Silly Question on Blurbs

well

About two months ago I wrote a blurb for The Old Mill.  It wasn’t quite right, so I did a few changes.  Much better.  But then I noticed something.

The blurb was in present tense.

Even though most of my fiction is in past tense, I always write the first draft of my blurbs in present tense, though occasionally I have done an odd mix of tenses (ugh…).  One of the pluses about being in present tense, if I ask questions at the end of the blurb, they can be in present tense or future tense and seem fine: “With Amesbury entering a new “time of dying”, seemingly at the hands of the long dead Thomas Goode, the man said to be responsible for the first “time of dying” in 1821, will Gill succeed and perhaps drive off the black clouds, or will the evil forces streaming out of the Goode Mill, the Old Mill, win, destroying everything, and everyone, that he holds most dear?”. If the blurb is in past tense, can I ask such a question? You know, the action has already been resolved…

So a quick question for you: Should a blurb for a book written in past tense be in the past tense, or does writing it in present tense make sense?

After I write this, I will spend some time on Amazon and see what others have done, but I’d like to hear your opinion as well.

58 thoughts on “Silly Question on Blurbs

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      That was my initial thought as well, that the blurb needs to be consistent with the story. Doing research since I posted this, I have found that all of the big name authors (looking at horror, modern fantasy and sci-fi, though I just looked at a Chris Bohjalian book as well) use present tense for the blurbs, even though the books are past tense. Thinking about it, the blurb is meta – it isn’t part of the story, it is about the story. It is in the reader’s universe, talking directly to the reader in real time to entice that reader to open the pages and enter the story’s universe.

      Like

      Reply
    2. trentpmcd Post author

      All that being said, a few people responding here did find some past tense blurbs, so perhaps it is whatever the author or publisher is comfortable with and thinks will sell the most books…

      Like

      Reply
    3. trentpmcd Post author

      Sorry, as soon as I click “Send” I have new thoughts :) Of course this may be totally different with non-fiction, particularly history and possibly biography and memoir as well. I would not put into a blurb “Bob is a farmer in Connecticut” when Bob has been dead for 200 years…

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  1. dawnkinster

    Even though you’ve already made your decision I think this is a worthwhile discussion. I don’t write professionally, but when I do tell a story I find myself often confusing tense. I don’t know why this happens, but somewhere along the way it will go from past to present or the reverse. It’s something I know I do and I always go back and do at least one read with only tense as a point of concentration. I didn’t realize that other people have the same issue. Interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I am now very much in the habit of going straight past tense, but occasionally I find myself writing a story in present, or, on occasion, doing what you mention and mixing the tense. Yuck.,. It is one of those things that I try to catch when I scan stories before posting them. It is strange with the blurb, though, that I write them present tense without thinking, but occasionally will throw in a past tense sentence or two. Yeah, no matter how straight we think we have it, it happens :)

      Like

      Reply
  2. Marilyn Armstrong

    That is a really interesting question. I tend to write in the present tense too, but I tend to get a bit confused about tenses. I never realized it until recently because I wrote documentation for so many years and that is mostly present tense, with occasional past or future, but never complex or subjunctive. Documentation doesn’t use complex tenses first, to keep the information very “now” and second, because many readers won’t have English as their primary language. I got so into the habit of writer simply, tight, present tense, very light on adjectives. Closer to news writing than fiction. I usually write in present tense and leave it a few days, then go back and try to figure out what’s now, what was “then,” and if there is a future. I still avoid complex tenses because it is so easy to make grammatical errors and not even know you’ve done it. But now you’ve got me thinking. Hmm.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I can see why you’d go that way with the documentation background. You also write a lot of nonfiction, which is different from fiction. But then, is memoir past tense? Never having written it, I don’t know…
      My longer fiction is almost entirely past, but I will use the more complex tenses when needed – I am writing in past tense, but am talking about something that occurred in the past of where the action currently is. I have to use a more complex tense to set that past-of-the-past off from the rest of the story. And just then, writing about writing about the past and the past’s past, I was in present tense – which gets back to the blurb. The blurb is writing about the writing, so needs to be present tense.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Marilyn Armstrong

        You probably understand tenses better than I do. I wrote my memoir MOSTLY in the present tense. It was how I felt about it NOW. I had to make a decision that it seems less complicated as a “listener” to hear it as current feelings, even though it happened in the past. But in the end, we all have to do it how it flows best for us.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
        1. trentpmcd Post author

          I agree, it is what works best for us. If it made sense to do your memoir in present tense and felt natural, I’m sure it came out better than if you forced it into past tense. For me in short stories it is a subconscious decision – I won’t realize what tense I used until I go back and reread it, and usually what I ended up choosing makes perfect sense – with hindsight ;)

          Like

          Reply
            1. trentpmcd Post author

              I have heard of people who do that all of the time – write in first person and then change it to third on the second draft. I did it once on The Old Mill (my WIP) – it was hard! Everything changes. When I said “he” in a sentence, it no longer made sense since it might now be my Main Character, so I had to say who “he was” and use names. There were entire chapters that had to be trashed and rewritten from scratch because that first person permeated everything. Ugh. Not a fun exercise…

              Like

              Reply
  3. notestowomen

    I would go with the present tense. It draws the readers in and make them feel like they are a part of the story/the action. As you mentioned in one of your replies, it is like being in real time for the reader (s) as well as the character (s).

