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Please join us in welcoming @Irene to the staff team as a moderator for the Politics forum. Please consider her the first contact for any issues that arise in that section for the foreseeable future. Show her verdicts the same deference you show the current members of staff.

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Summary Workshop Reach Around

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by Eryr_Gwyn_Fanfic, May 16, 2015.

  1. Eryr_Gwyn_Fanfic

    Eryr_Gwyn_Fanfic First Year

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    Recently on IRC, Newcomb had a great idea for creating a thread about getting help with summaries.

    So here's the plan:

    1. Post a draft of a summary that you feel could use the community's input.

    2. While you're waiting for someone to make your summary less terribad, provide feedback on previous submissions.

    I'll include some resources in the form of previous threads and reddit posts to help out:

    https://forums.darklordpotter.net/showthread.php?t=21308

    http://www.reddit.com/r/HPfanfiction/comments/2v7cq4/what_makes_a_good_summary_how_do_you_make_sure/

    http://www.reddit.com/r/HPfanfiction/comments/2pclrd/fanfictions_best_summaries/

    [FONT=&quot] [/FONT]​

    Since I'm going first, I'll jump in once this thread has a reply.

    Newest Draft: Dobby banishes Harry and Hermione to a mysterious forest. Armed with only their wits and a desperate desire to survive, the two hold out hope for a rescue that proves to be more trouble than it’s worth. Snape hatches plots, Ron gets lonely, Sirius lends a hand and the goblins complicate everything.

    My biggest concern so far is that I'm spoiling a future plot point by hinting at rescue. Should that not be an issue since it gives more depth to the plot?
     
  2. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    Useful info: FF:Net gives you 384 characters for your summary.

    1. Depends on genre. If it's a mystery, don't spoil the mystery. If it's action, don't say who wins. Etc.

    2. Depends on how far into the story the rescue is. Is it the climax? Don't spoil it.

    3. Depends how important the plot point is? Is the fact that they're rescued the important part, or is it the exact nature of the rescue that is more important?

    You can easily formulate to mention rescue without guaranteeing its arrival:

    However, I think the summary has bigger problems than potential spoilers as to a rescue. If I saw this summary on FF.Net, I wouldn't click on it. It's too vague, especially the final sentence, which doesn't add anything other than to tell us which characters are the focus of the story. "Sirius lends a hand"? That doesn't mean anything. All it tells us that Sirius is involved in the plot, somehow. You have the character field for that. Don't double up the info in the summary.

    By ditching the last sentence, you can focus more on developing the central plot into a hook.

    1. When is the story taking place? Most readers absolutely need this info.

    2. Don't talk about Dobby sending them there. How they end up in the forest is non-essential for summary purposes. Plus, it sounds really stupid, like one of those "lock them in a broom closet so they kiss" shitfics.

    So we're now down to:

    Okay, now we're getting somewhere. The fat is cut (replace OotP with whenever it's set). But let's identify our USPs and flesh them out. I think we have three main hooks:

    1. Interesting setting.

    2. Wandless survival.

    3. Harry-Hermione survival dynamic.

    A wording change can make the setting and the survival element more menacing. Plus let's add more specific threats to introduce antagonism. Finally, let's bring in some hints as to character development:

    340 characters.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2015
  3. Eryr_Gwyn_Fanfic

    Eryr_Gwyn_Fanfic First Year

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    [MENTION]Actual_Cannibal_Taure[/MENTION] thanks very much for your detailed response. It's one thing for someone to provide a suggested new draft and quite another to have the reasoning behind each decision outlined in such exacting detail. It's certainly more than enough to put me on the right track and I'm grateful that you took the time to help me out.

    In keeping with Newcomb's idea of posting a summary of your own, do you have a submission? I doubt I'll be able to offer much in the way of insight, but perhaps someone else might have an idea worth considering to help you on your way.

    Edit: added a mention
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2015
  4. Swimdraconian

    Swimdraconian Denarii Host DLP Supporter

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    Eh, why not?

