Why one-sentence summaries are the best.

As I mentioned a while ago, I have become, over the last several months, a fan of one-sentence summaries. Basically, you are to summerize what you have written in one sentence.

First, some guidelines.

  1. It can only be about 20 words long.
  2. It cannot contain any character names.
  3. It has to give a true overview of a story (or paper. I have been using this with research papers as well.) So in other words, you can’t say you’re paper is on abortion’s medical complications when it’s really more a persuasive piece explaining why abortion’s dangers have never really been researched.
  4. If you have more than one character, write an overall summary for the novel, and then another summary for each character.

I have done this, and it was actually a lot of work. So why would you want to all that hard work? I shall tell you.

1) It gives you direction in editing. If you have that summary in the back of your mind, you’ll be able realize what can be deleted and what you can keep. If you are only kinda sure, you still might need something kept.

2) It tell you when to stop. Oftentimes, newer writers go on longer than they need to, and the end stuff is all boring drivel.

For example: In Shad, my one-sentence summary is along the lines of, “A talented pilot tries to escape his life of condemnation after rescuing a doctor.” So based on this, he needs to leave his current life and settle down somewhere else for the story to be complete. However, and I can’t include this all in my sentence, in order do that he needs to race a big race and win it.

What if I just made my sentence along the lines of, “A talented pilot decides to compete in the most prestigious race in hopes of escaping his criminal background.” Based on this, when he crosses the finish line on the race, he should have just one more chapter to tie everything up. Instead, I have closer to four. Why? Various reasons along the lines of him telling me so, but more than that, the story isn’t done, because the story is truly about what I said earlier–him finding a new life away from criminals.

3) It tells you what to include in your introduction. This is more for formal writing and short stories. Both of these need the plot, or direction of the story told quickly. If you know what your story really is about through the one-sentence summary, then you’ll know what to say in your first page or so, in order to tell your reader what direction the story will take.

Example (again. I know. You can skip over it if you’re bored. :)): I’m writing  story about mermaids, which I’m hoping to post shortly. (maybe by Thanksgiving.) Unfortunately, I didn’t write a one-sentence summery about this story but the plot focuses around the disappearances of Adamah’s, false alarms, who’s doing it, why, and the results of knowing that answer. But in order to make it so you can understand this background, I couldn’t have it start where I needed to. This informal, vital information, came much too late for the reader to understand it. Thus, I needed to make a new introduction, and it worked quite fine.

4) It makes sure that everything stops together. This goes back to number 2, butt the idea is that if you have summary, then you don’t leak the substory over onto the ending of the real story. Trust me–this is really important.

5) It helps other people edit your story. I work in the writing center at my school, so when students need help with editing their papers. they come to me. Oftentimes, I ask them what the paper is about. If they give me an answer along the lines of, “Well, it’s kinda a reaction paper about the education of athletic trainers and, yeah, that’s it.” it’s a lot harder for me to edit it than when you say, “It is a reaction paper of the educational requirements for an athletic trainer.” Make sense?

So that’s about all there is. I really do encourage you to consider trying to do one sentence summaries for your writing assignments. They have proved to be very helpful.

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About Abigail

I'm an elementary education major at a college in the Midwest. I might graduate as early as December '13 but more likely May '14. I write when I can. I also knit on occasion, draw, do homework and contradict teachers to make people think. :)

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