Since Friday is a Writer’s Studio, I won’t be doing my usual prompt/post-prompt this week.
One of the things you often hear at conferences and workshops is that you should be able to summarize your story in a sentence or two, similar to the brief summary found on the copyright page of a novel. This could be a summary, a “logline” like screenwriters create for their screenplays, or something akin to the “elevator pitch.”
I think it’s a great idea to write a summary before you start your novel, story or narrative picture book. In fact, before I started Rock On, I had done this, and then promptly lost the piece of paper that I’d written it on and began taking the story in different directions. I discovered I was writing two stories in one and had to start over! I came across it again and was able to re-focus my story on the brothers, which had been my original intention.
Open up any novel to the copyright page to see examples of summaries, like this one from my book, Fact of Life #31:
“Sixteen-year-old Kat, whose mother is a home-birth midwife, feels betrayed when a popular, beautiful classmate gets pregnant and forms a bond with Kat’s mother that Kat herself never had.”
Or this one, which I’m sure you’ll recognize:
“Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling)
Different people will tell you different things about what should be in a summary, but if you look at the examples above and some in other books, you’ll find they do at least two things:
- Identify the main character
- Identify the conflict/character goal
A more intriguing summary might include more than that. There are zillions of sites out there to help guide you as well as books, including Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read by Michael Hauge. Yes, that’s an entire book on the subject, but also provides excellent advice on writing and structuring your screenplay or novel.
If you write your summary before you start your novel, it can act as a guide, even if your story takes you in new and exciting directions. If you’ve finished your book and find yourself struggling to write a summary, that may be an indication that you need to work on your story some more.
Now go write your summary!