Thursday, April 16, 2009


I’ve been working the last several days on chapter summaries of my novel. This is for an agent who invited me to submit my work. The end result will run to four pages, each with two columns.

Chapter summaries are interesting creatures. You have to pull out the essence of the chapter and express it is 1-3 sentences. My longest two or three are fifty words long. Most are in the thirties and forties, with a handful under twenty. The agent says he wants to see the flow of the story. That sounds like a worthwhile reason.

Summarizing is a challenging mental exercise. A similar effort is called synthesizing. My Merriam-Webster Dictionary says a summary tells the main points briefly, while a synthesis is a combination of parts into a whole. I’m sure some of my education cohorts could explain the difference between the two, but that doesn’t concern me right now. “Telling the main points briefly” sounds like exactly what I’ve been trying to do.

Once I finish, I’m going to study the whole to see if I’ve missed expressing any elements essential to the story. I’ve already become aware of one crucial plot ingredient that isn’t strong enough. Going back and figuring out where and how to strengthen it will be a good setup for the rewriting I have yet to finish. Or perhaps I will decide I have it expressed well enough in the text and just need to get that clear expression into the summary.

I remember sitting with family members working to write a summary of each of my parents’ lives for their funeral programs. Each of them lived fewer than eighty years. Today I read the funeral program of a friend who lived ninety amazing and eventful years—again, a summary, only this one even more condensed.

I wonder what kind of summary someone will write about my life when I’m gone. All I know today is that I hope to add a lot more to the whole before that happens. Then let someone else figure out how to cover the main points briefly or weave the parts into a whole.

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