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Summarizing a Short Story


Also known as a synopsis, precis, or abstract, a summary is a shortened version of a longer piece of reading (text) that highpoints its key contents. Clee and Clee (1999) state that the main objective of a summary is to "give an accurate, objective representation of what the work says." Thus, "you should not include your own ideas or interpretations." In other words, you should include only information from the story itself. A summary, however, is not a restatement of all ideas of the story. It does not tell every event occurring in it. A summary just relates the main events without extraneous detail. It condenses the short story's main points in your own words. Therefore, you should not include quotes from the original story.

A summary is usually written in a solid paragraph of about up to 10 sentences. The first sentence includes the short story title, author, and subject matter. The next sentences include the main supporting events or actions. Thus, they answer the question words: who, what, when, where, why, and how.  These supporting events begin with the introduction scene (exposition) written in 1 to 2 sentences. The exposition is followed by one or two main rising actions written in 2 or 3 sentences. The next sentence describes the climax (the event that indicates the outcome). After that, in 2 to 3 sentences, the falling action (action leading to the end) and the resolution (the story ending) are presented. The summary is ended with a sentence repeating the subject matter.

A summary typically uses present tenses to indicate that the events are taking place currently. Thus, although the short story you are summarizing tells a story in the past, summarize it by employing present tenses.

Graphically, a summary can be illustrated in this way:

To write a good short story summary, you need to go through these six steps. 

  1. Read the story to get a general impression. 
  2. Go to the story again, read it carefully. Make sure you fully understand the story. Check your dictionary to get the meaning of unfamiliar words, if any. While reading, underline or jot down the key events. 
  3. Organize the key events into a storyline employed in the short story. Make sure you put the correct events functioning as the exposition, rising events, climax, falling actions, and resolution. 
  4. Using your own words, write these materials in a united and coherent paragraph. Don’t forget you should use present tenses in the summary. 
  5. Compare your summary with the original story to ascertain that your summary just condenses the story without changing the meaning. 
  6. Revise and edit the summary to avoid any grammatical or typing errors.

To see how these steps are applied, look at the following summary of “A Long walk Home”.

Boccaro’s “A Long Walk Home” is a short story that tells how a teen with a delinquent tendency receives an unforgettable lesson from his father. It begins when one morning the teen, Jackson, is asked by his father to have his car repaired in a garage 18 miles away from their home. When the car is finished, Jackson should pick his father at 4 p.m. After dropping off the car in the garage, he watches some movies up to 6 p.m. To avoid his father from getting angry, Jackson says that it takes longer to repair the car without realizing that his father has phoned the garage and knows there’s no problem with the car. Jackson’s lie makes his father angry with himself for his failure to educate his son. So he refuses to get into the car and walks home. This makes Jackson very regretful and decides not to lie to his father again. It is a painful experience but provides Jackson an essential lesson.



Clee, P. & Clee, V. (1999). American Dreams. California: Mayfield Pub Co


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