Blog Like A Boss Prompt #6: Writing a summary, how do you do it? And what about the story summaries of others draws you in?

I had to look back through the blurbs of most of my works that I have published to the AdAstra Archive over the last five years. They are mostly summaries I had composed to remind myself of what the story is about. In most of my stories, such as in Star Trek: Lambda Paz, I have largely kept summaries very concise, usually one, two, or three sentences. That is fairly easy with flash-fiction since it is usually just one scene. “Doctor Julian Bashir sees something not quite right with the new Defiant, is quick and to the point. These quick and to the point statements are especially important where the narrative involves a lot of details leading up to that point. For instance, with “Moral Dilemma”, a lot happens leading up to Captain Limis Vircona using “extreme interrogation methods” on a prisoner. There is plenty backstory leading up to that all-important event. In addition to the summary, what ropes readers into this story is a teaser similar to that of Deep Space Nine episode “In the Pale Moonlight”, where the central character reveals in a log entry the major plot of the story—“ I was going to bring the Romulans into the war.” –or—“I may have become the enemy I seek to destroy.”

In subsequent stories, I kept true to this approach by providing a clear and concise statement—a mission statement, if you will. During the course of my undergraduate college years, I had mastered the craft of writing five page term papers and even a ten-page term paper. In order to fill up that many typed pages, the writer must say a lot, give a lot of background information about various topics covered while still remaining true to the thesis statement. That thesis statement is that all-important sentence or opening paragraph that outlines the major point being made in that lengthy term paper. When writing works of fiction, as with expositional works of non-fiction, the longer the work is, the broader the thesis statement or topic sentence. That’s not to say a story summary should open with “a bunch of stuff happens leading up to this big event.” That’s way too vague. Rather the summary should make general statements that are open to interpretation such as major characters facing “their biggest challenge to date”, or a reference to “the Federation’s darkest hour.”

In certain cases, a very lengthy and complex story require a more lengthy and complex summary, but at the same time, the author should get to heart of what that story is about. In the case of my longest stories, with regard to word count and chapter count, I try to make a good opening statement and a good closing statement. For instance, the summary of “Omega” opens with an explanation of the major adversary at the beginning of the story and closes with what the stakes are for the heroes when their actions reveal a grand conspiracy within their own government. In the case of “To the Bitter End,” the overall story takes place on four different starships, so four quick statements of what is in store for each of the four groups of characters. On the other hand, while not a very lengthy and complex story, “Across Two Universes” required additional exposition. Anyone who knows the grander details of my Lambda Paz series knows that Year Two is concurrent with Deep Space Nine’s final season (2375). Opening the summary with, “In 2387…” should be enough of an attention grabber. “Hmmm, is one of those reset button alternate future stories?” An effective closing statement must therefore address the effect of the parallel reality featured in the two most recent Star Trek films has had on the Dominion War a century later.

In terms of what grabs my attention in a summary, that rarely ever plays into whether or not I read the story in its entirety. These summaries are merely an idea of what to expect in the forthcoming narrative. When the story summary does factor, I look for clear and concise (and sometimes broad) statements about what I will be reading. What is most likely to grab my attention is tie-ins to televised episodes.