The Professional & Consumer Merits of Writing Your Own Synopses – A Discussion

Being a book and anime blogger can be extremely challenging, especially when one is first starting out. I remember when I initially began writing reviews for books in 2015. About a year afterwards, I became so intimidated by the whole entire process (something that I had turned into a big, grisly beast in my mind) that I ended up taking a break for a few months. I did some research on popular blogs and YouTube channels, and even looked up guides on what makes a good review. Then in December 2016 to January 2017, I decided to give it a second shot. Shortly after that, I began adding anime content. Out of everything that I have experienced since starting BiblioNyan, writing synopses for content that I consume was the most difficult yet beneficial thing I’ve learned.

One of the first things I discovered when it came to having one’s own space for content creating is to have something that sets you apart from the rest. Back in January 2017, I decided that writing my own synopsis for a book or anime would be my unique thing. So many creators that I was following didn’t even bother with it. They usually opted for copying the snippets off sites like GoodReads or AniList and My Anime List (MAL). While there’s nothing really wrong with this, I discovered that as a consumer, whenever I saw a copied and pasted summary, my brain immediately checked out of the review and I couldn’t focus on the rest of the write-up at all, no matter how much I tried. I didn’t want to have that sort of ambiance on BiblioNyan, and that’s why I began to practise the shite out of writing my own synopses for everything that I read and watched.

Another thought process that had steeped its way deep into the darkest corners of my brain was this: if I can’t come up with a mere handful of sentences to describe what I just read or watched (with respect to summarising, not opinions), then how am I going to be able to string together a cohesive and engaging enough review or discussion for said media? Shouldn’t a writer be able to, at the very least, write a basic summation?

I know that I’m definitely in the minority with this subject matter. I’ve lost count of how many bloggers out there choose to copy and paste their abstracts rather than to try and piece one together themselves. Many of them say that they are terrible at summarising things and aren’t always sure of whether they’re giving away too much information or not. Others just find the task to be extremely daunting and pointless, and would rather cut to the reviewing part of their posts. Some are just lazy (which I can relate to a lot, unfortunately).

So, I’m sure that this discussion will probably ruffle more than a few feathers. Even so, before I jump into the meat of this chat, I do want to make a point of stating that I’m not here to be disrespectful or to cause drama. Frankly, I’m too old and too damn busy for that shite. I’ve been a blogger for about six-ish years now, and the simple act of putting together a little snippet has taught me a lot about blogging as both a creator and a consumer, not to mention the numerous benefits I’ve reaped as a writer outside of the blogsphere. But they are all my own opinions and musings. As I mentioned, I’m not here to be an asshole. I completely respect that everyone has their own subjective processes and experiences, and I’m only going to ask for the same respectful understanding in return.

Anyhoo, with that disclosure out of the way, let’s talk about the merits of writing your own synopses for books and media, and how it’s much more professional to do so for both content creators and consumers of entertainment!

My Personal Challenges with Synopsis Writing:

When I first began doing this (specifically with books), I fucking sucked at it. It was intimidating and since it was how I started most, if not all, of my posts, I’d be stuck staring at the screen for hours on end. Because of the way my mind works (thank you ADHD, autism, and anxiety), if I can’t have a perfect beginning, I’ll never make it to the middle or end. My snippets would always be way too detailed and long-winded, or they wouldn’t have enough information in them to help a reader properly understand what they were getting into it. Other reasons I felt frustrated with it was the godawful fear of giving away major spoilers, especially when they happen right smack dab in the beginning of the book. A lot of shocking shit can occur in the first few pages of a psychological thriller, for example, and if I just splay it open in my review, there would be no incentive for the reader to pick it up because the “thrill” aspect of the thriller would be utterly demolished (you won’t believe how many people do this!!!).

Nevertheless, no matter how much I struggled with it, including all of the raging and cursing, I kept with it. I knew that I could either be uncomfortable and awkward with writing synopses and use that as an excuse to give up, which would also make me feel like a colossally inauthentic reviewer, or I could practise, practise, practise and slowly hone my skill at it, which would also make me a better writer. Out of all the feelings that I had inside of me creating this dark twisty pit of despair, feeling like a fake or like I was half-arsing my reviews was the worst of them. I hated that feeling more than intimidation or fear. I don’t like being callous and careless with things that I’m supremely passionate about. If I’m going to treat it like some boring homework assignment or dumbass chore then what’s the point of me picking it up?

Lastly, I didn’t want this to negatively impact the professionalism of my work. My blog is definitely a personal space for me to rant or rave vehemently about things I enjoy, but I also wanted it to be a professional space I could refer to when the situation calls for it, which it most definitely did when Uni came knocking on my door last year. My goal is to become a writer of books, a translator of Japanese fiction, and an academic of something very specific in the very near future. Copying a synopsis from GoodReads or AniList is extremely unprofessional and shows an incredible lack of work ethic that I didn’t want to display on BiblioNyan.

