Before I begin, I figured I'd tell you a little about myself (and if you aren't interested, feel free to skip – I'm not going to come to your house armed with an axe). My name is Green (not really, of course), but I usually go by GD, from another username I have. I am a seventeen year-old girl from the UK and I occasionally write and, more often, read and review fanfiction and original fiction.
As you can see, I am not your English teacher in disguise.
I do not consult the great divines of writing, so not everything I say will be from your point of view. In fact, it may be utter rubbish to you. Fair enough – not everyone has the same taste in music so we certainly won't have the same taste in fictional texts.
I just try to cover general points, rather than specific things, that tick me off.
In these chapters, I will try to be concise. I'll throw in examples and references here and there so people can gain a better understanding. Doesn't matter if you don't get the reference, it will still apply to almost everything else out there.
I'll mention this at the beginning of each chapter, as an author's note, just so you guys know that between the updates I didn't suddenly become J.K. Rowling (even then, she's no professor in English either).
Also keep in mind this is really for the beginning/ intermediate writers out there. Advanced writers will (hopefully) know a lot more than this in all complexity. Additionally, this is tailored to stories on Fanfiction and Fictionpress only, although it shouldn't differ too much on other websites.
So, with that out of the way, I will start with something reasonably small.
As everyone should know, the summary is a small, short description on what the story entails (and perhaps other details, such as reason for ratings or shippings). From the summary, one should be able to grasp and understanding of what will be goin' down in the novel. If one likes it, one reads the story. If one doesn't, one moves on.
Here are my top tips for writing a good summary that will draw in the readers/ reviewers. There are probably many, many more, so don't feel limited.
You have a three-hundred and eighty-four (384) character limit. Use it!
It's disappointing to see lacklustre summaries where the story is, in actual fact, really good. Stories where the summary is only a sentence long. Would a book in real-life have a blurb a sentence long?
I'll make an example here. We'll start with Super Mario, shall we? Say, in this story, Mario goes to have tea and cakes with Princess Peach, where she gets captured by Bowser. Bowser, being the moron that he is, drops his plans to kill the Princess while he leaves with her. Mario picks them up and, obviously, is absolutely fearful for Peach's life and has to go on an epic cross-country journey to save her backside from the clutches of evil.
An amateur would only write this:
'Mario goes into the castle to see his wife, Princess Peach. Bowser captures her and Mario has to go after her to save her life.'
Well, that's just dandy… so what? In every Mario game, the titular plumber has to save her life! You want to attract readers? You need to make it stand out – use all the words you can.
'Mario goes into the castle to see his wife, Princess Peach. While sipping tea and snacking on biscuits, the princess is captured by Bowser. But Bowser drops his next plan behind, and Mario doesn't like what he sees.'
Alright, I admit to not knowing much about Mario. But, even so, the second summary is far more descriptive than the first. You understand what the story will be about. You have a flavour of what will happen that will inevitably attract more readers than the first one could hope for.
There are some exceptions – oneshots being the most prominent in my mind. Since oneshots only last a chapter and, perhaps, not a lot of action goes down, it's okay to have short summaries. Even so, be as descriptive as possible! A reader would still like to know what happens whether your story is one chapter long or one hundred chapters long!
Spelling and grammar are as important in the summary as they are in the main story.
If your spelling and grammar are atrocious in the summary, readers will assume your spelling and grammar are atrocious in the story. They will not read your story.
I don't even think I need an example – this should speak for itself. If u rite lik this in your summary for you beloved sonic the hegehog fanfiction no one will want to reed it.
No-one is perfect, so expect mistakes from time-to-time! That's okay! Just misspelling Harry Poter every other sentence can be grating to some. Especially the grammar Nazis. Do not provoke those guys – they have angry mobs at the ready. I would know: I am one.
'First fanfiction/ story...'
As lovely as it is to welcome you to Fanfiction/ Fictionpress… no-one cares.
