I tend to avoid questions related to creative writing since I’m a business writing coach and not a creative writing coach; however, one of my readers asked if I could give any insight into writing summaries for fiction works. I’m not sure I’ll have much insight as I’m not a fiction writer nor do I write summaries of my poems – they’re usually too short to require a summation. I also hope that what insights I do have will be of use to people who write for their businesses. Summaries, after all, are not solely the realm of fiction writers.
Summaries, at least in the fiction writing world, are called synopses. A summary or synopsis may also be called an abridgment, a précis, or an epitome. While the names may differ, the idea behind the names is essentially the same: the idea is to provide a miniature representation of the subject. In my reader’s case, the miniature representation would be of his latest novel. In the case of an architect, the miniature representation might introduce a lengthy proposal.
The duty of a synopsis, in addition to providing a miniature representation, is to show how the parts relate to the whole. This particular aim I understand; when I act as an editor, my work is to understand the composition in its entirety and to analyze how the parts build or undercut that whole. I then help the writer to refocus certain parts, to reorganize some parts, or even to cut parts that belie the whole.
The synopsis also should cover the main points of a work as succinctly as possible. Brevity is essential; the synopsis should contain only the elements that are essential to the full-length work. Of course, the synopsis may or may not contain all those essential elements. Part of the synopsis’ job is to generate interest and to persuade an editor, publisher, or reader to read the entire composition.
How to create that interest? I think that question perhaps relates more closely to what my reader asked and to the title of the post. My reader wanted to know if I had any tips for writing a synopsis. The answer is yes, I suppose I do.
I believe that writing a synopsis begins with asking why: Why should or would someone read the full-length work that the synopsis represents? The next few questions may be rearranged as one sees fit, but I’ll order them in the way that I would ask them:
- What is the big picture?
- What points are essential to painting that big picture?
- Which of those essential points could be more persuasive to an editor or reader?
- Can the points be stated more succinctly?
That is how I would plot and write a summary. How would you write one? Do you have any tips for my reader?