• ThumbnailTwelve Trials of Triskelion – Week 05 2015!!
    Triskelion Week 05 2015!!
    It’s the Twelve Trials of Triskelion – Week 05 2015!!

    We have come to your intrepid reporter’s favorite week! Tell us all about it, […]

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    I’m combining the fourth prompt and Professor Miranda Fave’s homework assignment into a single post, since they’re both character-focused.

    Steff’s prompt was: What character do you love to write most?  What […]

  • So the question Steff posed was this: “Writing a summary, how do you do it?  And what about the story summaries of others draws you in?”

    I have to confess I have an advantage when it comes to writing summaries, or what, in the publishing world, they call “jacket copy.”  One of my majors in college was Communications, and I’ve spent the better part of my adult life (almost as long as a few of our Ad Astrans have been alive) in political lobbying, public relations and commentary, doing nothing but persuasive communications — opinion columns, speechwriting, fundraising and marketing letters, lobbying letters, advertising copy, you name it.

    What’s the connection?  Well, that’s really what summaries are, when it comes down to it — persuasive writing.  How are you going to convince people to give your story, out of all the other fantastic stories, a shot?  The first thing people will see when they visit your story’s title page is your summary.  It has to draw them in.

    Personally, the first thing I do is try to make the length, tone and complexity of my teasers match the length, tone and complexity of my stories.  If the story I want people to read is only 1,500 words long, I’m not going to make them read through 500 words of promotional copy before clicking on the story.  I figure I have a couple of sentences’ worth of space to make my pitch for a short piece.  (Maybe three or four sentences if they are short.)  For a novella or novel, I’m not afraid to write a few paragraphs worth of intro, similar to what you’d find on the back of a paperback book.  People deserve to know what they’re getting into before committing to opening up a 130,000-word document!

    So, for example, with my short fic Broken (3089 words), I kept the intro short, offering just enough information to give an idea of what the story was about without giving any plot details:  John Quigley’s life so far, measured by the noses he’s smashed in anger — and those he managed to refrain from breaking.

    Right away you know this is John’s story, and if you don’t know John, you now know that he’s got a violent streak — and that sometimes he keeps it in check.  What you don’t know is why he’s like that, what sets him off, and what holds him back.  To find out, you have to read the piece.

    Now, here’s the thing: A lot of people simply won’t care enough to click through.  Broken only has a read count of 164, and that’s mostly due to the fact that it was a challenge entry that won, and then became a featured story.  It’s got a lot working against it — it’s about an original character that most people won’t immediately be familiar with, and there’s no mention of anything sci-fi in the description … it’s a character piece, not a space battle.  Could I write copy that would draw more people in?  Of course.  But I prefer not to be the Upworthy or Buzzfeed of Ad Astra.  More than anything, I want to satisfy my readers’ expectations (not through fanservice — that’s back in Upworthy territory — but I never want anyone to feel duped or let down by the promises I offer in a summary).  I write my summaries with my intended readership in mind.  The kind of person who’ll be drawn in by the description of Broken is exactly the kind of person I want to read it.

    For an example of a longer story and its teaser, we can look at the summary for Star Trek: Tesseract — Book II.  This is a novel-length work-in-progress, and if I want people to commit to 1) opening it and 2) sticking with it, I need to let them know what they can expect from it, without giving the whole plot away.  So here’s what I came up with:

    In 2378, the crew of the USS Voyager delivered a devastating blow to the Borg Collective when they destroyed a key transwarp hub to the Alpha Quadrant, and the Borg unicomplex.  They hoped it would be the end of the Borg threat.  They were wrong.Nearly eight years later, the crew of the USS Tesseract — the first official Starfleet mission of exploration to the Delta Quadrant – has found a quadrant in ruins, torn apart by the Collective and a new, more terrifying kind of Borg — the Borg Resistance.  They are free of the Collective, free of established protocols, without cohesion or unity, and operating under cloak.  Their new superweapon could put an end to warp society as the galaxy has known it – but it’s also the only thing standing between the Borg Collective and its ultimate goal of assimilating or destroying the entire United Federation of Planets.Now, while the Federation and its tenuous allies prepare for a full-scale Borg invasion, the Tesseract crew — alone in the Delta Quadrant — must find a way to finish what Voyager started, and one young ex-Borg Starfleet officer must decide whether to embrace his destiny … or boldly defy it.

