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Writing Chapter Summaries

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Thu Oct 21, 2010 2:02 am
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Kyllorac says...



Introduction

So you're writing a novel and posting the chapters up on YWS. Chapter 1 gets plenty of glowing reviews asking for more. Chapter 2, though... It doesn't get as many reviews, and Chapter 3 gets even fewer. The trend continues, until here you are with Chapter 6 lurking in the list of Works with 0/1 Reviews, untouched by reviewers for days (sometimes weeks) on end, and you're left wondering how to get people to review your later chapters.

So how do you get people to review later chapters? There's always the Will Review for Food forums where you can ask specific people to review your chapters, but it can get a bit tedious to make requests every time you post a chapter, and some thread owners won't review novels. Even then, the reviews you get are not from people who came across your story and liked it, but from people you asked to review it.

Another alternative is to find people to dutifully follow your novel. You can create a Club devoted to your novel, where you can link to the latest chapter in the status update so that everyone following that Club can see when you've updated. You can hold people's interest in your project by discussing their review on your novel. You can also post a novel advert in Buddy Up, a club geared towards helping novelists find dedicated followers for their work.

However you go about it, getting a dedicated follower (or two, or three) for your story is a good idea. But the more readers the merrier, right? And while it's great to have the same person coming back to review chapter after chapter, some new blood is nice, too. So how do you encourage people to walk into your story at a later chapter and read it?

In which the question is answered.

A common complaint among walk-in reviewers is that they don't touch later chapters because they have no idea what's going on. And though they could find out what is going on by reading earlier chapters, it's too much work.

So counter that. Give those lazy reviewers no excuse. Include a summary of the plot so far at the start of each chapter so that they'll have a general idea of what's going on without having to read all the previous chapters.

What should I include in a summary?

A good summary is brief, informative, and interesting. It should be just long enough to give the necessary information, yet short enough that it's easy to read. A good summary also needs to be interesting, otherwise it may turn a potential reader away from your work.

So how do you go about writing a good summary?

Step 1: Pare down your information.

Ask yourself: what does the reader absolutely need to know in order to understand the chapter? This information will usually include a quick overview of the plot, the characters involved in the chapter, and the setting. All this information should be directly relevant to the events in the current chapter; all other details should be left out.

For example, if we have a story about a romance between members of two feuding families and there is a chapter about a meeting between the heads of the houses, the reader will need to know:

  • there is a feud going on
  • the names of the families involved
  • who the heads of the family are
  • why the heads are meeting
  • how the main character(s) is tied into the whole situation

An example of something that probably shouldn't be included are details on some past liaisons between the lovers. If the readers want all those juicy details, they can read the previous chapters.

Keep in mind that if you give too much away in the summary, then your readers will see no point in reading the previous chapters. By keeping the information in your summary to just the bare necessities, you give your readers just enough information to understand and appreciate the chapter, but not enough to fully satisfy their curiosity about the earlier ones.

Step 2: Organize your information logically.

Just as jumping around in stories is bad, so is jumping around in summaries. When writing your summary, make sure the ideas flow logically from one to the other. This will make your summary, and the chapter in turn, easier to follow.

For example, when you first mention a character, it's a good idea to also mention their role in the story. You could introduce the hero of the story as "Eman, the hero of our tale," or some other epithet.

Compare:

Jumpy wrote:Eman has gone missing. Omall is worried. His lover goes on a quest to find the hero.

Smooth wrote:The hero Eman has gone missing. Worried, Omall, his lover, goes on a quest to find the hero.


Which of the two is clearer, and why?

Step 3: Make sure your summary is grammatically correct.

Your summary will be the first thing new readers will see. As a result, you should do your best to give those new readers a good impression. A poorly-written summary runs a good chance of scaring readers away, just as a well-written summary runs a good chance of attracting readers. So proofread your summary as closely as your story.

Step 4: Don't be afraid to spice things up a little.

