Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
Although they may not be novelists, publishing company employees who pen blurbs for books and motion pictures released on DVDs are themselves accomplished writers. They know not only how to summarize a plot (or enough of the plot, at any rate, to excite the reader’s or the viewer’s interest in reading or watching the novel or the movie), but they understand, also, such narrative elements as conflict, high stakes, suspense, and pace. Blurb writers know what readers and moviegoers want to read or see and why. Aspiring storytellers, whether of the horror genre or any other, can learn a thing or two of value from the blurbs that such writers produce and use these techniques themselves in plotting their own narratives.Let’s take a look at a few blurbs concerning horror movies, taken directly from the backs of the DVD packages upon which the blurbs appear.
While awaiting her husband’s return from war, Grace [the main character is introduced and the basic situation is established] and her two children live an unusually isolated existence [an isolated setting enhances character’s vulnerability, especially when the characters are a woman and two children, living alone] behind the locked doors and drawn curtains of a secluded island mansion [the reiteration of the setting’s isolated, or secluded, nature and the mention of its location on an island emphasize the house’s remoteness and inaccessibility and the character’s helplessness; the “locked doors and drawn curtains” suggest secrets or the fear of threats or both]. Then, after three mysterious servants arrive [the same number as the house’s occupants, each of whom is characterized as being in some way “mysterious”] and it becomes chillingly clear [expect to be frightened!] that there is far more to this house than can be seen [such as ghosts?], Grace finds herself in a terrifying fight to save her children and keep her sanity [the stakes are high, indeed!, as is the threat with which Grace and her children are menaced]. -- The Others
. . . A skeptical writer [is] investigating paranormal events [the main character is introduced and the basic situation is established]. When he insists in staying in the reportedly haunted room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel [the adjective “reportedly” makes the reader wonder whether the room will prove, in fact, to be “haunted,” as it is alleged to be; a hotel is large enough, too, to offer some real chills] against the grave warnings of the hotel manager [if “dire warnings” are deemed necessary by the man who manages the place, it may well be haunted, the reader may suppose--or is the manager trying to pull some sort of bizarre practical joke or effect some strange fraud, perhaps by destroying the “skeptical writer’s” reputation as a debunker of the paranormal?], he discovers the room’s deadly secret--an evil so powerful, no one has ever survived an hour within its walls [apparently, the moviegoer is in for an equally harrowing hour in the “reportedly haunted room 1408]. -- 1408
Although each of these blurbs is written somewhat differently, they all include these elements:
. . An American nurse. . . has come to work in Tokyo [the main character is introduced and the basic situation is established; the setting, far-away Tokyo, a city in a foreign land influenced by an alien culture is also introduced]. Following a series of horrifying and mysterious deaths, she encounters the vengeful supernatural spirit that possesses its victims, claims their souls, then passes its curse to another person in a spreading chain of horror [will the nurse become the spirit’s latest victim?] Now, she must find a way to break this supernatural spell [her purpose, or goal, is identified] or become the next victim [the stakes are presented] of an ancient evil that never dies, but forever lives to kill [she is up against a formidable foe--something that is not only supernatural but immortal--and, of course, evil] -- The Grudge
- Introduce the main character.
- Establish the basic situation.
- Identify the setting (which is usually isolated).
- Hint at mysterious secrets, spells, or incidents.
- Identify high stake (such as protecting innocent children or saving one’s own life, sanity, or reputation).
- Give the protagonist a goal (often related to the story’s stakes).
- Suggest that the antagonist is formidable, powerful, ancient, and possibly supernatural.
By including such elements in his or her own stories’ plots, the aspiring (or, for that matter, the professional) writer of horror stories, novels, or screenplays is likely to capture, hold, and heighten his or her intended audience’s emotions, making the reader or moviegoer want to read or watch the novel or film from beginning to end--maybe several times over!