by Biljana Likic
Last week Vanessa wrote a really fantastic post about the premise and synopsis.
This week I’m going to rant about the summary, because although she gave awesome pointers, I still couldn’t get over my feelings for them until very recently. And this is how.
So let’s start.
Summary. A dreaded word. Every time I hear it my heart sinks. Just three days ago someone found out I was writing a book, and of course the first question out of his mouth was “What’s it about?”
As if it’s easy to explain something you’ve been pouring your time and energy into for three years in less than ten minutes. I said five sentences and the guy nodded importantly, stated that “it sounds just like Chrysalids”, and then went on to talk about how much he loves John Wyndham. When I tried weakly to tell him that I’d never read the book, he said that I should and then started explaining it to me. Oh he was quite the artsy type, and knew oh so much about classical American fiction and indie films and was a drummer for a few bands including his own. The more he talked about Chrysalids, the more I realized that actually, it didn’t sound anything at all like what I was working on. The more I listened to him, the more embittered I got.
Why the hell would you ask me what my book is about if you don’t even care?
That’s the first thing I hate about summaries; the people that hear five words and think they know everything. Here’s the second: the back of the book kind.
No matter how much you try, no matter how wordy you get, you will never be able to get across your whole novel in a little blurb of text on the back of the book. My novel isn’t just about some girl going to an insane asylum when people think she’s crazy. That’s just how it starts. For me to try to explain the whole plot, all the twists and connections between three separate groups of people, the not so coincidental moments that fit perfectly with history, I’d have to retell the whole novel. And by that I mean I can’t. You’d have to read it or listen to me paraphrase it. I can’t tell you what it’s about in a few paragraphs.
But then a couple weeks ago I realized something that helped me get over my dislike of summaries.
Who would want their whole book to fit on the back cover? Who would want to say everything their book says in a couple sentences and in that way do it justice? Because if you can say everything that your book is, talk about all the growth your character goes through, and show how clever you are for figuring out the plot that you did, I’m sorry but wouldn’t that make your novel really…shallow?
Why would anyone want to be able to successfully retell their novel in five minutes? If you can write what you wanted to write in a couple of sentences, you wouldn’t have wasted 80 000 words. You wouldn’t have wasted three years of your life. There is merit to the length that you chose your book to be.
But then again you hit the brick wall of “The Summary”.
Here’s the tough love of the whole situation: You have to get people to like the summary, and then the book. There’s no way around it. You just have to write it. Take the steps Vanessa and Savannah gave and do the best you can. Take solace in the fact that even if you didn’t explain everything, there will then be so much more for the reader to discover. There will be so many things that they’ll be in awe of, because of how simple the back of the book sounds in comparison. The next time they talk about it, they will the ones telling their friends that the summary doesn’t do it justice, and you will the one with the obnoxious indie kid on your side. Take the juiciest bits you can, if you must, isolate the most marketable points, and get it selling. When enough people have read it, you’ll be comfortable in knowing that you’re not anymore the only one that knows the full skill it took to write it, and think of it this way:
An effective summary is better than a good one.
Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She just graduated high school and is on her way to university where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.