While the main point of a summary is to give information, just giving the information without any dressing is boring. Don't be afraid to spice things up a little with an occasional detail here, or interesting word choice there, or even playing around with tense.

Let's take the movie The Wizard of Oz as an example, to the point just before she meets the Tinman:

Unspiced wrote:Dororthy is from Kansas. Toto is her dog. They and their house got transported to the land of Oz in a tornado. Dorothy's house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East and killed her. Dorothy got the Witch's magical Ruby Slippers, which the Wicked Witch of the West wants. The only way for the Wicked Witch of the West to get the Ruby Slippers is to kill Dorothy.

To get back home, the Good Witch of the North tells Dorothy that she needs to travel to the Emerald City where the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz lives. To get to the Emerald City, Dorothy needs to follow the Yellow Brick Road.

She meets a talking Scarecrow and frees him. He joins her journey to Oz get a brain. Dorothy gets hungry, and Scarecrow sees some apple trees.

Bo~ring. It has all the necessary information, but it is not interesting to read at all and makes the earlier story sound so blah.

Let's try and spice it up a bit:

Spicy wrote:Dorothy and her dog, Toto, are transported to the magical land of Oz when a massive tornado picks up their house. Upon arriving in Oz, Dorothy finds out her house has landed on and killed the Wicked Witch of the East, and that she has inherited East's magical Ruby Slippers, which the Wicked Witch of the West has long desired.

Upon the advice of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and the Munchkins she saved from East's tyranny, Dorothy and Toto set off down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, where the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz resides, hoping to find a way back home.

Along the way, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow and frees him from his pole. Upon finding out that he has no brain, Dorothy offers to let the Scarecrow come along to see the Wizard, and he accepts.

Currently, Dorothy, Toto, and the Scarecrow have been walking for hours. Dorothy is getting tired and hungry when the Scarecrow spies some apple trees...

Even though there's just thirty more words in the second summary, the second one does a much better job of rehashing the plot in an interesting manner while also leading right into the next scene. The use of more vivid language (especially verbs such as "resides"), varied sentence structure, and present tense give the second summary a sense of movement, of constantly developing action. By hinting at the ongoing conflict between West and Dorothy, the second summary also acts as a hook, which will pique a reader's interest in not only future chapters, but past ones.

By including summaries that are both interesting and informative, you can potentially attract more readers (and reviewers).

Step 5: Put your summary under a spoiler tag at the top of the post.

The whole point of the summary is to attract readers. By placing the summary at the top of the post, you make it the first thing your readers see, which is fine for a new reader, but can get a bit irritating for loyal readers who already know what's going on. By placing the summary under a spoiler tag, you can avoid annoying your loyal readers while still making the summary readily available to new ones. [This last sentence is a bit out-of-date. Until someone figures out how to insert spoiler tags into the new editor, your best bet is to make the summary a different color or style to set it off from the actual chapter.]

It is also a good idea to indicate that your summary is a summary and not, for instance, an overly-long author's note. The easiest way to do that? Title it "Summary" or include the note just before the spoiler "Summary under spoiler". Simple as that.

Summary

  • At the start of every chapter, include a summary under a spoiler tag.
  • Remember that your summary will act as a hook to snag new readers.
  • Make sure your summary is properly spelled and punctuated.
  • Make sure the summary is as brief yet informative as possible.
  • Make sure you don't give too much of the earlier plot away.
  • Try to make your summary as interesting to read as possible.
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Thu Oct 21, 2010 3:19 am
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Calligraphy says...



This was really helpful! Thanks,

A. S.
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Thu Oct 21, 2010 3:57 am
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wonderland says...



This just makes so much sense to life!
Thanks sooo much!!
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Thu Oct 21, 2010 2:04 pm
Gladius says...



...Wow. Excellent advice, Kyl! That is an awesome idea. I just might start doing this from now on. xD
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Sun Oct 31, 2010 9:27 pm
captain.classy says...



Such a great idea! Thanks Kyll!




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writerwithacause says...



This is a great idea! It's what I'm going to do from now on. :D
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