I have been struggling with two distinct but complementary tasks of summary: writing a research abstract and a novel synopsis. In both cases, I must capture the key points of a much longer work. I must provide the busy reader with the highlights and also stimulate an interest to read more. Perhaps most difficult of all, I must give away the ending.
The abstract gives a 300 word version of a 3500 word article. It follows a predetermined structure with the background, methods, results, and conclusions of my research study. The essence of a work that took two years to complete must be distilled into a form that takes ten minutes to read. I have to admit that although the details are of great importance to me, they are not necessarily wanted by the reader.
The synopsis is an even more daunting challenge. I have more experience reading and writing research abstracts. I have internalized the expectations and know how to meet them. I am much less familiar with the literary world. Synopses are not published with their novels, as abstracts accompany their papers. They are read primarily by publishers and agents. I have never played either of these roles and have, at best, a hazy impression of them.
In addition, the synopsis must summarize a 120,000 word book. It has taken four years to write and has existed in some cognitive form for even longer. All the subtleties of characterization, sub-plot development, imagery, and texture must be sacrificed in squeezing it down into a few pages. It is not a pleasant task.
However, it is necessary. In order to send my intellectual works (both scholarly and literary) into the world, they must be accompanied by their summaries. I am sure it is good for me in some way to go through this process, attempting to discern the most important elements and convey them to others with no prior knowledge of their source. Even so, I will be happier when I am done!