By Jeff Salter
After checking the broadcast movie listings in our newspaper’s weekly TV section, I got to thinking about blurbs. I was truly startled at how inadequately many of them covered what those films were actually about.
And I began wondering whether we, as authors, sometimes inadvertently mislead our readers about the content of our stories.
So I analyzed a few weeks’ worth of these listings and found examples which were pretty good, some that were so-so, and a few that were pretty bad (confined, as they are, to one sentence).
Here are my selected samples (with a few comments along the way) --
1. Rather good, even if incomplete, and provided a reasonably complete sense of the film
Predator *** (1987) — “A commando team on a rescue mission in South America encounters a monstrous alien killer.”
This blurb might have clarified it was a “highly-trained” commando team ... but it’s actually pretty accurate.
Home Alone *** (1990) — “A young boy must fend off burglars after his family accidently leaves him home alone.”
This covers the basics, but omits the fact that SEVERAL days were involved, because the rest of his large family was in Europe. Also, no mention of the struggle by his Mom to return home.
Groundhog Day *** (1993) — “A man gets trapped in a time warp where he relives the same day over and over again.”
This really should have indicated he was a jaded TV weatherman ... but otherwise, it’s a pretty good blurb.
His Girl Friday **** (1940) — “A ruthless editor will do anything to keep his star reporter from getting married.”
This really should have clarified the reporter is also that editor’s ex-wife, whom he wants to remarry himself.
Christine *** (1983) — “A high school kid’s ’58 Plymouth Fury is a killing machine with a mind of its own.”
This is pretty good as far as it goes, but it should clarify this kid is “troubled” and probably should mention it’s based on a Stephen King story.
The Fugitive *** (1993) — “A man convicted of murdering his wife escapes and searches for the real killer.”
Pretty well covers things, but it would be better with clarification: he’s a respected doctor WRONGLY convicted.
2. Okay, as far as they go, but don’t really give much of the sense of the film.
True Lies *** (1994) — “A secret agent puts his family at risk when they discover his true identity.”
Hmm, pretty good, but doesn’t quite cover the humor and action in that film.
An Affair to Remember **** (1957) — “A couple falls in love on an ocean liner and agrees to meet six months later in New York.”
Wow ... that only covers the first 10 minutes of the film. Shouldn’t the blurb include some reference to the obstacles they face in getting back together?
Casablanca **** (1942) — “An American saloon owner in Africais drawn into the Second World War by an old flame.”
Doesn’t do much justice to this classic. Probably ought to indicate Rick is quite cynical at this point ... and that was much more of a nightclub than a saloon.
Young Frankenstein *** (1974) — “Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson returns to the ancestral castle and creates a monster.”
Yep, that’s the premise ... but it does not convey the humor of this affectionate homage.
Edward Scissorhands *** (1990) — “A young man with scissors for hands struggles to adapt to suburban life.”
Awfully bland description. This might have mentioned that he was totally sheltered from the outside world by an eccentric scientist.
A League of Their Own *** (1992) — “Two sisters join a female professional baseball
league during the Second World War.”
I can’t put my finger on exactly why this blurb falls flat. But it does not indicate any of the drama, humor, or pathos of the film. Also doesn’t cover the discrimination and prejudice they faced (and overcame).
3. Actually misleading ... or, at best, quite un-clear.
Easy Rider *** (1969) — “Bikers travel the highways in search of freedom and the American dream.”
Makes it sound like a travel documentary. Probably should indicate that they are drug-fueled anti-establishment guys who keep bumping into straight-laced conservatives.
Die Hard *** (1988) — “A cop visiting from New York helps stop some terrorists in his wife’s business building.”
Wow ... makes it sound boring. Way too bland and under-stated. Lots of words wasted about New York. Here’s how I might rewrite it:
“A resourceful NYC cop hoping to reconcile with his west coast wife battles a heavily armed, sophisticated terrorist group which takes over her opulent high-rise office complex.”
Top Gun *** (1986) — “Personal tragedy leads a cocky, undisciplined navy pilot to reassess his career.”
Too drab ... and focuses exclusively on one sub-plot. Maverick is also chasing his father’s ghost while vying with other aggressive jocks for top dog of this elite program.
Furthermore, he complicates his life by romancing an instructor.
The Natural *** (1984) — “A talented 35-year-old baseball player travels to New York to play with the Knights.”
Also too drab ... and woefully incomplete. Needs some explanation why Hobbs is back in the game at age 35 ... and some indication that the Knights are a down-and-out team with a corrupt owner who WANTS them to lose.
What’s My Point?
In this last grouping, I think you can easily see how and why the provided blurb is a poor representation of each particular film. It’s not necessarily that the selected points are inaccurate, however. It’s more a matter of focusing on the wrong aspects of the story. Or leaving out the more important aspects altogether.
In the middle grouping, the blurbs are okay as far as they go, but miss the mark by omitting key features of the treatment, or tone, or characters.
In the first group, I’ve selected examples I consider pretty good blurbs, but I’ve also highlighted a few key details which would have made them even better ... without increasing the word count significantly.
When you’re writing your own blurbs of your own stories, have you focused on the wrong aspects? Left out something really important to the appreciation of your story?
Unintentionally misled the reader into expecting something different?