Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Let's Talk About Summaries

Personally, I don’t like them. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book based on the summary alone, and but I have turned many books away because of it. Most summaries follow a simple formula; explain character, explain current situation, explain caveat, pose question. There’s a bit of shuffling in the order of these, but for the most part, many summaries follow this template and, personally, I find it boring. “X was just a Y when they actioned Z. Now with addition to situation, can X action the A before B occurs?” Sound familiar? It should, you’ll find that structure on the backs of most fantasy, sci-fi, and even romance, noire, crime, and other fiction stories. The only genre with the biggest departure from the formula I’ve seen has been YA romance/fantasy-romance books, and honestly I wouldn’t start rushing to them for better examples. By definition, summaries are supposed to be short blurbs to hook a reader, but when they’re all so structured, do they really work?

I found that one of the biggest problem with summaries was that they were trying to get you invested in the hook, but not getting you invested in the characters, and thus failing at both. I don’t care about the dark armies of Alcamanzu coming to destroy the kingdom because I have no relation to Moonstabber the dark elf. “Oh,she just wants to live her life.” you say? well that doesn’t mean a lot when I’m deciding whether or not to invest my time into a story.

For some practice, I took a couple stories I had just read and tried to write up some summaries for them to see how they might be different. I found it was actually not easy to stray from the typical formula; trying to avoid “But when X …” or “Then everything changes…” cliches was hard when you have two to three paragraphs to explain the hook, the characters, and the situation. Very little gravitas can be conveyed in such a short frame, so I certainly don’t blame anyone for these generic summaries, but surely we can do better.

What do you guys think? Have you seen any particularly good summaries you could point me at? Any tips? do you even agree, or am I full of fecal matter? (technically I am, but I mean more so than usual)

Honestly, most of the books I’m drawn to are from recommends. I can’t say the synopsis has always put me off of a book though. There have been some that have lured me in over the years. I really can’t say what a good, different way to change it up would be. I think a lot of it might be in wording choice. One of my favorites right now is quite different, but the book is quite different in and of itself, about a quite different character in a quite different setting (okay, I’ll stop :P). The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. I just like how simply it’s worded, yet poetic in its own way. You can find it here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21535271-the-slow-regard-of-silent-things

In these days of self-publishing, when authors often write their own summaries for Amazon, it’s a great way to tell whether the book itself will be riddled with spelling and grammar errors…

As far as writing them, M. C. A. Hogarth had a good blog post on that, that we reprinted in the FWG blog:

This is kind of one of those areas of writing where, as you found out, the formula is a formula because it works pretty consistently. It is pretty hard to get beyond doing much more than communicating the hook and the core conflict when you’re 1) limited in word count and 2) have to make sure you do communicate the hook and the core conflict well because that’s what draws people in and makes them curious.

My main problem with blurbs is when they start throwing a ton of proper names/places/magical objects at me, like they’re supposed to mean something, but I have no frame of reference, of course, so I don’t care. (I see this less in indie stuff now, but it still shows up.)

And yeah, agreeing with Huskyteer – if the blurb is especially clunky or has errors, and the book isn’t from a major publisher (or even if it is), that’s a bad sign.

The main time a blurb will sell a book to me on its own is if it involves a hook that interests me. Otherwise, I’m probably going to look at reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, and/or read the sample, to get a better idea of what I’m getting into. For example, I recently bought this one because it had me at the first sentence of the description:

Now, my point is, it’s not that the blurb was inherently masterful in and of itself, but it communicated a hook that automatically appeals to me, and that hook (and the rest of the description, and the reviews, and the fact that I’ve read this author before) helped sell the book to me.

cough Okay, the fact that it was on sale for $1.99 at the time sure didn’t hurt either. :slight_smile:

Now I want it too :slight_smile:

(I read another with furry overtones by that author, The Werewolf Principle, when I was in my teens. I liked it at the time, though my critical faculties may not have been fully developed.)

All of those are good points, and I agree with Husky, now I want that story too!
I feel the best way to go about it is to be succinct, not too heavy handed, and keep the techno/fantasy babble to a minimum until the book at least starts, as Poet suggests :slight_smile: