On one of the writing groups I’m part of, a discussion topic came up, “How important is it to be able to summarize your manuscript in one sentence?” and I laughed because paraphrasing my manuscript, while not the hardest thing I learned to do as a writer, was definitely difficult. Partly because I was of the opinion that if you could write 500,000 words about a subject, it was stupid to try and encapsulate that idea in under twenty words. Why write so many words if it can be done in less?
Turns out there are good reasons that writers have chosen to paraphrase their stories.
I ended up trying it out when I had a monster of story to edit. A huge sprawling novel that I could not for the life of me figure out what needed to be cut. I had become paralyzed during the editing process and somewhere along the line I read that if a writer distilled the story down to its essence it helped.
Being desperate, I tried it. Writing a one line encapsulation of my story felt a bit like pulling off my own head but after several stabs I found that it did indeed make editing easier. It forced me to understand who and what was essential to my story, and made it possible for me to stop clinging to unnecessarily story bits that had flair but no substance and strengthen the plot in ways that I had been unable to to do previously. Basically learning to summarize both scenes and my entire novel made me a better editor.
What occurred to me during this messy process, was that my next project might go better if I knew what was important -before- I started writing. I’m still deciding if this is the case or not, after all encapsulating a story that you have not written yet is very much like herding cats but I am finding that I do a lot less unnecessary writing. Which can’t be a bad thing right?