    Here's my current summary for Circular Reasoning:

    The first and last lines hit the spot. But the middle is a bit ambiguous. I feel like it could be both simpler and stronger. Right now, it's just a bunch of "hook" words linked together - it reads like a sentence made of story tags.

    Thoughts?
     
  5. Eryr_Gwyn_Fanfic

    Eryr_Gwyn_Fanfic First Year

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    I agree with your assessment that the first and last lines are quite strong.

    The first points me in the direction of the story's structure: a Harry-centric time travel fic. In sharp contrast to most of the stories in this subgenre, I can tell that this isn't the average do-over fic because Harry has a burden on his soul. That invites some questions in my mind as to what constitutes Harry's main source of conflict. Is it something he's going to wrestle with internally? Will there be a way to satisfy the holder of this debt? What happened in the future to make it 'desolate' and how does that shape Harry's state-of-mind?

    The third line gives me a scale of the sense of conflict mentioned in the first sentence. This won't be a slow-burning story with intrigue or political manoeuvering, but one where Harry is motivated by urgency. It also provides a sense of his character: that he is willing to resort to violence to accomplish his goals.

    The problematic second line could be helped by attempting to provide the reader some additional information on when the story takes place, hints as to how the conflict shapes the protagonist, and what level of agency Harry has available to shape his world in significant ways. You're right that it reads as a small list of possible plot points. While it's important to provide worthwhile selling points to your story to get the reader interested, I feel like some of the more specific entries on that list could be eliminated.

    1. 'Chaotic' past seems a bit overdone. If this is a time-travel fic with an (at least somewhat) apocalyptic origin, then it makes sense that Harry's past isn't all that rosy. It feels like you're repeating yourself.

    2. When the 'politics' part of 'Sidhe politics' is used in the same sentence as 'intrigue,' it makes me think uncharitably of Most Noble And Ancient House Of Potter-Black fics. While I know nothing at all about what or who a Sidhe is, I'm not inclined to read more because this portion paints a picture that clashes with the sentence following it. There's a sort of dissonance evoked by having intrigue followed immediately by 'desperation.'

    3. 'Questionable sanity' makes me think of the unreliable narrator trope. It could be extremely interesting and I think that if this were paraphrased it might end up becoming an excellent point in your story as it adds another source of conflict: Harry against his own sense of self.



    Mine isn't much better, but I hope it gives you a jumping off point.
     
  6. Swimdraconian

    Swimdraconian Denarii Host DLP Supporter

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    I like it. It's ten times more fluid than what I was working with before. I can write thousands of words of dialogue, but summaries leave me high and dry.

    This is what I came up with:

    Not sure what I'm going to put in that blank spot. Some of the leading themes in CR are corruption, consequence, and identity, but I don't want to be so ham-fisted as to just bolt them onto the summary. Addiction and dark magic also play a large part.

    Damn. It's hard to boil these things down to just 384 characters. I think I'm going to move this over to CR's WBA thread just so I don't take up too much space here.

    Cheers dude. You've been a massive help.
     
  7. Newcomb

    Newcomb Minister of Magic

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    I put an A/N at the end of my latest chapter on FFN asking for community feedback for my summary. Not the best plan, I know, but I did get some useful info.

    I could use a hand, though. I know mine's not great, and it's gone through several revisions. It's gotten better based on input I've gotten here, but it doesn't have that "reach out from the screen and grab you" / "lightning in a bottle" thing.

    Current version:

    Ideally, the summary would get across the info that's important for the story, but, well, what people think are the important points varies. Here's the list of things that could probably go in this summary.

    - Harry POV character / Years 1-7 reinterpretation of the series
    - Harry is a year older.
    - In-depth magical exploration
    - Hogwarts mysteries and exploration
    - Harry is besties with Cho and Cedric
    - Harry/Fleur
    - AU elements centered around the Dumbledores (Albus exiled, Ariana alive, Aberforth headmaster).