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  4. D. Wallace Peach

    I’ve seen frequent advice that blurbs should be in present tense. I guess it feels more immediate, like it’s happening NOW – better get the book! I haven’t actually flipped through a bunch of Amazon blurbs to check out whether this holds true. I wonder…

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks, Diana. After thinking about it for a while that is the conclusion I came up with. The blurb is in the readers Universe, talking directly to the reader in real time, trying to entice that person to open up the book and slip into the time and place of the story’s universe. It is meta. I did look at a handful, and at books I have around the house. I looked at Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Ann Leckie, to name a few, and they were all present tense. “Breq is a soldier..” etc. or “An eleven-year-old boy’s body is found… How can…?”

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  5. Norm 2.0

    I’ve always been of the impression that blurbs should be written in the present tense. It heightens the sense of immediacy and entices the reader to take action and buy/read the book right away.
    I’ll be curious to find out what your conclusions are on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I’ve found that most that I’ve looked at today have been in present tense. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. As you said, the blurb exists in our Universe, not the Universe of the story, and is directed at the reader, talking directly to the reader in real time to try entice the reader to open up the book and then enter that Universe.

      Like

      Reply
  6. fakeflamenco

    I looked at the book blurbs on my local library website. It looks like they can be present or past tense! I love the photo of the well, from afar it looks like half of an enormous pair of ray ban sunglasses. -R

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I put up two well photos, this and one that is a slab with a round hole that is only partially covered. I was going to use them both at Halloween but only used the other. back to blurbs – most that I looked at today were in the present tense, but I’m sure I’ve seen some in the past tense. I think they can be either, but the more I think about it, the better I like present tense – the book is a Universe that exists in the “now” that the blurb is inviting the reader to explore. Once in there, then it can be past tense as the story is told. Thanks :)

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  7. Ruth

    I’ve never thought about it before, but I suppose present tense helps entice the reader to find the answers to the questions posed in the book in active real time (for the reader) rather than in a passive past – does that make sense? :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I get it and the more I discuss it and think about it the more I agree. It is a “meta” thing – the reader is outside of the story. The blurb is happening now in the readers time/Universe, while story is it’s own little Universe with its own time.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Up until now that is what I’ve done. For some reason I’ll write the first draft of the blurb in present tense and then I’ll go back and change it to past to fit the tense of the book. Last night when I was comparing a past and present tense version of my blurb, the present tense sounded better. Having looked at few random examples sine I wrote this post, I see almost all of them written in present tense while the books are past tense. I’m looking at books by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
        1. trentpmcd Post author

          I think it is because we are talking about the story, plot and characters and not telling the story – so Margret has the unique ability to bring a ghost back to life, not “had”. If she “had” it, what happened to it? The blurb is “meta”. I’m sure you are right that most readers wouldn’t know the difference.

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply
            1. trentpmcd Post author

              Thanks, Robbie. Yes, over the day yesterday after reading comments, looking at a lot of blurbs on Amazon and books in my collection (why it is good to telecommute ;) ) it crystallized in my mind why I favor present tense. I almost didn’t put up the post, but am glad I did! It was a great discussion and really made me think :)

              Liked by 1 person

              Reply
  8. Melanie B Cee

    Maybe you can define what you mean by “blurb”.. I’m perhaps dim today. Does it mean a rough first draft? If so, it’s not important which tense it’s in (in my opinion), as long as, if you decide to change what you’ve used initially to something else, you’re careful about making sure you do it across the board. I’ve done stories and upon a proof read, I’ll find where I left something in the present tense, when the story turned out as past or future. I’ll be watching to see what you write about what you find.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      The blurb is an advertisement for the book. It’s what is printed on the back cover and on the Amazon product page. Usually it is a couple of quick paragraphs designed to hook someone into reading the book.

      Like

      Reply
  9. marina kanavaki

    I’m not a writer [and probably a bad reader too ;-) ] so from that point of view, I prefer past tense. I find it more ’emotional’ …it somehow leaves room for more involvement whereas present is more direct. But it really depends on what a writer wishes to convey and a writer’s instinct is usually correct! ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      For longer writing I almost always go with the past tense – it just feels natural and I agree that it is easier to get involved. With the blurb, I’m not as sure – it is like an advertising jingle so the more direct might be better…

      Like

      Reply
  10. Corina

    I’ve read it both ways. I think it’s ok to write it in the present tense. Especially with questions in the blurb. I often read blurbs that ask stuff like: Will they figure out the secret in time? What will happen when they discover their limitations?

    Of course, the implied answers is “read the book to find out.”

    If that’s what you’re thinking, present tense is fine.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
        1. trentpmcd Post author

          It did make sense, and had made sense as well ;) I actually use those types of tenses when I write about the past to the present of my past tense story. Does that make sense, or did it make sense? ;)

          Like

          Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      That’s a good point about not experiencing the activities in the story yet. Similar to my thoughts about the ending question: Asking if Gill -did- save the day sounds funny while asking if he -will- save the day just has a better feel to it.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  11. aFrankAngle

    Great question and one I too wonder. For me, what do I what the story to be: a look back or a feeling of the present? Is it personal or is it about someone else? For instance, compare these two sentences.

    She displays a slight smile as I approach.
    She displayed a slight smile as he approached.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Present tense and first person is more immediate, but it can be difficult to do a longer work that way. It is odd, but most of the time I write a story in present tense, it is a subconscious decision – I will write it out, and then discover i used present tense only when I go back and reread it. A story I posted two weeks ago, The Final Battle, is a good example. Maybe my first instinct is the correct one here, with blurbs, as well and I should stick with present tense.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

Express Yourself

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s