If the summary is good, readers will take a look regardless of whether or not it's your first piece.
On a worse note, some people are highly off-put when they see this. They immediately assume that you are a newbie, have no idea how the world of online fiction works, and ignore your story.
I made this mistake with my first piece of writing. Ultimately, you're wasting precious words that could be used to entice more readers to your story.
'… so please be gentle'.
I see you're new to the Internet, then.
Yes, be considerate online. That is an unwritten rule of Internet life. You don't need to remind your readers of this fact.
It's horrible to say this, but the Internet is like a jungle. When your story goes online, any old geezer can read and review it. Saying 'please be gentle' isn't going to deter them from being nasty if they wish. It's possibly fodder for the trolls.
Of course, not everyone out there is a monster. I don't consider myself one (although I feel like this entire how-to is rather hypocritical). Above everything, though, you are wasting characters that could be put to better use.
'R&R!'/ 'Please read!'
Thee most worthless things ever seen on a summary.
R&R, in fanfiction terms, stands for 'Read and Review'.
Considering that you've posted it on Fanfiction/ Fictionpress, you obviously want people to read and review your story! Why else would it be up there on the netz?
'Don't like? Don't read'.
You don't say?
If someone doesn't like the idea of Cloud being mauled to death by a pack of hungry armadillos, as described in your summary, obviously they are not going to read it.
If someone doesn't like the idea of N and Ghetsis having hot yaoi incest times, as described in your summary, obviously they are not going to read it.
If someone doesn't like the idea of Master Chief being completely Out Of Character and having a rave on Sgt. Johnson's dead body, as described in your summary, obviously they are not going to read it.
You get the point, right?
This is why it is vital that your summary contains certain parts of a story to tell readers what will happen. Like I said before, if they don't like what they see they naturally won't read it. You don't need to tell them that!
Super sugoi shipping should be up there too.
Mention it in the summary or the beginning chapter author notes, especially if romance is not the main theme.
Not everyone likes the same shipping as you. And as fluffy as the Percy/ Rachel side-story is, some people will not appreciate the couple together. Put it in the summary or ANs, and then people are at least warned that shipping will happen. Then, they don't have to read it if they don't like it or skip the shippy parts.
It is no different from mentioning that a story has lemons, or OOC-ness, or gore and the like.
Which brings me too…
The important stuff that should have a spot somewhere.
Lemons. Limes. Alternate Universe/ Reality fics (AUs/ ARs). Out of Character (OOC). Original/ Fan Characters (OCs/FCs). Gore. Violence.
They should all be mentioned in your summary or chapter ANs.
Sure, I like a good action scene. But I'm not a fan of huge amounts of violence – I did not need the mental image of one's guts being ripped out, thank you. Provide a warning so readers know it comes. It is not pleasant when you read something you really didn't want to!
:) :D :( :/ :O
Again, waste of space. Save these for author's notes (but don't go too nuts!).
Continuations from previous stories.
'Sequel to My Pencil Case and Me' or 'Prequel to Hand Sanitiser' is actually kinda' important, so stick it in there when you can. If not, put it in the author's notes. There is nothing more annoying reading a story where it refers to or implies events that you haven't read about. The effect of irony is lost, too, if you're reading a prequel or you will be spoiled, if you're reading a sequel.
Also, if your story is discontinued, let your readers know. There is nothing more frustrating than starting to read a story, getting to a good part, and then discovering that there is no ending. I don't know about anyone else, but if a story is discontinued, I am not going to read it!
The same goes for a hiatus somewhat. If you don't like posting it on your summary (it can put readers off), stick it in author's notes or even your profile. Let your watchers know that you will continue your story, just not for now!
If another user continues your story for you, make sure to post that somewhere as well. This doesn't have to be included in the summary though – you can have it in author's note or even another chapter if you like.
Rated A for Awesome.
'Rated T for swearing' can be relevant or not, depending on your story.
