Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Deciphering Blurbs & Reviews - Romance Fiction

A recent Araucaria cryptic crossword puzzle used the following handy guide to deciphering publishers' blurbs.  Prepared by the novelist Sarah Harrison for Slightly Foxed (#27), this list is clearly most relevant to general British fiction, the stuff vying for the Booker Prize, for example:
If the blurb says Enchanting, it means there's a dog in it
Heart-warming: a dog and a child
Heart-rending: they die
Thoughtful: tedious
Thought-provoking: tedious and hectoring
Haunting: set in the past
Exotic: set abroad
Prize-winning: set in India
Perceptive: set in NW3 [Northwest London, i.e., Hampstead Heath & environs]
Epic: the editor was cowed by writer's reputation
From the pen of a master: same old same old
In the tradition of: shamelessly derivative
Provocative: irritating
Spare and taut: under-researched
Richly detailed: over-researched

But that's no use to us, is it?  So in the tradition of Ms. Harrison, here's my shamelessly derivative list for romance novel blurbs and reviews:
Page-turner: You can't wait for it to end
Fast-paced: It ends too soon
Lengthy: You can't make it through the sagging middle
Excitement/tension/passion builds: Flabby opener
Satisfying conclusion: All excitement/tension/passion dies by the end
Simple yet stylish prose: Written at a third-grade level
Simple yet sensual prose: But don't let your third-graders get their hands on it
Steamy: You might blush while reading it
Scorching: Best read in private or on an e-reader
Erotica: Best read at home and alone

There are some terms that get used with the specific genres --
For contemporaries:
Lighthearted: You won't care about the characters
EnchantingUnrealistic situations
Hilarious: Characters behave like idiots
Unexpected: Characters have nothing in common
Sweet: No sex
Sensual: They have euphemistic sex
Hot: They have non-euphemistic sex

For historicals:
UnconventionalWould never have happened in real life
CharmingOnly historically accurate element is the clothing
Traditional: You've read it all before
Cheerful: No research was done
Serious: A lot of research was done
Painstaking: You'll feel like you're in history class
Tortured past: Hero has an excuse for bad behavior
Madcap: Heroine has an excuse for bad behavior

For paranormals & urban fantasy:
Defies conventions: Vampires or werewolves in name only
Elaborate world building: There is no logic to the story
Compelling subplots: You'll skip over these entirely
Latest in a series: $$$$
Matter of life & death: Everyone survives to appear in the next installment

For suspense and thrillers:
Twists and turns: Plot makes no sense
Explosive revelations: The ending makes no sense
Satisfying conclusion: You predicted the ending from the beginning
Fast-paced: Can't tell what's going on so just keep reading
Solitary: There's a good reason why the hero has no friends
Enigmatic: The hero's backstory makes no sense
RuthlessIn real life, the hero would be in jail.  For life.
Dangerous: The hero's as likely to kill the heroine as make love to her
Strong: The heroine is an idiot
Vulnerable: The heroine will do everything necessary to keep herself in jeopardy
Virginal: You bought the thug-as-hero, so you'll buy the virgin-in-her-20s-heroine


  1. Ruthless: In real life, the hero would be in jail. For life.


  2. Janet W: Loving this! And I'm not tired and emotional whilst saying it ... code to decipher reviews. SO GOOD!

  3. Strong: The heroine is an idiot


    I write back cover copy for roms, mostly chick lit in its heyday and now contemporaries & women's fiction. I'm going to post this - er - post next to my desk a ref tool for next assignment. ;-)

  4. *snort* That's awesome. I should try to write a review incorporating these. ;)

  5. Very clever! (no euphemism here)


  6. Thanks, everyone. I keep thinking of new ones, like
    Hoyden: Heroine has an excuse for 21st century behavior
    Rogue: Hero has an excuse for non-aristocratic behavior
    Rake: In real life, hero would have an incurable STD

    Clearly I'll need to maintain this list. Time to get my IT guy to set up a Crucial Posts widget. Oh, honey...

  7. Well done, Magdalen. This was very funny. (Wrote "hilarious" before I went up and rechecked your meaning for it.)

  8. Well played, Magdalen! I'll never read a blurb again without thinking of your list.

  9. Heehee! My favourite is Unconventional.

  10. Awesome list. I'm sure I'll remember these as I write my own reviews. Well done. - Keishon

  11. LOL,Magdalen. Like Kierstan, I know whereof I speak from the inside. Oh, and I do love the first 3 in the English list--dog, dog and kid, dying. Sounds about right.

  12. Hahahahahahahahahahaha!


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