    Here are some of the more helpful comments I got on FFN. I'm not saying these are good ideas, but this seems to be a pretty fair holistic community feeling about what the summary should/shouldn't be like:

    Actual Cannibal Taure suggested one that actually reads pretty well if this was a crackfic.
    This one is pretty long, but I give big props to this person. The whole "don't lead with the mystery if it goes away after Year 1" is a very valid point, but not one I've been able to think of a way around without spoiling it.

    I actually like the first sentence here quite a bit. That whole setup - "A great wizard is X, Y, and Z - and Harry Potter has the makings of a great wizard." - definitely has that undefinable "yes" quality to it. This is one I could actually see starting from and working into something.

    Also, apropos of the fact that I had to dredge through the FFN reviews to find the quotes above, here's a gem. Can't quite decide if it's a troll or not:

    Anyway.

    Thoughts? My current thinking process about it goes something like this:

    Okay, so the thing about the Year 1 mystery is that it's a pain. If you don't mention it, then people are like WTF for the first few chapters and drop the fic. If you do mention it, then that's what the summary is about. If you try to mention it and also mention the important things about the fic, it reads like one of those "Poetic, literary sentence followed by boring description of plot and genre" summaries that a dime a dozen, like:

    "Fresh out of bright copper kettles and whiskers on kittens, Harry's going to have to settle for another one of his favorite things: revenge. Politics, Azkaban!Harry, Guitar Hero!Dementors, AU magic inspired by Mistborn."

    It's just... bleh. There's a better summary for my fic out there, I know it.
     
  8. Averis

    Averis Don of Delivery ~ Prestige ~

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    All of my want.

    I helped you write that summary and it was flawless!
     
  9. Newcomb

    Newcomb Minister of Magic

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    "Harry must uncover his past if he's to survive his future" is kind of a stock phrase that tells you nothing about the fic. Listing the state of the Dumbledores rolls off the tongue well, but it's not the most elegant way to say it. Then there's the thing with the mystery.

    I dunno, man. I think "flawless" is a good word for it. There's nothing you can point to and say that's wrong, but it just doesn't have that "wow" factor.

    EDIT: Also, to be clear, the one I came up with originally was way, way worse than the one that people in my WbA thread helped me with.
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2015
  10. Averis

    Averis Don of Delivery ~ Prestige ~

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    Personally feel the Dumbledores part needs work not the Erised part. Could be perceiv d as a turn off in many ways. Much better to say something about new friendships/relationships.
     
  11. Eryr_Gwyn_Fanfic

    Eryr_Gwyn_Fanfic First Year

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    Newcomb I think your current summary is pretty good, but I understand that urge to make it stand above the rest.

    In your bulleted list, I think that most of the items don't need mentioning:

    - The Harry POV can be inferred from your current summary, but the final sentence mentioning three of the Dumbledores by name dilutes this inference somewhat. The fact that this is a multi-year story reimagining the entire series is worthy of a mention in your summary, but will be tricky to do without adding "tags" to it (e.g. H/F, Post-CoS AU, Regency, etc).
    - Harry's slightly advanced age is a small tidbit that shouldn't take up space in your summary. As a potential reader, it's not going to be the thing that pushes me over the edge to click on your story and devote time to it.
    - I'm not entirely certain what your exploration of magic entails. Are you performing a retcon of established canon lore and putting forth a new paradigm or is this story going to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of canon compliant spells? Nevertheless, this idea is unique enough that it could merit a mention - at most a brief allusion - in your summary.
    - 'Hogwarts mysteries and exploration' is vague enough that it could be used to describe the first six books of the original series and doesn't tell me anything about the role the protagonists play in your story. Who is exploring and how successful are they? What limits them? What motivates them to succeed and who is incentivized to hinder them? If these questions were hinted at in the summary then this point might warrant inclusion but this stock phrase by itself provides no information to the potential reader.
    - Harry's relationship Fleur and friendships with Cedric & Cho are likely best indicated by the tags available on FFN. People who want to read stories with any of those characters will search for them and it seems like you have weightier concepts to convey in the short space available for summaries.
    - As a reader it's jarring to receive news of AU elements in an author's note, but this might be your best bet. This final bullet point regarding the Dumbledores comprises only a small portion of your summary, but the reader receives no indication as to how any of the three mentioned characters influence the main character's motivations and desires. It only gives me an idea as to either their occupation or location. This biographical information isn't important enough to merit inclusion in your summary.

