Prepping for NaNoWriMo: Step Two – The Short Summary

The Scary Short Summary

Once you have your idea, the next step to success is The Short Summary.  This is your short outline, your basic overview of the beginning, middle, and end of your story.  For some of us this is the scariest part of the process!

As you write your book’s short summary, do it quickly.  Don’t spend a long time stressing over it, but rip it off like a band-aid.  Have a checklist in front of you if you need it to remember some specific elements of a good short summary: a hook, an introduction to your protagonist, a hint of the villain or insurmountable odds, some mystery to leave the reader thirsty.  This by no means needs to be perfect. Have fun with it!

How I Write Short Summaries

I like to write sales copy for the back of my imaginary book.  For my upcoming mystery, Heat Exhaustion, this was the book summary I wrote.  It took me fifteen minutes to come up with the idea and then write the summary, using an article about galleries showcasing art representing summer.


Multiple galleries are showcasing art representing the heat of summer, but one gallery outshines them all. The photographs in this gallery are so unique, so life-like, yet bizarre and troubling at the same time. Images are shown with people dying or dead in the heat of the desert. One even has the buzzards circling, emphasizing the bleakness of humanity.

Sue Callahan, a special education teacher and an artist with a showing at another gallery, comes to see the interesting and unusual photographs on display. One image strikes fear to the core of her being, for the person portrayed in the photograph is none other than her sister – her baby sister, who she has not been able to contact for three weeks. As Sue begins to study the other photographs in detail, she realizes that this is not art – this is murder.  

When pressed, nobody seems to know exactly who the artist is. Why have they killed these women? Are they really dead? And, most important of all, where are they? Sue knows she must find out.


Sometimes I combine book trailers with movie trailers in my head.  Make them as interesting as possible.  The short summary is in essence an elevator pitch.  You want to be able to read it in under a minute, but have it tell you the main plot of the story.  Notice how I introduced the protagonist, even giving her a little back story.  It has a hook in the first paragraph.  And it ends with a mystery.  It’s not perfect, but it helps me visualize quickly what I want to have happen in the story.

I wrote this during a workshop, so I was surrounded by people and a time limit. Sometimes time limits can work wonders, as can being in a group. Try setting a timer for fifteen minutes and write furiously to see how much you can write. The instant feedback of a group can be a great motivator to force your brain to work. Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, try your local library or bookstore. Look for a local MeetUp group. Or, for the very ambitious, create your own group! Feel free to leave your book summary in the comments below!

Read Step Three here.

Read Step One here.

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