What is a Single Sentence Summary?

“So you’re writing a novel. What’s it about?”

“Well, it’s about…. There’s this fellow and…. Actually, you see, I’m still trying to figure that out myself.”

How many times have you had an encounter like this? Ever wished there was an easy answer you could memorize and have handy at a moment’s notice?

There is. It’s called a single sentence summary.

Sometimes also called a one sentence summary, or a tagline, the single sentence summary is your novel condensed to its most basic form. One character with one challenge facing one obstacle.

You can summarize your current novel at any time in the writing process, but if you plan to publish, you will have to do it.

Why Do You Need a Single Sentence Summary?

The illustration at the beginning of this post presents one reason you need a single sentence summary. It’s a fast and easy way to tell people what your story is about. People like friends and family members. People like agents and editors and potential publishers. It is your primary marketing pitch and its function is to generate interest in your story.

Now, it won’t appeal to everyone. Chances are it will be completely uninteresting to a lot of the people who ask. That’s okay. If your single sentence summary doesn’t interest them, you know not to waste your time or theirs in further discussion of the novel.

For the people who respond positively to your single sentence summary, you know you can share more of the story.

That’s one purpose. Are there others?

Before Writing…

Whatever method of writing you use – planner or pantser – defining your story as a single sentence summary in the early stages provides a guardrail for the rest of the process. You can consider plot twists, scenes and events, and even characters based on whether or not they contribute to the overall story as described in that single sentence summary.

Everything that does contribute is worth considering.

Everything that doesn’t can be saved for another story.

Mind, the single sentence summary isn’t written in stone at this stage. No matter how well you write it, the unfolding story may open other possibilities. Be open to them.

But also keep your single sentence summary somewhere handy so you can see it each day.

After Writing but Before Marketing…

If you like the write the novel first then try to figure out the big picture, you’re still in luck. You can find the single sentence summary in the overall novel, then use it to guide you in editing.


As mentioned above, you will need to write a single sentence summary at some point. You may receive requests from:

  • Contest guidelines
  • Agents
  • Editors
  • Publishers

There are other purposes, too, but the point remains the same. If you write long enough and if you intend to publish, you will be required to come up with a single sentence summary.

So How Do You Write a Sparkling Single Sentence Summary?

Writing a single sentence summary isn’t always easy, no matter when you do it. Finding the right combination of words and arranging them in the best order possible to convey the big picture of your story can sometimes be like writing the story itself.

Showing you how to tackle a single sentence summary without pulling out all your hair is the purpose of this month’s story clinic. I’ll post a few examples, one at a time, and walk you through the process of narrowing the focus of a full length novel to a single sentence.

I’ll use some of my own single sentence summaries and we’ll refine and redefine them together.

If you have questions, feel free to ask them. This is, after all, an open classroom.

If you’d like to work through one of your own manuscripts – old or new – leave a comment in the comment box below.

For now, see if you can write a single sentence summary for your current work in progress.

Tomorrow, I’ll submit the first of my examples and let the discussion begin!

Rent Carrie’s Brain!

If you have a single-sentence summary you would like help with, send me an email. I’ll be happy to help you boil your novel down to 25 words or less.

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