    So what do we learn from this summary?

    This is a Borg-centered story, set after the events of ST:VOY’s series finale, Endgame.  The mention of the Borg civil war calls back to the two-part episode Unimatrix Zero, in which the Federation actually helped to start that war (it was never mentioned again).  We know one faction of Borg have developed a superweapon that threatens the stability of the galaxy, and we know there is just one Federation ship in the Delta Quadrant that has a chance to stop them.  We know there’s an ex-Borg officer on board the ship, and that his fate is somehow inextricably bound up in all of this.

    Now, if you look at the character list, you’ll quickly figure out that this is a story about Icheb, but I don’t even throw that into the summary.  Why?  Because he’s not a popular character in fandom.  If I had made him the focus of the summary, that would be an immediate turnoff to all the people who hate 1) VOY and 2) Icheb as they remember him from the show (let’s face it, he could be a bit whiny).  By keeping some details back, I’m hopefully able to intrigue people who might not otherwise be willing to give an Icheb story a shot.  And with the Tesseract series, it seems to have worked, as it is one of the top ten most read and reviewed series on the site. (THANK YOU, READERS.)

    My best suggestions for writing compelling summaries:

    1. Don’t give the whole plot away.

    2. Don’t tell me more about your original character than is relevant to the story.  If he/she is a relation of a canon character and their relationship is key to the plot, fine, mention it, but I personally find it a turnoff when people throw stuff like that in just to have a “hook.”  I’m not going to read a story about James Tiberius Kirk the VIII just because he’s a descendant of the original.  Likewise with PTSD sufferers, people with disabilities, people from Andor, or whatever.  If it’s not integral to the plot, then it’s just a detail that can be weaved into the story.  Let me find out on my own.

    3. Don’t promise what you’re not going to deliver.  Be realistic about what your story offers.  Just because a romance takes place at the height of the Dominion War doesn’t make it an action story.  And just because two characters are in love doesn’t make an epic space battle into a romance.  Sure, use the tags to let people know the story includes those elements, but don’t promote a story as something it isn’t.  People will feel cheated.

    4. If you can’t be compelling, be concise.  Case in point: Launch and Separation. That story is, at least on the surface, about two exceptionally awkward teenagers lying on the grass saying “I love you” for the first time, even though her parents object to their relationship.  There’s no way to make that sound compelling — for one thing, it’s been done a thousand times since Romeo and Juliet.  So I wrote: “There’s the family you’re born with.  And the family you choose.  Transitions can be awkward.”  Short, sweet, and addresses the true meaning of the piece, which isn’t just the romance between Maren and Icheb, but Maren’s coming-of-age and simultaneous decision to choose Icheb over even her own family if it comes to that.  And that leads me to ….

    5.  Try to hit at the true themes of your work in the summary.  Is it about destiny?  Self-sacrifice?  True love?  The value of diplomacy?  The necessity of war?  Try to look past the surface elements and grab readers with the promise of a story that will address themes we all identify with.  How will this story make your readers feel?  What will it make them think about?  That’s what you should try to hint at in a summary.

    Just my $.02 on persuasive writing, which I normally charge actual money for.  😉  Enjoy the freebie and I hope it helps.  If you disagree with anything I’ve said here or have anything to add, please let me know in the comments.  I would love to know what people think about this topic.

  • ThumbnailBook Club Choice #8
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  • OMG! Secret Lives of Combadges got a shoutout! My day is made! XD

    This was a fascinating read. Sheds huge light on what makes MF tick as a writer. We’ve known each other five years and there’s still stuff […]