No, I want something new today, but I’ve read all recommendations from Wepdiggy. Time to search for something new...time to check out the summaries.
And here’s where the crapshoot begins.
People look for books and stories based on a few key criteria:
- They’ve read the author before. Chances are, most everybody here is going to race over to read the newest ninjaVanish work because we saw how awesome Chuck and Sarah vs. the Bunker was.
- Word of mouth from a trusted author or friend. My hits got a real boost around Chapter 7 or 8 of Fatesfrom both a shout-out in Double Agent and another shout-out in Second Chance. Now I’m on the other side of the equation and paying that forward to other great authors.
- An intriguing premise/great summary. If you don’t have a fanbase yet, you have to lure readers in other ways. And no, driving around in an unmarked van and offering candy to strangers doesn’t end well**.
- Review count. “Holy frak! This has 200 reviews for 6 chapters! The author must be doing SOMETHING right, I must check this out!”***
A great summary helps. A great beginning helps more, but I’ll cover that at another time. Today is all about the summary. I’ll start with what doesn’t make a great summary:
1) “First fanfic. Be nice.”
Yeahhhhhh...those words are automatic “pass by” words for me. I know that all fanfic writers weren’t as bad as I was in my first fic, but those words just make me leery. They leave a bad impression of bad writing. It may not be true, but you’ve only got a few sentences to lure me into reading your work (less than three, typically). Don’t waste one on that. Other variations include, “WROTE THIS WHILE I WAS SOOOOOO DRUNK WOOOOO.”
2) Bad Grammar.
If you can’t even bother to put good grammar into your summary, your story is probably going to be riddled with it. Pass.
3) Misspelling a Character’s Name.
Oh. My. God. How am I going to believe you can write credible versions of the characters I love if you can’t even spell their freaking names right?****
I know that people write fanfiction because they’re having trouble with the show and the way things have gone. Trust me. You can read the first author’s note in Fates to see how Season Three brought that story around. You can rant about it in the author’s notes all you like, but please, please leave it out of your summary.
How to Write a Good Summary:
1) Tease. Don’t Tell.
Maximus can tell you that one of my absurd dreams is to be a promo monkey. I giggle like nothing else during some of the promos for the next week’s episode because the monkeys give just enough away to get you interested and all “WHAT IS GOING ON!” And then you have to wait.
Transfer this principle to writing your summary. Tell them a little bit about what’s going on, but don’t give the whole story away. There’s a fine line to be walked here, as if you’re too much of a tease, you might not draw readers in. But don’t just be like, “This happens and this happens and this happens.” Try to be a little mysterious, if you can.
Some good examples of this principle —
Costas TT – Chuck vs. the Other Super Spy
Instead of being kicked out of Stanford, Chuck was recruited by the CIA. Now, five years later, he and his team are legends in the Agency. There is something missing though. But one mission will bring someone new into his life, a gorgeous fellow agent...
quistie64 — Chuck vs. the Sound of Music
AU. Chuck, nerd extraordinaire, is a man with seven children and Sarah must protect them all from Fulcrum's evil designs. Warning: there will be singing.
KateMcK — A Common Spy ProblemThese were all grabbed from the first page of the Chuck archive on ff.net. See the common trend? All of these summaries give just a little backstory, and an objective of sorts. They say, “This is the universe” and “This is the conflict.” And each manages to do it in a unique and mysterious manner.
Chuck and Sarah slipped in the shower. Now they have to deal with exes, family, James Bond, a rock star, General Beckman and Casey, on top of the major shift in their relationship.
2) Be Memorable
Conversely, if you don’t want to do a “plot summary” like those above, a trick is to be memorable in some way. Some people do this very well with just a snippet of the story. For instance, one of my favorite one-shots is Broken Heydar’s Single Vacancy, Dual Occupancy, in which the summary reads, “And you know, you didn't have to join me in here! There were two coffins.” Another example of memorable, to me, is the sequel to quistie64's Ninja Librarian story, which makes a great joke about a rubber mallet and Morgan.
3) Even if it’s a sequel, give some kind of plot idea.
Don’t just write “Sequel to this story.” I’m getting loads of readers that are no longer starting with Fates(which makes me twitch, but that’s okay. That’s okay). No, instead, they’re skipping straight to To Resist Both Wind and Tide or Fortune Favors Fools. Attention spans these days being what they are, we devour what we discover first, and then move on from that. There’s no way to tell if what “we discover first” is the first story written anymore. Give all of your stories a fair shake. Any way you can draw new readers in, take it!
So those are just a few tips I’ve picked up from over ten years of reading fanfiction, and being really, really picky. If you have any other ideas or questions, please leave them in the comments. We’re all aspiring writers here, or we hang with aspiring writers. Let’s share and share alike!
And would anybody be interested in a “Good Beginnings” post?
* I’ll admit it: I strive to write better all the time because I reread everything I wrote...constantly.
** Not that I know what I’m talking about at all...
*** Please be a better reader than me and review the stories you like. Even if you don’t have anything more to say than, “Man, I really liked this.”
**** Only exception being Come Away with Me spelling Carina as “Karina.”