How to Write a Book Summary

Three Parts:Sample Book SummariesOrganizing Your ThoughtsWriting the Summary

It may be the bane of English students everywhere, but writing a book summary doesn't have to be tedious and difficult. The right approach can make it fun instead. Here are some simple ideas for writing concise and informative summaries.

Sample Book Summaries

Sample Summary Plot of Macbeth

Sample Summary Plot of My Sister's Keeper

Sample Summary Plot of The Lottery Rose

Part 1
Organizing Your Thoughts

  1. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 1
    Check the assignment. Get a clear idea of what you'll be working on before you begin. Some school assignments might ask you to write a full page book summary, while a summary for the back cover of a book can only fit a couple paragraphs.
    • This guide assumes you are writing a traditional summary, with no opinion and very little analysis. If the assignment asks you to include your own thoughts, read the instructions for book reports or book reviews instead.
  2. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 2
    Take notes as you read. If you have the time, reread the book with a notepad or voice recorder nearby. Make brief observations as you read, describing the tone, setting, characters, and plot. Also jot down any passage or idea that jumps out at you, even if you're not sure why.
    • If you don't have detailed notes or the time to write them, skim through the book and find the most important passages. The chapter titles can help remind you where to find the central scenes.
    • You don't need to cover every detail. For example, the first Game of Thrones book has too many characters to describe every one. Focus on Ned Stark, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen, and skip scenes that do not include any of them.
  3. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 3
    Divide your notes into parts. Separate your notes into two to four sections, dividing the book wherever a major plot shift occurs. This will help organize your summary, helping you devote equal time to each part of the book.
    • For example, you can divide Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone into three parts: First Term at Hogwarts; Uncovering Mysteries; and the Challenges to Find the Stone.
    • You can choose other ways to divide it if you feel it makes more sense. For example, it's natural to divide Game of Thrones into its three separate plot lines, even though the book jumps between them.
  4. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 4
    Outline the plot. Pick out the most important points from your notes and construct a short outline. Don't make this too detailed. A bullet point list is enough to keep yourself on track while writing the summary.
    • Divide your outline the same way you divided your notes. These can be the main bullet points, with sub-bullet points underneath them.
  5. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 5
    Consider the main theme. This is not necessary for all school assignments, but a summary of a more "literary" book usually includes a sentence or two on the main theme. Reread your notes on the passages that grabbed your attention to see if you can figure this out. If you're not sure, try to answer the following questions:
    • Did the main character change between the first page and the last? If so, you can summarize this character development.
    • If there are multiple plot lines, what do all of them have in common? Do they each encounter a similar challenge?
    • Is there a scene where the main character has a major revelation? This revelation is probably a major theme.

Part 2
Writing the Summary

  1. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 6
    Write an opening. Include the author and the book title, plus a description of the book's premise in no more than two sentences. If you have a comfortable grasp on the novel's themes, you may choose to include this as well. Here are a couple examples:
    • "In J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the title character discovers a dark mystery hidden in a school for wizards."
    • "F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby chronicles the tense relations between the newly rich Jay Gatsby and the 'old money' of 1920's New York. Through the voice of Nick Carraway, a young Midwesterner, Fitzgerald steadily destroys the glamorous illusion of wealth."
  2. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 7
    Summarize the plot. Use your outline and notes to summarize the main plot points, section by section. Keep these brief and straightforward.
    • As you write, keep in mind how much space you have left. You can't afford to spend half your space on the first section if you have three more to go.
  3. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 8
    Edit it for length (optional). If you're struggling to fit everything within the maximum length of the assignment, take some time to edit what you've already written. Go through it word by word and make the following changes:
    • Delete anything related to a side plot, a minor character, or an unimportant scene.
    • Remove every adjective and adverb that does not add useful information to the sentence.
    • If you are writing a pure summary, not a review, get rid of your own opinions and interpretation.
  4. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 9
    Summarize the ending. There are two ways to handle the final plot point, depending on the purpose of the summary:
    • If this is a school assignment, describe the climax of the book the same way you summarized the rest of the plot.
    • If you are writing a summary for a mass audience, don't give away the ending! Think of the cliffhanger you see before a TV commercial; this is the sense of intrigue and excitement you want to create. Try describing the main character's final goal or challenge, without giving away how he meets it.
  5. Image titled Write a Book Summary Step 10
    Describe the main theme (optional). If you think the author had a major purpose in mind, and not just light entertainment, insert a few words on the theme near the beginning or end of the summary. Finding the main theme can sound intimidating, but you don't need a brilliant idea for a book summary. If you're stuck, try to answer these questions using your notes:
    • Is there an idea the narrator brings up again and again?
    • Was there an inspiring message, or a pessimistic one? Was there a moral the main character learned, or should have learned?
    • Why should someone read this book, besides the plot? What would you say to convince her?


  • Remember to proofread your summary. Sometimes your computer spell check and grammar check functions don't catch silly mistakes. Always read, re-read, and have a friend or family member re-read your paper to look for possible errors.
  • Review other summaries of other books. Doing this will provide a better insight of the structure for a summary.


  • Avoid plagiarism at all times. This can result in serious consequences. Put all quotes inside quotation marks and introduce them with "The author states," or a similar phrase. Other sources are not usually necessary in a summary, but if present they should be cited in the format requested by your teacher or employer.[1]

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