So, I sucked it up and wrote all of the terrible synopses that I could until they weren’t so damn terrible anymore. The progress of getting started with it and forcing myself to write something based off entirely my own experiences and memory of the content consumed was appalling. More often than not, I found myself looking up certain details to ensure they weren’t spoilers, or to make sure that I wasn’t confusing one book with another (happens when I read from the same genre simultaneously, which is why I no longer do this). On top of that, my summaries were boring due to how protracted they became. I felt discouraged, but I kept going and kept practising. With each new synopsis that I wrote, I became better and better. Now, I can drop a snippet in one’s lap with two to three sentences tops, while lighting a ciggy like I’m Bunta motherfucking Fujiwara. I’m proud of my ability to do this because I worked my goddamn arse off to get to this point.

Sharing Links versus Straight Copy-and-Paste

I’ve seen a lot of discourse on this around the (mostly bookish) blogging community. Why is it okay to share a link to a book’s GR page, but not to copy a synopsis for it, even if it’s cited? Or why is it okay to link to an AniList page, but not use the AniList’s synopses?

The first and (personally) most important reason I can offer is that it’s plagiarism. It is stealing the words written by another person, sometimes the marketing department of publishers, and then using it for your own benefit, especially if you have a monetised platform. On AniList, the synopsis for a title is typically taken from news sources, such as Anime News Network, or it’s written by moderators of the website. We do also get straight-from-the-production-company snippets, which is nice. Even so, it’s stealing. For example, if the AniList snippet was taken from Anime News Network and you’re only citing AniList (they almost always list their source), then you’re plagiarising Anime News Network, whether you realise it or not.

Then there’s the argument (for GR specifically) that the summaries are in quotation marks and listed as being from GoodReads. It’s not plagiarism if it’s done that way. Technically yes, but also not always. I used to be a Librarian and moderator for the GR website. Anyone who had librarian status could alter the snippets for the books without it really being challenged at all, and I’ve seen on numerous occasions where the summaries were altered by users (usually taken from reviewers). They weren’t the same as the back of the book (or inside flap or found on publisher’s website) as they were supposed to be, and I hated it. People who copy and paste that could be stealing from others and not even fucking know it.

The second reason—and one that may get people yelling at me—is that it’s a total waste of blogspace. The information found on GR and AniList can be found by anyone if they run a basic internet search for the titles. By providing access to the links to respective pages, one assists in saving the consumer’s time and energy, however, if one straight-up copies the information word-for-word, then it’s nothing more than a fluffer to the rest of the content to come (yes, all the puns). It also makes the rest of the review or discussion feel incredibly inauthentic, impersonal, and even a touch dishonest. Usually when people go looking for reviews, they are seeking something personal and candid about the work in question; subjective perspectives that can give them keen insight they won’t find on commercial communities like GoodReads or Amazon.

When I read reviews as a consumer, and the synopsis isn’t cited until the end of the post (literally stating that it was copied from GR), it makes me question everything else that I’ve read in the review up to that point, and whether it truly is a reliable representation of the person’s intimate perspective on the novel they consumed.

If you need more reasons as to the why and why not of writing your own shticks, well… Here are plenty of professional reasons as to why one should write their own snippets, just as there are consumer merits behind reading said personalised snippets. Let’s take a look at those. (Using books as the main example to keep things simple.)

The Values as a Reviewer & Content Creator:

🖋️ Plagiarism: I’ve already touched base with the first one. If a person can copy a synopsis, then they can copy a full review from another individual. While this isn’t that common, it has happened and is happening more and more frequently. I have seen reviews on GoodReads written by amazing people who choose to review solely on GR, have their content stolen and pasted on blogs who then claim that work as their own. It’s deceitful, indolent, and erroneous, not to mention extremely fucking wrong.

🖋️ Professionalism: It is exceedingly unprofessional to read someone else’s words on a personal book review that is supposed to be based off of a single person’s experiences and responses with the book in question. If you read a review from a source such as The New York Times, you will see that the basic outline of what happens in the narrative is never copied; it is always stated in the reviewer’s own words. Sometimes key phrases may be taken, but never the entire synopsis. It illustrates a disregard for the quality of the review being written, while also coming off as inherently amateurish, and can also be indicative of them either not understanding, or not wanting truly to discuss the work in question.

🖋️ Individuality: A synopsis can be the gateway to help other content creators in understanding how a reviewer processes the books that they read. Every reader who reads the same title experiences it differently, and this can be exhibited in the specific synopses written. For the novel, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Person A can say, “It’s about a brown-skinned girl who was oppressed, but discovers she has badass powers that she then uses to try and save her family.” Person B can say, “It’s a fantasy story inspired by South Asian culture that revolves around strong females on different sides of a political shitstorm.” Person C can say, “It’s about a girl and a boy on opposite sides of a war, set in a South Asian-inspired fantasy world, where they have to fight everything that they’ve been taught so they bring peace to the realm, which includes falling in love.” Each of those synopses is different in its own way and reveals the different ways an individual reader absorbs the same narrative. This is especially important when it comes to diverse books and #OwnVoices reviews of those books (e.g.: a Chinese teen reviewer who reviews a Chinese YA story).

