Practice in the Art of Summaries and Log Lines

Let me begin with a confession: I seriously cannot summarize things to save my life.  I’m horrible at it.  I always feel like I’m either being way to vague or not giving nearly enough information.  I can’t find a happy medium.  This is just as true for my own work as it is for summarizing someone else’s work.  In my college courses, when I’m required to write short summaries and annotated bibliographies all I want to do is tear my own hair out from the frustration.  I know that for a novel summary, you need to introduce the main character, the antagonist, and main conflict.  I know it should be focused on the action.  However, this isn’t always as easy as it seems, especially when you have a few different conflicts all intertwined with each other, which is usually how my plots turn out.  You need to give the readers a good idea of the plot without getting caught up in the all the details, all the twists and turns.  It’s HARD, people!

That said, I know I have no choice but to write a summary and log line for Midnight’s Knife.  It’s simply a part of the process.  So I’ve been working on it for the last couple days.  And now I’d like to share some of what I’ve come up with, and get some opinions.  Please tell me what you think.  I need all the help I can get.

This is the first one I wrote:

Almost eight hundred years ago, a priest of a secret Catholic Order gathered thirty men and women and, using a mix of Christian and pagan magics, blessed them with special abilities and a Holy Calling to fight demons in the Name of God.  And he called them the Gladii Dei, the Swords of God.  The descendant lines of these men and women are called The Thirty Families.  At all times, one person from each family is Called to be a Sword, to continue the Holy War against the demons and protect humanity.

Gabrielle Wrath is a Sword — taken from her family to be trained at the age of ten, she has been hunting demons for ten years.  Filled with anger and eager for a fight, she goes to Chicago to investigate unusual demon activity, only to find things have suddenly become much more complicated.  Now, she must face an inexhaustible enemy and find a way to protect the magic that binds the Swords to their fate, or risk losing the power of the Swords forever and thus allow the demons to dominate the earth.

However, she has suddenly discovered something about herself she never thought could be possible.  And as she tries to deal with new-found feelings, feelings the Church deems a sin, she begins to wonder if the Swords are even worth saving.

I’ve decided I don’t like this one much at all.  Too much of it is focused on backstory, which the readers will get within the first few chapters.  Also, parts, I fear, give too much away, and other parts are far too vague.

My second, version is more concise, avoids too much of the backstory, and gives more useful detail about what the plot is actually about:

Gabrielle Wrath is a Sword of God, a hunter with a Holly Calling employed by the Catholic Church.  When she is sent on a routine mission to kill a demon in Houston, she expects a quick easy assignment that will barely relieve her boredom.  However, as a surge of demons begins to overtake the city, she realizes that there is something much larger at stake.  To make matters worse, fellow Sword and surrogate brother Patrick Arrow has gone missing, her new friend Tabitha has made her personal life a confusing mess, and her partner Pearce fears she may give in to sin.  Now, as everything Gabrielle believes is turned on it head, she must find a way to fight an inexhaustible enemy and protect the magic of the Swords or risk losing the power to prevent the demons from dominating the earth.  But there’s one more problem: she’s no longer sure she wants to.

That one, I think, is probably pretty close to what I want a paragraph summary to say.  It’s so difficult to find the balance of giving enough detail about the plot to get the reader’s interest without giving away too much.  I think I’m a little closer to that balance here.

Then, I have a short two-sentence summary:

When Gabrielle Wrath, a Sword of God, goes to Houston to deal with a demon problem, it all seems so routine.  But as an inexhaustible surge of demons begins to overtake the city, and a woman turns her personal life upside down, Gabrielle begins to realize that there may be a whole lot more at stake.

And a one-sentence, log line, which was harder to do than it had any right to be:

A demon hunter employed by the Catholic Church must face an inexhaustible enemy and her own beliefs  or risk allowing the demons to overrun the earth.

I’m not sure if this log line says enough.  I was unsure about using the phrase “demon hunter,” but at the same time if I said “Sword of God,” without the explanation that appears in the longer summary, no one will know what I’m talking about.

Obviously, writing short summaries and log lines is an art in and of itself, and its not one I have the talent for.  But I guess all I can do is keep trying until it comes out right.  And, of course, as I’m still in the drafting and revision stage, I’ve got plenty of time to agonize over it before I’ll need to have one ready to use.

Are any of you really good at this kind of thing?  If you are, how did you learn?  Any suggestions or sources you can send my way?  And, seriously, any opinions on my first attempts?

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2 thoughts on “Practice in the Art of Summaries and Log Lines

  1. Pingback: Midnight’s Knife: Gabrielle Wrath « Amanda Rudd's Blog

  2. For me, all of it was okay but I don’t know for others. I think you need some inspiration and some unwind. Better clear your mind on any other issue and focus more in what you need to do. I hope this can help.

    Mary from lit cabane

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