Writing a summary of a book or film

by Viv Quarry (www.vivquarry.com)

When writing a summary of a book or film, you must first decide which tense to write the summary in. You can use either the present tenses or the past (narrative tenses), but you mustn't mix the two, unless giving facts about it in the introduction paragraph.

The ideal appraisal could have four paragraphs:

Paragraph 1 Factual information about the book or film.

Paragraph 2 An introduction to the setting and the characters and a description of the plot (two paragraphs may be necessary for this).

Paragraph 3 Your reactions, and the reasons why you liked it.

Paragraph 4 A conclusion.

Here are some useful expressions which can be used in a summary:

I once read a book / saw a film called ****

It's about....

.... tells the story of....

.... based on real life / the author's experience of....

.... was directed / written by....

It stars **** in the title role.

****'s performance as **** was wonderful / convincing etc.

As the story unfolds, we see....

The story takes place in the 19**'s.

The story is set in **** at the beginning of this century.

The relationship that **** has with **** is ****.

At the end.... (Sth happens)

In the end.... (Sth happens which contrasts with previous events).

We don't learn until the end that....

I was impressed by....

One of the most interesting aspects of the book / film is....

Here is an example of a summary taken from Headway Upper Intermediate.

'The Collector' by John Fowles

'The Collector' is a novel written by John Fowles. It was first published in 1963, and it is a sort of horror story. It is one of the most sinister books I have ever read. It holds your attention from the start and becomes more shocking as it progresses.

'The Collector' is a good title. The 'hero', Ferdinand Clegg, collects butterflies, but he adds to his collection the girl of his dreams, Miranda, who is an art student. We learn enough about his background, an orphan brought up by his aunt and uncle, to have some understanding of his behaviour. He is a very lonely character and painfully shy, especially with women. We see him following Miranda from a distance, fascinated by her every move.

There is a turning point when he wins some money, and his plans become a reality. He buys a remote country cottage, captures Miranda and keeps her there just to look at and admire. All he wants of her is to take her photograph. She is his latest and most precious 'butterfly'.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the portrayal of Miranda, as she tries to handle the bizarre situation she finds herself in. Her behaviour goes to extremes - from trying to understand Ferdinand and be his friend to violence and trying to escape. In the end she falls ill and dies, while he does nothing to help.

The reader feels all Miranda's hopes and fears until the final dreadful outcome. This is a book which, once you have started, is impossible to put down.