A Guide to Writing Fanfic Summaries That Don’t Suck
Bad summaries, like bad tattoos, are mistakes that you have to live with for the rest of your writing career. You’d be surprised how good readers are at placing pen names with shitty summaries. Some people—like me—keep lists of the worst summaries they’ve seen and read over them on the occasional rainy day when they need a laugh. Once you’ve dug yourself a hole, it’s hard to climb back out. I’ve put together this brief guide to writing summaries because I’m tired of laughing.
10 Rules To Be Followed At All Costs:
1. Always spell-check your summary before publishing it on FFnet. This can be accomplished simply by opening a word document, typing the summary on the page, and checking for red, green, or blue squiggly lines. (Remember: green squiggly lines ARE NOT a green light, or a pat on the back, or a thumbs up. In fact, they’re more like a colorful middle finger. They mean you fucked up the grammar. So fix it.) Once there are no more squiggly lines and you’ve read the summary over at least two times without finding any errors, you can copy the summary and paste it in the box on FFnet. This is a good way of luring unsuspecting readers into looking at your first chapter even if you haven’t actually spell-checked the story itself.
2. When in doubt…lie by omission. If you suck at writing summaries, that’s okay. Most people on FFnet do. But it’s a rookie mistake to mention this weakness in the summary itself. That’s like telling a guy on the first day that you’re a convicted mass-murderer. Let him find out for himself, and the relationship might last a few minutes longer.
3. Don’t tell blatant lies. That means never say anything along the lines of “this is an epic, exhilarating story of its time” or “better than it sounds.” We both know that’s not true.
4. No emoticons. Ever.
5. Stick with what’s relevant. You only have a limited space, so don’t get sidetracked. Ideally, a summary should summarize the story. Telling readers that you’re in middle school, or that you wrote the first draft on the back of a used napkin, or that this amazing plot came to you in a vision or a dream is all information better left to an author’s note. That way it’s easier for me to skip reading it.
6. Don’t threaten your readers. There’s nothing worse than starting off on the wrong foot by making explicit threats. It really sets the wrong tone. Remember, these people haven’t even decided to read your story yet. So telling them that you won’t update until you get ten reviews is a surefire way of convincing them that you’re a needy asshole. Only pretentious, insecure writers are allowed to hold chapters ransom, and they, at least, have the decency to put their obnoxious demands in the author’s note.
7. Avoid clichés. Phrases like “read and review,” “no flames,” “this is my first story,” “lots of lemons,” and “jane is a an outcast and even though she’s really pretty and talented no one has ever been nice to her for some reason until john the mysterious hot jock shows up and falls in love with her at first sight but too bad he’s a player” only serve to clutter the summary. It certainly doesn’t make your story memorable. How can a reader remember a story she never bothered to read?
8. Keep the trophies in the trophy case (not the summary). Unless your story won an Oscar for best screenplay, I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t know what the Sparkle Moonlight Awards are. I don’t know what the criteria for judging was or how many other stories were nominated in the category for “Best Marriage Proposal in a Oneshot Written in Iambic Pentameter.” It’s great that you won and that you feel good about yourself. Because you should. You should also know that readers will find this only slightly more impressive than your fifth grade spelling bee trophy. (Oh, hey, you misspelled “cheek” in the third paragraph.)
9. If you ask a question, make sure to end the sentence with a question mark. Do you have any idea how annoying it is when writers end questions with a period. Have you ever read a summary with three questions in a row. Did you have a hard time deciding what they were asking because there were no question marks. If not, maybe now you have.
10. Finally, if you ever find yourself wanting to include the label “AU OOC” in your summary, please don’t. Instead, go to this site to post your story. This will help avoid any confusion that readers may experience by finding a story that has absolutely nothing to do with the fandom it’s been posted in. We don’t need another Fifty Shades of Grey fiasco.
I hope you found this list helpful. If you have any questions or concerns about any of these tips…well, I’m not sure what else to do.