The Short, Shocking Opener

Like the first line of a newspaper article, a short, shocking opener in a blurb can be a great way to draw readers in. Check out these examples that I found on book listings sites like Ereader News Today, SweetFreeBooks, and ebooks Grow on Trees:

“In the world of Allwyn, humans are almost extinct.” – The Cradle of the Gods
(Book 1) by Thomas Quinn Miller

“Adenine is blind and isolated in her small attic bedroom.” – The Healers of Meligna Series Box Set by K. J. Colt

“Cheyenne Elias has inherited a child.” – The Bequest by Hope Anika

“How far will a man go to protect his family?” – Over My Dead Body by Bruce A. Borders

Now, check out a blurb for an imaginary book that we’ll call Man of Sorrows, about a Civil-War-era charlatan who makes his way through the ravaged South, raising the spirits of deceased Confederate soldiers for grieving loved ones. To show the power of a short, striking lead, pay close attention only to how I open, because that is the only part of the blurb I will change the second example:

Man of Sorrows
by M.D. Wiselka
Genre: Horror, Speculative Fiction

Cyprien Fell can raise the dead. And he does so, nightly, for the grieving widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers that perished in battle. Provided, of course, that the said grieving widows and orphans are capable of paying his exorbitant fees for services rendered.
When an embittered young man who lost his father in the war offers Cyprien a strange family heirloom that he believes will “enliven” his parlor act, the charlatan medium readily accepts the gift, thinking the more bells and whistles the better. But he soon learns that not all magic is mere trickery, when he unwittingly summons a malevolent spirit bent on raising an army of undead that will conquer the world.
If this blurb were a newspaper headline or the first line of an advertisement, it would certainly draw attention—“MAN RAISES DEAD” or “MEDICINE CAN RAISE DEAD”. We may not be willing to believe such extravagant claims, but, curious, we read a little further.

Fairly quickly, we learn that Cyprien Fell is in fact a traveling showman, who only PRETENDS to raise the dead for shamefully large sums of money. Our hero is something of a creep, but he’s about to get a dose of his own snake oil, when one of his customers gives him the means of doing what he only claims to do. Without intending to do any harm, Pandora opens the box and let’s the bad things out. The question is, will Pandora find a means of luring the evil back into the box and tightly sealing the lid? We’ll have to read the book to find out.

I’ve shown you how a good lead sentence can capture the attention of potential readers. Now, I’ll show you what a bad one can do to my imaginary story.

Man of Sorrows
by M.D. Wiselka
Genre: Horror, Speculative Fiction

Reprobate and unrepentant rake, Cyprien Fell, loses his inheritance at a gambling table and is pitched out of his home by his angry wife, who can no longer bear the sight of him. To keep himself from starving to death, he begins hoodwinking naïve locals into believing that he’s a medium. Nightly, he comforts grieving widows and orphans by raising the spirits of Confederate soldiers that perished in battle. Provided, of course, that the said grieving widows and orphans are capable of paying his exorbitant fees for services rendered.
When an embittered young man who lost his father in the war offers Cyprien a strange family heirloom that he believes will “enliven” his parlor act, the charlatan medium readily accepts the gift, thinking the more bells and whistles the better. But he soon learns that not all magic is mere trickery, when he unwittingly summons a malevolent spirit bent on raising an army of undead that will conquer the world.

Cyprien Fell, clearly, is no civic leader, but this lengthy introduction to his character is largely unnecessary. We can guess, without being told, that he is greedy (he is overcharging for his services) and unprincipled (no GOOD person would sustain himself at the expense of his suffering neighbors). Does it really matter that Fell wasted an inheritance or spoilt his domestic happiness by infidelity? That’s character building best left for the book.

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