …use a one liner!
Okay, now I know one liners may sound scary and possibly lethal… but, bear with me for a few moments.
I use one line descriptions all the time. On Wattpad, literally every story I’ve ever published has had a one line descriptor (the one exception being Cartoon), and I’ll tell you that all of my stories have been… successful and at least somewhat popular. So, trust me, one liners won’t actually hurt you or your stories.
The thing I really like about one line descriptions is that they’re really simple and kind of open ended. It’s like… if you word them just right, then your readers are going to pick up the book and at least try out the first chapter just out of curiosity. That’s also the catch, though… since you’re using so little words, you really do have to word it just right. I think it also really helps to have a good book cover, one that people can sort of infer the general story idea from, so they can fill subconsciously fill in the gaps that your description leaves out.
If you’re lost, though, let me give an example of my own for guidance (because I’m sure you probably are).
This is the description of my short story, Red, recently published on Wattpad.
Will she escape?
That’s it. Three words.
And… if you combine that with the cover…
And the fact that the story’s listed under horror…
Do you feeling like reading it, now?
I tried to give just enough information about the story without actually giving away exactly what it’s about. So, if whoever stumbles upon it becomes curious enough by my minimally specific description, they can just go straight into reading the first part. And, since I’m certain you all already have awesome, captivating beginnings of your stories… you shouldn’t have a problem keeping readers’ noses in your books once you get them there!
I will say, though, that I wouldn’t use a one liner as your story description… unless it’s a free story, or maybe even just a 99 cent story. If you’re self-publishing for more money than 99 cents per copy, I would try to use a bit longer/more in-depth description. One liners are meant to pull readers in kind of by impulse, but if there’s a price tag on that impulse, then they might steer clear and not take the chance. Paying readers want to know what they’re getting themselves into, too, so you don’t want to be too vague when persuading them to pick up your work. Unless you’re super duper confident with your one liner… then you go, homedog!
So, that’s all I have for today. It felt good to get back into typing up some writing tips of my own, and I hope you enjoyed hearing what I have to say. So… take my advice if you like it, or leave it behind and do you… but, still keep an open mind to new ideas and… get on writing those descriptions!
Let me know what your favorite type of story descriptions are and/or what you thought about my points!
5 thoughts on “How I do story descriptions”
Thanks for these hints! I always struggle with this.
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You’re super welcome! Glad I could help you out!
Great tips and I agree! I tend to write a short summary because I “published” on a free fiction site that only allows 255 characters for the summary, which really made me learn to make it count. Though I tend to write it a bit dramatic. 😆
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Haha, well that would be one way to make you learn!
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Definitely! Can’t use epically long words either, they take up too many character counts. 😆
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