Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summaries: How to be Brief but Brilliant

Last Friday, Charlotte wrote about the agony of having to write a one-page synopsis of the great and glorious piece of literature that you have worked and slaved over for a year or two. How can it be done? How do you reduce your brilliant tome to its barest essence in such a way that readers will be whipped into a frenzy of anticipation and beat down the doors of their local bookstore in their desire to get their hands on your book the minute it comes out? In my humble opinion the one of the hardest things to do well is a compelling summary.

Yet being able to summarize your book in a few words and make it interesting is an incredibly important skill for an author to have. Every time one of their authors finishes a book, my publisher asks for a 250-300 word summary they can use to create advertising material—blurbs, letters to reviews, that sort of thing. In fact, I just had to go through this rather painful exercise this very week for my upcoming release, Forty Dead Men, which is due to drop in February 2018. I sent two, because in 250 words, you really have to decide what to reveal and what not to reveal. So I put the emphasis on a particular plot point in one summary and on another plot point in the second. Let the publisher decide, that was how I justified myself. In the end, they combined the two!

Here’s the summary technique I’ve developed over my dozen years of novel-writing: I start by writing a summary of the story that is as long, wordy, flowery, poetic, and descriptive as I think it needs to be, and word-count take the hindmost. Then I go back and cut out the flowers and the poetry. Then out comes the descriptive. I don’t need to say who this character is. This plot point or side story which I mentioned is not a crucial element of the story. In the fifth draft, I realize I don’t need this sentence. In the sixth draft, I don’t need this clause. This word. By the the tenth draft, the summary is as distilled and to the point as Scotch whiskey.

1 comment:

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