If you've officially rated the story T because of swearing and other things (such as sexual innuendos), then you really don't need the reminder in the summary. It's redundant.
At the same time, some readers like to know what they're in for. 'Rated T for swearing' could mean that they avoid the story because they don't like cuss words.
This is where I sit on the fence. Include it or not, make sure that it's for good reason!
And, for obvious reasons, rate your fic correctly. Either that, or have the mods breathing down your neck and threatening immediate take-down.
'Chapter eight is up!'
Your story will automatically move to the top of the filter when you post a new chapter, your watchers are notified and, don't worry, many people are capable of looking at the number of chapters. Therefore, this is also meaningless.
'I suck at summaries'.
This is immediately evident when you put it in your summary to begin with!
Instead of complaining and trying for the sympathy vote to get people to read your story, try to write a decent summary with a good amount of words. Improvement comes with practice, and writing 'I suck at summaries' is not helping you to improve. Anything that doesn't have this is immediately better, in my eyes.
As well as this, psychologically, it reminds you that you, well, 'suck' at writing summaries. That's not good for your health! Be confident with yourself and your story! You're posting it on the Internet for the world to see, aren't you?
Tidbits of real-life information are as pointless as a blunt pencil.
'I wrote this on a whim.'
'Sorry for not updating in a while!'
'My brother gave me the idea while on a plane journey from Alaska to Timbuktu'.
Are the relevant to the story you are telling?
Put it in your author's notes. They waste characters that could be used on other things!
The cover image of your fiction is very important too.
At least try to have one, even if it's official art or a little doodle or something. It's much better than the grey silhouette Fanfiction/ Fictionpress use when it doesn't have a picture.
Try to make it relevant too. As adorable as your dog is, he has absolutely nothing to do with your story on Twilight Sparkle's letters to Celestia.
I understand that a lot of the time, Fanfiction/ Fictionpress will use your profile picture as the cover image. If it ties in with your story, great! If not, consider changing it. Of course, try to glean permission off the original owner. If not, be sure to credit them or risk having an angry crowd of fans banging at your door. I have done so in my summary and my author's notes for one of my fanfictions, but it should at least be included in your author's notes somewhere.
I am number fourshot.
Oneshot, twoshot, fivehundredshot (please don't actually use that term), it shouldn't matter how many chapters they are: it needs to be included in the summary. Some people don't like read hugely long stories (I myself prefer oneshots, unless the story is very, very good), so inform them of the length.
Of course, chaptered stories or a collection of oneshots are slightly different, since most of the time authors have no idea how many chapters they'll have.
(Also, a fourshot plus is a mother flippin' chaptered story. Any person using this term that I have used for humourous purposes will be keelhauled halfway across the world).
This brings me to my final point – being concise. Concise means short and sweet. First rule of summaries: you do not waffle. Second rule of summaries: you do not waffle.
Like said previously, you have three hundred and eighty four characters to use. Keep it succinct; you don't want to give too much away. You run the risk of losing potential readers if your summary explains the entire story in a nutshell.
It pains me to read something when it's already revealed by a summary, too. If your summary states that the original character is the daughter of Link and Zelda, and it isn't immediately revealed at the start and the OC spends a few number of chapters discovering it… well, it sucks. The reader already knew that; hit 'em with something fresh! Keeping this a surprise adds that extra wow factor when reading a story.
On the flip side, it can be used for irony, but you need super pro skills to do that without boring anyone.
That's all for today, folks!
I'm not sure I covered everything that I wanted to (compare my memory to a goldfish and you already have an accurate picture of me). Got a question about what I addressed? Need some advice? Want to further reiterate a point or disagree? Feel free to drop a review or a PM. I'll try to answer as best I can.
A quick reminder that I am not the chosen one of writing – disagreeing is fine!
I hope that you have learned something from this – it was rather relieving to type, surprisingly. The next issue I will address will likely be formatting, but this has yet to be confirmed (or written, haha).
Thanks for reading!