summaries and tags

If you’ve been reading fanfiction or prose online, you know that almost every author provides a little summary for their stories for you to read before you dive into the story. But what should that summary actually contain, and when can it be considered a good summary?

The purpose of those summaries is obvious - they’re created to grab the reader’s attention and to make them click the story. They give an insight into what awaits the reader, what characters the story is focused on and whatever the author feels like telling the reader. It is there to generate clicks, basically.
However, it should never be clickbait. If a reader is interested in a story and starts reading it, looking forward to reading something they’re really excited about, and then finds out that the story tells a completely different tale, you might just have lost a reader forever.

As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to give an overview over the general idea you based the story on. Everything more than that is too much detail - however, sometimes it can be a good idea throwing in a spicy little detail your readers are looking forward to.

When you read a summary, what makes you click the story? The urge to know how the things happened that the story promises you to talk about. Adding to that, a fanfiction might also reveal answers to questions the original didn’t even answer, so that’s always interesting as well.
On your way through countless fanfictions, you by now should have noticed what you like and don’t like in summaries. Everyone approaches them differently, and this is just my way to do things. Would you like an example?

Coming Home

As a floe drifts away from the inhospitable wasteland Antarctica is, four penguins make their way into a glorious, but also unknown future. A future full of adventure and exciting danger, filled with friendship and love, paired with disappointment, failure and not only emotional pain. Their journey might not be what they dreamt of, but it is what Denmark and the rest of the world needed.

This is, at a point where I am not even halfway through writing the fanfiction, a rough translation of the summary I might be going for. If you know the movies and the series, you’ll know that you don’t know much about what happened in Denmark, let alone about what else happened in their past. The summary tells you where the story is placed - after the beginning scene of their own movie, and it lets you look forward to all the mysteries about their past the series left unresolved, such as Denmark, Mexico, Guatemala, Doris, and Manfredi and Johnson. It might need a little more detail, and a little more work on the wording, but it pretty much sums up what I like in summaries. You don’t get to know too much, but you immediately think of a ton of things the story might be dealing with.

Also, you might have noticed that I didn’t use any tags. I used to spam my summaries with tags and terms back in 2013, but I feel like that isn’t really necessary. There’s always the header which you can have at the beginning of the first chapter and which can contain all of the tags you feel it needs, and that’s what I’m going for with this fanfiction. Some tags are already given away from the category I’ll upload to (which will probably be pain / comfort and romance) and the rating (in this case P16-slash), and there isn’t too much left to say, apart from a list of pairings and potentially lime, but since that scene only exist in my scene plan so far, it might not even make it into the final version. For some chapters there might be a whump warning, but that again is something that would belong into the header of those chapters and not into the summary itself.

So yes, that I how I approach summaries. Little to no tags, and a rather rough overview of the original idea the entire thing was based on. It doesn’t give too much away, and it sounds way more interesting than other things I’ve come across so far. However, it’s definitely not the only way to write a summary. So here are a few examples.

This is how I imagine the backstory.
I mean, yes, it does tell you what the story is going to be about, and it doesn’t give away too much, but it also doesn’t sound too creative. There certainly are people out there who appreciate summaries like this, but let’s just say - they’re not exactly my cup of tea. This summary is better than having no summary, but that’s about it, at least for me.

This is the very first story I am writing, so please don’t be mean, and I’m sorry for all the spelling mistakes.
This contains all of the things a summary should not contain. First of all - it doesn’t matter if it is your first story. We all had our first story, and if you want to put that somewhere, put it in the header or in the A/N, but not in the summary. Also, nobody will be mean - I’ve never come across anyone who left mean reviews. If anything, they were criticising a story constructively, and that’s something we can learn from.
Lastly - if you already tell me in the beginning that you made a lot of mistakes, why would I want to read the story? And also, if you know that you have issues with that, why don’t you ask for a beta? There is a place for you to explain why you don’t have a beta - that’s called A/N, and I’m sure there are people who will offer to help you.

The empty summary. This only works out if your title is so intriguing that people are interested in taking a look at the story anyways, but let’s be honest here - who decides to read a book without having read what it says on the back? I uploaded stories without a summary as well, and none of them did particularly good in terms of clicks and reviews. I don’t really mind that since I write more for myself than for others, but if you’re looking for more readers, I wouldn’t advise putting nothing into your summary.

slash (Kipper, Skans); Skivate (no slash), whump, fear, EA (the penguin who loved me), missing scene, darkfic
The tag overload. I haven’t seen this particular combination so far, but I’ve seen quite some stories that just put loads of tags as their summary. Yes, it does make the reader aware of what they will encounter throughout the story, but that’s about it. We know about the timeline, and we know it’s going to be quite dark, and that might grab somebody’s attention, but not everyone’s.

In this story, Helena will find out about a secret organisation and together they fight an alien invasion and save the world.
This is what I would consider to be too much. If your summary does give away everything the story includes, there’s no need to read the story anymore. If someone spoils you the end of a story, there’s no fun in reading the story anymore since you already know how it all ends.

La danza de la muerte - the dance with death. Can our heroes survive the fight against their past?
Given the fact that the story itself is called “la danza de la muerte”, this is a summary that might actually work out. It’s rather short, but it explains the title and lets us know that the story will discover some pre-canon things

Last but not least, there’s one important thing you should keep in mind when writing a summary - do get rid of any spelling and grammar mistakes! The summary is the first impression a reader gets from your story, and it should be a good impression. Mistakes in the summary make the reader assume that there are also many mistakes in the story itself, and if it seems like you didn’t put a lot of effort into the summary, people will think you didn’t put a lot of effort into the rest of the story as well.

What do you look for in a summary? Which summaries intrigue you, and which don’t? Feel free to leave your opinion and one or another example in the comments down below!