My novel is way too complex to just shorten into a couple paragraphs. https://docs.google.com/document/d/14vnKyHxtpGsL-CcLW_oTzCKkX6ZVALdDv4dmctomfV0/edit?usp=sharing That's the story, I would suggest reading through it to see what I mean.

  • 2
    This isn't a critiquing website, so not going to read this, but I will give you general tips on plot summary. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:03
  • @ErinThursby is right. No matter how helpful the users of this site are, answering the questions, related to the variety of different aspects of writing, critique is not something which is given here freely. Critique is work, it takes time and effort. There are sites which are dedicated to critique of each other's works, where you have to earn points, giving critique, before being able to post your own work (critiquecircle.com scribophile.com) --check them out.
    – Lew
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:49

2 Answers 2


Everything in life comes down to the elevator pitch. If you had 30 seconds to describe your novel to a person in real life, how would you do it?

I've used that for summaries myself, I just use a voice recorder, and answer as though a stranger had asked me "what's your story about?" and I had to answer before they got off in a few floors.

Look at Game of Thrones for instance. It's an extremely complicated story with lots and lots of different points of view and characters. And yet, what it comes down to, is a broad and sweeping description for each book, which generally doesn't include most of the character names.

Below is the summary I swiped for A Song of Ice and Fire on Amazon. The first paragraph is perfectly good as a back page summary, though they have two here, and the second is superfluous.

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. To the south, the king’s powers are failing—his most trusted adviser dead under mysterious circumstances and his enemies emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the king’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but the kingdom itself.

Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Starks hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

While R.R. Martin probably loves each one of his characters, and while many (Littlefinger, Arya, Queen Cersei) are important to the plot, they aren't mentioned here, because they aren't needed. Here's what's needed in a summary for a book like this

Step one: The world. If it's different from ours describe it in short, in a few sentences. Detail isn't needed, but, it can be "In the year 2287 society has degenerated. A nuclear holocaust 200 years before has left America a blasted wasteland of raiders and strange beasts."

Step two: The One Character hook. Pick a character central to the narrative. They get two sentences, tie in something from the world into them. "Into this apocalyptic landscape steps a hero, cryogenically frozen in an underground vault just as the bombs fell. Miranda emerges from her vault to search for her son, who was stolen from his pod before her eyes, and nothing, not even giant green monsters and the denizens of the waste will keep her from finding him."

Doesn't matter if there are million other characters, focus on one or a pair, if you like--as long as it relates to your one person.

EDIT: You can also have a more general 2nd paragraph, that, while it adds to the summary is not as necessary--the first paragraph should be able to stand on its own if need be, as in the Ice and Fire summary--notice that one picks up random exciting plot points/people in no particular order, with the last sentence neatly tying back to the protagonist/featured group. So that might be, in my Fallout 4-as-a-story example:

"There's plenty to discover in this new dangerous world--gangs of hostile robots, ghouls tainted by the fallout, advanced androids kidnapping and replacing Wastelanders, ruthless slavers, and mutated giant scorpions can all be found in the Wastes. And yet, civilization is slowly crawling back, as ragtag groups huddle together in new settlements. Goodneighbor is home to those who like less restrictions and prejudice. And everyone knows the Great Green Jewel--Diamond City, founded on the ruins of a baseball stadium. Amid these friends and foes, the story of one determined mother becomes a cause of hope in land with little of it."

  • 0-0 You just opened my eyes, thank you so so much for this. I'll start working on my summary immediately. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:45

Start by summarizing each page - get one sentence out of each. Then edit all these sentences into a cohesive narrative.

Read through it, fill blanks, omit repetitions. Rinse and repeat 2x.

At this point, you should have a clear idea what your story is mainly about. Throw everything away. And write the short description that would entice a reader to buy the story.

EDIT: A good place to start is to find your story in the 36 dramatic situations, use that as a skeleton and fill it up with particular details from your story.

BTW: I don't think anyone's going to read your 93 pages story to summarize it for you. Just saying.

  • Cool, that's a good strategy. But . . . I'm not sure I want to buy my own story at the poor condition it's in right now. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:34
  • You could start by readinf en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thirty-Six_Dramatic_Situations and understanding where it fits there. That;s the core. Then you'd know what to fill around it...
    – adonies
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:36
  • Haha I wasn't planning for anyone to summarize it for me!! I was just asking how I could with the mess it is, and I wanted people to see the mess it was. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:46
  • Not everything you read on the web is true. All the 36 situations guide you quote to me sound like oversimplified attempt to classify a much more complex and deep stratum of what is called literature. Not all the stories fit into their classification.
    – Lew
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:00
  • @Lew I said it was a starting point, didn't I?
    – adonies
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:03

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