An Essential Guide to Writing a Book Summary

A summary of a book is a digest of all its main points. It is a shorter version or a précis of its main arguments or topics. What better question to ask than “how to summarize a book?”

Essential Elements of a Book Summary

Summaries are short, concise versions of stories. They are valuable ways of memorizing things and of learning from books. Writing a book summary means cutting down a book to meet a defined size constraint.

Book summaries can serve as either a précis of a story or as a helpful review piece. If you’re writing a book summary, you need to follow specific guidelines to make an exciting summary.

A book summary should include a description of the main characters and setting, an explanation of the theme and, a reflection of the story.

1. The Main Characters and Setting

Your summary should begin with a statement of the main characters, their relationships and roles in the story, and the setting. Include information about the protagonist, who aims to accomplish something in the story, and the antagonist, who interferes or sabotages the protagonist’s mission.

Supporting characters that influence the story’s outcome should be included in the summary. Also, include the setting of the chapter and the significant characteristics of the geographical location where the story takes place.

2. The Main Theme

State the main idea, central point, and the book’s conflict in two or three sentences. This should be an essential point you want to drive home with your summary.

Use your personal experiences with the main character’s journey to draw in the reader. Most importantly, provide a little more insight into the central theme.

The main idea can include but is not limited to the theme, conflict, the point of view, the character’s journey, growth, changes, and resolution.

3. Supporting Details

The supporting details give you a picture of the storyline and help you know what is going on in the book.

They are the actions that support the central theme. Attending to and providing the supporting details is crucial because readers need a general explanation of what is happening in the story.

Supporting details help indicate the primary setting, main characters, and central theme changes. They also can help the writer maintain an adequate level of interest and understanding of the book.

Write the supporting details in about two to four sentences.

How to Summarize a book: 7 Effective Steps

The book summary provides an overview of the content without retelling its entirety. Writing a book summary starts by having a thorough understanding of the book, knowing the author’s purpose, and understanding the genre. Adherence to these guidelines will help you to write a good summary.

The following steps will guide you on how to summarize a book.

1) Read carefully and annotate as you read

It is almost impossible to summarize a book that you don’t understand. It is best to read the text carefully and remember as much as possible. Underline questions, phrases, and vital facts that you find meaningful and necessary to include in your summary. You can also have your favorite passages marked.

2) Take notes while reading

Get a notebook and record the primary and essential events from the book you read. You can also pen down your thoughts about the book. It should not be too detailed, just enough to help you remember key points. Taking notes as you read allows you to keep things in check.

3) Make a list of the main characters.

It is important to pen down the main characters’ names and briefly describe their personalities. Also, include the characters’ objectives or roles in the story. Key characters to note are the protagonist and antagonist, a brief recap of their relationship, and anything unique to their character.

4) Separate the book into sections, and extract the main idea from each one.

You can divide the book into three sections; the introduction, the middle section, and the book’s ending. Then, extract the essential idea from each section and supporting detail for it.

5) Know the book’s central idea

Every book has its main idea: the basic story, how the story begins, and how the story ends. A book’s central idea can also be its main theme or the overarching issue it addresses. Once you’ve found the main idea, you’ll be able to find out what the book is about and how it unfolds.

Be able to summarize the major points from the book by highlighting a few key sentences from each section. The task is to be able to distill the content of a book into a short blank summation.

6) Write your summary

It is important to start writing your book summary only after reading it. Haven built a summary structure for the book; it is time to write a full summary. In your summary, the essential elements you must include are the main characters, setting, central theme, and supporting details.

7) Revise for Clarity

Proofread your summary and revise it as necessary. Ensure that all the elements required for a book summary have been properly presented in your work. Be sure you have used your words and sentence structure. Remember to cite the author when you use a section from the book to avoid your work being labeled as a plagiarized copy.

white book marker on book page
Photo by Olia Gozha on Unsplash

To Wrap Up

A book summary is a short, condensed version of a book that gives an overview of the book. The summary often includes a story, topic, and main characters.

While not necessarily a reflection of the story’s entirety, an effective book summary should be kept in the same genre to intrigue the reader. This article is a guide on how to summarize a book.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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