Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Creating a One-Sentence Summary of Your Story

I'm back on res at my university, at long last! This week is ressie o-week, next week is the university o-week, and then the week after that is when our classes finally start. As you can imagine, I am very busy socialising and catching up with returner-ressies and meeting/befriending/trying to mother the new ressies, so I haven't had much time to think of blog posts, much less write them... so here's one I prepared earlier! 

I am sure I am not alone in the world of writers in saying, although I am thrilled when people are interested in my writing, I kind of hate it when someone asks me what my stories are about. Thinking of a quick one-sentence summary for your story on the spot is sometimes really hard, especially if you're still in the writing, editing, and redrafting stages. I am among those who do not think of summaries until it's time to start querying. In my head, of course I know what my story is about! But putting that into a coherent one-sentence synopsis for a curious friend, especially on the spot, is really hard. I'm not even sure I could do it once I have started querying.

Anyway, I was talking to a friend about university. He is a bio-med student and so we were asking each other a lot of questions about each other's subjects. Of course, mine led to revealing that I write novels in my spare time. He asked me how many novels I'd written and I told him I'd written three. Then, the dreaded question: "What are the stories about?" 

I floundered for a moment when I first read the question and might have cursed at my smartphone a few times. Then I realised that because this wasn't a face to face conversation, I didn't have to panic and rush to give him an answer. I took a few minutes and thought about it, and surprisingly enough came out with a quick little one-sentence summary for each of my three novels. They weren't perfect explanations, but I was pretty proud of them. 

'EVERGREEN': In a fantasy world where the magical trees that provide life are suddenly failing, a prophecy names the three children of the emperor as the saviours. 

'KATHERINE': A girl starting at a new high school makes two new friends who help her through much family drama. 

'WALLS': In an alternative world, a refugee girl meets the son of the rebel group leader responsible for uprooting her family. 

They aren't perfect little summaries by any means, but if I can memorise them for future reference, I think they would be sufficient answers for curious friends asking what the stories I've written are about. 

What are your stories about? Feel free to leave a little one-line summary in the comments if you can think of one, I'd love to read them! 
- Bonnee. 


  1. My epic/heroic fantasy: A band of knights, the embodiment of virtue, must defend their continent from a band of dragons, the embodiment of vice. (I've summarized it a little better in the past, but that's the gist of it.)

    I haven't even thought about my YA fantasy story in a long time, so I won't summarize that, although I'm pretty sure I made a one-sentence summary at one point.

    Oh, and what does "ressie" mean? We don't have that term in the U.S., at least not in my area.

    1. I thought about it for a few moments. Is it slang for "residents," as in students who live on-campus?

    2. Sounds pretty cool, Patrick!

      I had the same issue when I tried to summarise the first two, because it's just been ages since I've looked at either of them.

      And yes, 'ressie' is slang for 'resident'! Ha ha, us Aussies are all about slang :p

  2. Your summaries are awesome! All three of them make me want to read the stories! :)

    I actually had to do something like this recently for a Twitter pitch party with agents. It was super daunting at first to narrow it down to 140 characters, but I somehow managed. This is for Sands of Time: 1957: Charlotte sends a message in a bottle to her baby-to-be. 56 years later: Remi finds it and is inspired to follow her whisper. (Not exactly the same idea as a one-sentence summary, but sorta close!)

    1. Those both sound pretty good, Shari. Sands of Time might not exactly be one sentence, but you still kept it nice and short. Thanks for visiting. :)

  3. Two weeks on res without classes? PAAAAAR-TEEEE!


    I hate summaries and synopses and the like. You did a nice job there. I have to say, though, anytime I see a summary that starts "In a world where..." I hear it in my head in Cheesy Movie Voice-Over Guy's voice. And because I am the way that I am, when someone asks me what my stories are about, I tend to say, "People." Enjoy res weeks.

    1. My liver will hate me by the end of these two weeks, I'm sure. And to top it off, my dad's 50th is on the weekend! :p

      The "In a world where..." one will definitely have to be fixed, because I do agree with you about the Cheesy Movie Voice-Over Guy. I think that's clever, because I think most books ARE about people. :) Thanks for visiting, Jeff.

  4. Love the Aussie slang. I had no idea what is "ressie", until reading the comments. Yesterday the Meridith Rich, editor of Bloomsbury Spark, posted that she is dying for a great YA set in Australia or India. So there is an interest in Australia. All the three summaries are interesting. I have a question about WALLS. Does the girl falls in love with the son? If she is then we have a good conflict, because probably her first reaction is to take revenge against the son from the family that caused harm to her family.
    I change the summary of my two complete novels all the time, trying to see which short summary will be more interesting in queries. You will change yours a few times, but at least you have an answer now.

    1. Ah, I don't even notice myself using it most of the time!

      Actually, when I set out to start writing WALLS I specifically didn't want it to end up being a romance and I maintain that I don't want it to happen. At this point, the focus is MOSTLY on the conflict between them in a friendship.

      I'm sure I will have something much more solid by the time I send out a query. Thanks for visiting :)

  5. My current story is about a young software engineer and his struggles with work, love and trying to get a sci-fi novel published. (I'm glad I have a fellow aspiring story summarizer to run this by -- although the summary I just gave is actually of a musical, so perhaps that changes the style that is required.)

    1. Chris, your idea sounds pretty cool! And it's nice to see someone who is writing from a different shelf. I don't think any other comment-leavers write musicals, at least, I'm not aware of it if they do!


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