How to Write a Short Story Summary

Taking the time to summarize a short story can increase a reader's understanding and enjoyment.

Short stories are a unique genre of literature, with nearly the same amount of complexity found in novels compressed into a matter of several pages. This compressed nature makes them a popular topic of study. At the same time, the reduced length makes summaries a little tricky; they must be long enough to include the most important elements of the story while remaining shorter than the story itself.

1 Summarizing the Short Story

2 Identify the main conflicts in the story

Identify the main conflicts in the story by using Kylene Beers’ “Somebody Wanted But So” technique. Identify the main character(s), what they desire, what stands between them and the object of their desire, and what happens as a result. For example: "George wanted to try out his new axe, but he wasn’t allowed in of the woods, so he chopped down a cherry tree in the yard." Many stories have several levels of conflict, so create as many of these statements as you believe are necessary to tell the story.

3 Choose the most important conflict most from your list of statements

Choose the most important conflict from your list of statements. For example, while George’s story is set in motion with the chopping of the cherry tree, the more central conflict statement would come from later in the story: "George wanted to stay out of trouble, but he felt guilty when his father saw the tree, so he confessed."

4 List the characters

List the characters in the statement for the main conflict, and write a three to four word description of each. For example: "George, a normally well-behaved boy who values honesty and George’s father, a stern but loving dad."

5 Incorporate the statements and the characteristics in one statement

Incorporate the statements and the characteristics in one statement, adding additional information only when absolutely necessary. For example: "George, a well-behaved boy who valued honesty, felt guilty when his strict but loving father saw the tree that George had chopped down, so he confessed." It is necessary to explain that George was responsible for the tree damage, but a reader can find out why George chopped it down in reading the actual story.

  • 1 "When Kids Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do"; Kylene Beers; 2003.

With a B.A. in English from Rutgers University and a law degree from the University of Connecticut, Cate Kulak worked in law for 10 years before making a career change to education. She currently writes for Our Companions magazine and has sold articles to Shelterpop and Gadling.