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One of the hardest writing skills I had to learn was how to condense my 40,000 + word story into less than 200 words, which is basically the back cover text for the book. This is one of my hardest tasks as a published author. It’s very difficult to summarize a story in less than 200 words without giving away any of the surprises in the story. Go ahead . . . try it some time. It is not easy.
And if that’s not enough, try condensing your story’s plot into a summary less than 40 words. That’s about how much you could imagine might stuff into a walnut shell. Hence, the skill of learning how to write a “nutshell summary.
Here is an example of a 22-word “nutshell” summary for Long Ride Home.
Andi’s poor choices plunge her into danger when she takes her horse Taffy and leaves her home on the Circle C ranch.
Here is the 200-word (or less) back cover summary.
Twelve-year-old “Andi” Carter attracts trouble the way her palomino mare, Taffy, attracts flies on a hot summer day. Lately, she can’t do anything right, from forgetting important chores to putting herself in danger with her brother Chad’s wild stallion. After a particularly scary incident when Andi gets in trouble again, she wonders if her family would be better off without her. So she saddles up Taffy and leaves the Circle C ranch.
But her escape quickly leads to frightening encounters with a horse thief and vicious young lady. Turns out life on her own is downright terrifying! Home is where Andi belongs, but how can she go back without her beloved mare?
Now, I challenge you to think of a “nutshell” summary for the story you might be entering in the fall contest (or any contest), or for the fan fiction story you might be thinking about sending. It’s good practice! Nutshell summaries are what you find in library catalogs. Here are some examples.
Fleischman, By the Great Horn Spoon: To save his sister’s home, young Jack and his butler rush off to California to join the ’49ers in their hunt for gold.
Lewis, C.S., The Horse and His Boy: A talking horse and a servant-boy save Narnia from invasion.
Tolkien, The Hobbit: Bilbo Baggins sets out to help the dwarves reclaim their home and treasures in the Lonely Mountain from an evil dragon.
Sperry, Call it Courage: Mafatu, the son of a Great Chief of Polynesia, overcomes his fear of the sea and proves he isn’t a coward.
Brady, Esther Wood, Toliver’s Secret: Ten-year-old Ellen Toliver must conquer her timidity to take a secret message through enemy lines during the Revolutionary War.
So, can you do it? Want to take the challenge? Here it is: In a comment below, think of a book you are reading or have read, or a story you are writing, or even a fan story or your contest story. Write the name of the book (or story) and then write the one- or two-sentence summary in your comment. Don’t be shy. Give it a try! Remember:
Forty words or less and write it in the present tense. Ready, set, go!