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Step-by-Step on How to Summarize a Narrative Essay

by Christopher Cascio

A narrative summary is a concentrated form of the original story that conveys the plot, characters, conflict and themes, but which is written in your own words. Being able to summarize a story is an important exercise because it helps develop your ability to synthesize information and repackage it into an economic and informative written structure.

Re-Read and Take Notes

Before you can begin writing your summary, you need to collect all the information you plan to use in your summary. Read the entire essay -- several times if you need to -- and write down the following information: the name of each character along with his role in the story (i.e. relationship to the main character); a short description of each individual scene in the story; the type of conflict (man vs. man or man vs. nature, for example) and which characters are involved; and the theme (central message) of the story. You might want to focus each reading on one particular element to make note-taking more manageable.

Draft Your Introduction

Now that you have the information and have re-read the narrative so it is fresh in your mind -- which will make referring to the text easier -- it's time to craft your introduction. Your opening should be direct and succinct. Make sure you state the title of the story as well as the name of the author. Then, in just a few sentences, briefly describe the main characters, the setting, the nature of the conflict -- and how it drives the plot -- and the theme.

Draft the Body

The body is where you will summarize each event of the story. The length of this part of your summary will depend on the story's length, so it could be just a few paragraphs or a few pages. Unless the teacher has specified that the summary should be extremely short -- such as less than one page -- a general rule to follow is that each obstacle the main character faces should have its own short paragraph. Focus on the main character and how his strategies to resolve the conflict drive the story.

Close With the Theme

When you end your summary, you want to do a little more than just summarize how the final scene plays out. Explain how the conflict gets resolved, which characters have changed and the natures of their changes. Most importantly, capture how the conflict resolution punctuates the theme. If you were summarizing "The Wizard of Oz," for example, you would describe the scene of Dorothy waking up in Kansas, and you would explain how it illustrates the theme of "There's no place like home."

After the Draft

Now that your draft is complete, you have to edit and revise. Focus first on structure: You've introduced the narrative clearly and thoroughly, addressed every major event in the body and concluded with conflict resolution and how it relates to the theme. Then, turn your attention to grammar. Check your word usage, punctuation, and spelling -- especially the names of the characters.

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."

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