    It's tricky to provide any feedback for crafting a summary for a story that I haven't read as I fear I'm going to come across as someone who has only the vaguest of ideas as to what happens in your fic. But in its current iteration, I see a problem with the first sentence.

    I come away from this sentence believing that the protagonist doesn't understand their own motivations and has no discernible goal. This damages the potential reader's expectation of conflict in the story (e.g. 'If the protagonist doesn't know anything about his wants and needs, how am I supposed to know?'). Alternatively, is the Mirror broken or is Harry under some sort of geis or cursed fate where the magical artefact isn't capable of describing his desires? This is also a potentially significant alteration to canon as his motivation to be surrounded by family is one of the things that draws us to him. It's presented as a sickeningly sweet, but admirable character trait in PS. If Harry doesn't see anything, does that mean that James and Lily are alive or - in what could be an interesting deviation from his canon character - does he just not care that they're dead?

    Unless I'm mistaken, you've used the Mirror of Erised here as a way to add an element of mystery to the summary. As it doesn't seem to provide any indication as to your character's main traits, motivations, agency (or lack thereof), or limitations I don't think it belongs.

    Many others have already chimed in that the Dumbledore references don't belong and I think they're mostly right. They do a good job showing that you're employing an Alternate Universe without using a tag and that's very well done. Unfortunately, unless they have a significant impact on the protagonist's motivations or are the source for the underlying conflict I don't think they bear mentioning.

    Any suggested replacement I could offer would be woefully inadequate without knowing more about the themes involved in your story. Would you mind describing some of them in more detail along with the stresses/limitations and motivations/abilities of your protagonist(s)? As you said, your current iteration provides solid hooks to draw in potential readers, but don't really leave one with a sense of what actually happens in the story.

    Thanks for posting your summary. The ideas of exploring magic and Hogwarts itself sound extremely interesting.
     
  12. Jon

    Jon The Demon Mayor Admin DLP Supporter

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    I like Jim Butcher's way:

    *WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS*, *YOUR PROTAGONIST* *PURSUES A GOAL*. But will he succeed when *ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION*?

     
  13. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    ^ The nth iteration of The Magnate's Summary. Was never too happy with any of 'em.
    Newcomb

    I feel the trouble you're having with making a summary for your story is because (the way I see it at least) you have a different "adventure" so to speak, every year that belong in an overarching story - much like the actual series.
     
  14. Newcomb

    Newcomb Minister of Magic

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    Yeah, that's pretty much it. The way I see it, my fic doesn't really have a hook - it's basically just "here's how I'd do the Harry Potter series now that I've read a bunch of fanfiction."

    About yours:
    That level of explanation is overboard in a summary unless you've got a killer phrase.

    I think people fear Grindelwald more for the threat he represented to the Statue. His ideology, his charisma, the fact that he had political and revolutionary goals... although you have to infer a lot of that from canon.

    Decent way to frame it - we'll keep that setup.

    See, the problem is, once you mention Santi and Durmstrang!Harry, I've mentally put this fic in a very specific box, which is a huge double-edged sword. I guess you kind of have to do it, but you're really putting yourself in a box.

    Anyway, I'd maybe throw something like this out there:

     
  15. Eilyfe

    Eilyfe Supreme Mugwump

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    I like the last one Newcomb posted but still think it's a bit too wordy. I'd go with one attribute for Voldemort and Grindelwald each, not two.

     
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