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Making Bullets Do a Summary's Bidding

October 6, 2023
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

Summarizing is a superior skill to call on while writing, but it can be vexing to slim things down. One trick to try is the magic bullet of bullets, the copy that starts with a bullet symbol.

We're trained to keep the writing concise when we begin with a bullet. A set of opening pages in a novel that I'm evaluating uses bullets very well. The author's got her bullets, then breaks into scene and narrative whenever it strikes her. Always, she's got her bulleted guide.

• Connor insists on seeing her all the time, so she feels uncomfortable with the pressure and control she’s put under, especially now.

• She cheats. She hates herself. She is staring at the ceiling and is startled to learn the cops are looking for her because she never went home.

• She is led home, where Connor is waiting for her with her family at 3-ish am. He tells everyone she is a tramp.

A series of events like that focuses on actions and changes. The first bullet is not tied to either action or change, but it's needed for the set-up. That bullet is still only 22 words.

A spreadsheet can help you summarize like this. Open up Excel or Google Sheets and type each bullet's summary text into a cell. If you make the cell width rather short, you'll write a shorter line. You trim the words until they fit your cell.

Not only are you summarizing, but now you are revising. Both are powerful tools for a writer, whether you're working in nonfiction, memoir, or novels.

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