On Fanfic: Writing a Kickass Summary

One of the things I see over and over on Fanfiction.net is the writer complaining “I can’t write good summaries plz read!” — and worse, they put that line IN their summaries, which doesn’t give a reader much confidence that the tale itself will be any good.   Seriously, if you can’t summarize your story, you’re admitting that you don’t know what your own tale’s about.

You’re the freakin’ WRITER, yet you’re telling your readers that you’re clueless about your own story.  It’s time to stop with your “OH NOES I CAN’T WRITE SUMMARIES LOL!” BS, shut up, and learn how to do it.

Summaries are easy: in three sentences or less, tell us what your tale is about.   It’s that simple. State your plot: what are your heroes trying to achieve? What stands in their way? What will be the consequences if they fail?

Lord of the Rings: Frodo must destroy the Ring of Power before the Evil Forces take over the world.

Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone: Despite being a new wizard-in-training, Harry must prevent the murderous lord Voldemort from finding the secret to eternal life.

Star Wars: A New Hope: Luke Skywalker must rescue a beautiful princess from the clutches of Darth Vader and stop the Empire from destroying the last hope for freedom in the galaxy.

You get the idea.  Hero + What Hero Wants + Obstacle + Consequences = Summary.   Sum up your plot!  If you can’t state your plot in three sentences or less, that’s a big clue that your tale may be too scattered and unfocused.  Go to a bookstore and look at the backcovers of books in your chosen fanfic ‘verse (or novelizations & tie-ins for movies & TV shows) — that will give you excellent examples for good summaries.

Here’s the basic templates for you:

(insert Hero’s name) must (action verb) the (goal) before (Villain’s name) can (villain’s goal).

Other tips:

1. Use the active voice, not the passive. Avoid the verb “to be”.  Your verbs must be strong, active, descriptive verbs in themselves. How do you tell if you’ve used passive voice?  To quote Rebecca Johnson, “If you can insert ‘by zombies’ after the verb, you have passive voice.”

Examples:

Active:  Luke Skywalker shot down the Death Star.
Passive: The Death Star was shot down (by zombies) by Luke Skywalker.

Active: Frank Hardy wrecked his bike.
Passive: Frank’s bike has been wrecked.


2. Never, EVER, put “plz read!” or any variation of that phrase in your summary. Seriously.  Begging readers to read your tale makes you look pathetic & is a huge red-flag for a horribly bad story.  If you have to beg us to read your story, your story ain’t worth reading.

3. Same with “plz review!!” — leave it out. For the same reasons as #2, above.  If folks truly like your tale, they’ll comment on it without you begging for it. Every time I’ve seen a summary with “please review!!!” in it, the writer’s not looking for honest criticism or reviews; the writer just wants praise & ego-strokes.  Yeah. Take your ego elsewhere.   We want good stories, not ego-stroking pity-parties.

If you have to beg for praise & reviews, then the reviews & praise you get aren’t real. It’s just people taking pity on you & your pathetic little beggar self.  It doesn’t mean your work is any good — just the opposite.  The REAL good work is when story gets praise & comments without the writer begging for it.

So, yeah, leave the “PLZ REVIEW!!” and “PLZ READ!!” out of your summaries.

4. Use correct spelling, punctuation, & grammar. If your summary has spelling mistakes, that tells the reader you don’t care at all about your story.  If you don’t care enough about your story to correct mistakes & use proper English, why should anyone care to read it?  We’re not going to struggle through error-ridden messes just to boost your ego. Reading should be a pleasure, not a chore.

5. (optional) If your story tales place in an alternate universe or in a different continuity, say so.Simply putting “AU” at the start of your summary (or at least in a short author’s note at the beginning of your tale) can spare you a lot of headache & nasty comments from Canon Purists.  Quite a few ‘verses have several different continuities and “phases”, with fans preferring one or another, or absolutely despising a certain continuity.

For example, the Hardy Boys has the “blue spines” (the original series — and even those are separated pre- and post- rewrites), the Casefiles, the current Adventures, the Undercover Brothers/ATAC, the Clues Brothers, etc….and that’s just the books.  You’ve also got four media series (the Mickey Mouse Club serials of the 1950s, the 1970s series, the 1990s series, and a current Internet-only series set in WWII).  The Hardys are different in each of those variations; fans get really mad if you use the ’70s show actors’ descriptions when they’re expecting the Blue Spine Canon, for instance.

For example, my summary of “Voodoo Doll”: ’70s show/AU: A serial killer hunts the Mardi Gras – an occult sociopath torturing & slaughtering innocents to raise demonic power. Joining forces with the shadowy Association, the Hardy Boys pit themselves against the world of voodoo, evil magic, & psychic warfare to stop him – only to discover that the killer has lured them into his own deadly trap…

It stopped the Canon Purists from griping about my descriptions of Frank & Joe (which were of the actors, not the books), where Bayport was, and all the changes I’d made to the series ‘verse. It also ensured that the folks who read the summary knew what they were getting into.

6. Use correct spelling, punctuation, & grammar.  Yes, I’m listing this twice. It’s that important.There is no bigger red-flag for an awful story than a summary riddled with bad spelling & lack of correct English.  If English is your second language, that’s no excuse.  There’s plenty of resources available to make sure your tale & summary are free of errors, including using a beta-reader. USE THEM.

That’s the rant for today, folks. Catch you on the flip!

(Author’s note: the WWII series of the Hardy Boys is really neat; done by Room 31 Productions, it’s only available via their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/room31productions)

Next up (and yes, I swear I’ll get to it this time): Descriptions & how to use them.

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