“So what’s your book about?” A question every author dreads and usually answers with a resounding, “....Ummmm.” I mean honestly, how in...

In Short, Summaries

“So what’s your book about?”

A question every author dreads and usually answers with a resounding, “....Ummmm.” I mean honestly, how in the world am I supposed to condense my 50,000+ words down to a pitch I can give you in under a minute? How am I to describe all the intricate plot twists and character developments in just a few sentences? Why can’t I just shove the book in your hands, ask you to read it, and we all move on with our lives?

Because it doesn’t work that way, dummy, my inner editor/alter ego tells me. And people want to have an idea of what the book is about before they pick it up.

Fair enough – to them. But not to me. I now have to find some miraculous way to shorten my beautiful book into a couple hundred words. HOW IN THE WORLD IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE???

A valid question, and I discovered an interesting exercise entirely by accident that opened my eyes to a new way of looking at summaries. A way that will (hopefully) help me keep them concise and compelling.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I do book reviews from time to time. Well, I was applying to be a review columnist on an e-zine, so I actually wrote out a description for the book, something I normally don’t do.

It was difficult to be sure, but far easier than writing a summary of my own stories. And, after reading some examples and going over a couple drafts, I had one I really liked, one I felt captured the major idea of the story and set up the basic plot in an interesting way.

So I started to wonder, why was it so easy – relatively – to write a summary for Origin By Jessica Khoury, and so difficult to write a summary for Sketchy Moments by Yours Truly?

I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t write Origin. I was just an observer, and as such could see through and get down to the basic plot of the story in a single paragraph.

Well, since I can’t exactly change being the author of Sketchy Moments (nor would I want to), I kept thinking and realized that, as a casual observer rather than the intimate author, I didn’t see every little niche and nook and cranny in the story. Instead, I was able to take a step back and see the overall plot for what it was.

And that’s all a summary is supposed to be about.

I don’t have to write down every little thing that happens in my book. In fact, I shouldn’t. Summaries are supposed to set up the basic premise and story structure, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination – which is hopefully prompting him or her to buy Sketchy Moments immediately. When I get it published, of course.

Have you ever written a short summary – for your own book or for another? How’d it go? Post it in the comments if you like!

Below are both of my summaries, if you’d like to take a look. I know they’re not perfect, but at least they’re a start.

Origin by Jessica Khoury: Pia, the girl who can’t die, has spent her entire life in a hidden laboratory allowed to know only what her Uncle Paolo will tell her. Because he created her and raised her to believe that she's the future of humankind, Pia never questions his wisdom. Until the night of her seventeenth birthday, when Pia sneaks out of her compound, exploring the surrounding jungle for the first time. There, she meets Eio, a native boy with glowing eyes and a secret about someone she loves. Together, they discover the dark truth about Pia’s immortality, and the girl is forced to choose: either the life she was created for or the life she sees in Eio’s eyes.

Summary for Sketchy Moments: After the most humiliating incident of his life, Elliot Sharpe moves to yet another foster home armed only with his sketchbook, his locket, and the determination not to like his new family. At all. The only thing Elliot wants is a break: some time off from being the butt of every joke and a few weeks where he doesn't have to hear the words "Home Kid" even once. Then the Blanchards are welcome to send him along to the next placement, and they can all go about their merry way.

But then it starts to seem as if the family actually cares about him and Elliot finds himself liking them in return. And when he comes painfully close to losing the little girl he has come to love as a sister, the boy must choose: run for the hills before things get ugly or risk being hurt worse than ever before.

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