How to Write a Short Story Summary
The short story is a form that at its most developed has the capacity to affirm hope, discuss life’s most mysterious cosmic questions and create a respite from the essential horrors and sadness of life. Summarizing such a story may seem daunting. By examining the fundamental elements of a short story, it becomes clear how to summarize one sufficiently.
One of the main elements that drives a powerful short story forward is a highly developed central conflict. When summarizing a short story, it’s important to find the most essential parts and write a concise version of the entire piece. Whether the central conflict consists of the protagonist’s inability to complete college or her tumultuous relationship with a threatening neighbor, explaining the central conflict in a few sentences is an essential part of a short story summary.
A fully formed short story contains believable central characters that possess strong wants and desires. A summary of a short story must include concise, clear descriptions of the central characters. Whether this means highlighting each character’s defining wants, or briefly describing an action that offers a developed understanding of the character, whoever is reading your short story summary must be able to form a substantial vision of each major character.
The setting, where the short story takes place, is an important piece of information to include in a short story summary. Whether the story takes place in Arkansas or England, on a farm or in a castle, in the early 1920s or the present, without an indication of the short story’s setting, someone who reads your summary won’t be able to fully grasp what the story is about. The setting gives the story context and offers a platform as to where the characters live and where the central conflict takes place. Describe the setting with as much economy as possible, as a summary is quite short.
It’s not only important to include key pieces of information about the actual story, but your reader will also be looking to see who wrote the short story. Include the author of the short story, what time period he or she wrote it in, and a brief description of the historical significance. If your reader isn’t aware that the short story you’re summarizing was written during the Vietnam War, it may not be clear what the story is commenting on.
Jake Shore is an award-winning Brooklyn-based playwright, published short story writer and professor at Wagner College. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including Litro Magazine, one of London's leading literary magazines. Shore earned his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.