🖋️ Takes out marketing bullshite: Snippets provided via the publisher are written to be charming and to draw readers into the things they are trying to sell. Because of that, they can be unreliable themselves. I have read many books where the synopsis was nothing like the actual, physical story that unfolded, or it completely gave away the big spoilers without me realising it (until I was reading it). It infuriated me. By sharing the happenings in our own words, we are providing a more trustworthy source of information without having to worry about it being some sort of marketing gimmick (unless openly stated, of course).

🖋️ Consistent blogging and writing development: Learning how to write a synopsis and then practising it over and over and over again with every book that I read helped me become great at writing them. I was horrendous at pulling together a synopsis when I began. Saying that a reviewer doesn’t like writing a synopsis because they’re terrible at them isn’t really a good reason because they can always improve if they’re willing to put in the time and hard effort. Synopses writing also helped me learn how to be more succinct with blogging, as well as with academic papers with tight word count limitations. It taught me where I needed to be more detailed and where being vague was far more beneficial; it showed me how to avoid talking about spoilers while still allowing myself to discuss critical elements; and most of it all, it helped me find a comfortable blogging voice and rhythm that is uniquely my own.

The Significances as a Consumer and Connoisseur

🖋️ Spoiler-Free! As I briefly mentioned (ranted) above, snippets found on the inside flaps or the back covers tend to give it all away, especially in recent years. When an interesting title catches my attention, I don’t want to know every single fucking thing about it, otherwise the mystery and enjoyment factor is stripped away entirely (for me). The most basic and simplified ideas are the best, and that way there is room for me to be shocked and space for me to utterly invested. Writing my own synopsis has taught me how to pay closer and more critical attention to the stories that I read so that when I do concoct my own abstracts, I know exactly what to avoid and how to keep things basic yet alluring. Most readers and consumers (including me) don’t want spoilers when we look up reviews. We want the gist of what to expect narratively, and then how the reader felt after reading that particular book. Did it make you mad, sad, contemplative, connect to cultures, etc. etc.

🖋️ Content warnings: Content warnings are a source of great strife for many people. A lot of readers want it and feel it’s incredibly necessary (I agree wholeheartedly, as someone who has severe PTSD), while other folx feel it’s unnecessary and can tread into spoiler territory. Very, very few publishers and authors opt to include a list of content warnings in their books, so it’s up to the reviewers to help shine a light on them whenever possible. In 2021, I have begun adding content warnings to everything that I review or talk about because I have experienced how vital they are to the things I consume, and I want to be respectful to the people who visit my blog space. As a consumer, I actively go searching for content warnings on books, anime, films, and more, and when I can’t find them, it’s so excruciatingly frustrating and disheartening. If I know a book has graphic scenes of cat torture or death, for example, or domestic violence, I will avoid it as much as I can. Those are humongous triggers for me. When it’s brought up, I can take comfort in knowing that I can pass those books (and media) up and move on to the next. (I mention this because I have seen reviewers who include the content warnings right after their snippets and it’s always such a welcome.)

🖋️ Variety: I will admit something: if a review has a snippet that is taken off GR, I won’t read it, most of the time. The only exceptions I make are for close, personal friends, and even then, they have to be chatting about a book that I’m really interested in. It is boring, unimaginative, and excruciatingly repetitive. I don’t want to read the same exact fucking snippet three or four times. I like to read multiple reviews for a book to gauge the different ways it’s been perceived. Everybody reacts differently to the same stories, and seeing how individuals can have extremely varying opinions on a single book will usually make that book more interesting for me. Different synopses help keep things fresh and they add variety to a consumer’s research, which is far more important than it may seem.

🖋️ Discover new bloggers/content creators: Before I ever became a content creator myself, I read blog posts. I had subscribed to many different bloggers and would thrive off their content. It helped me gain more confidence when it came time for me to start my own dive into blogging. It also helped me maintain a list of unfailing sources to turn to when I would go shopping after all my bills were paid. People who take the time to write their own synopses, usually have far more entertaining and insightful posts across the board outside of the reviews. They also tend to think outside of the box and create unique content. I find them to be highly intelligent and engaging, and usually the comments section on their blogs will help me find more similar bloggers. It’s a kooky kind of chain that is pretty amazing. If a reviewer copies content, then I know to avoid them because then I will more than likely not enjoy their other overall content, or take them as seriously as much as others.

Exceptions??

The only real exception is when someone is putting together a To-Be-Read or To-Be-Watched list, as they won’t really have the necessary information to toss together their own synopses at this point. As a consumer, when I read these particular posts, I don’t have much expectation beyond curiosity and gauging similarities and differences in watching and reading tastes. As a blogger, though, it’s a bit of a different story.

I will skim the book’s snippets, while avoiding as much of the spoilers as I can, and then think of a couple sentences to describe the book in my own words. Even when I don’t know what the hell to expect, I still make the effort to personalise everything. If I don’t want to know anything about a book at all (usually how I go into fantasy, sci-fi, and horror), then I will be upfront about it in my TBR post and then share links to publishers’ websites and GoodReads pages for anyone that wishes to know more on their own time.

With that, I bring my ginormous discussion of why content creators should write their own synopses to a close. I know that a lot of people may be pissed off or feeling negatively upon reading this novel-sized chat. Nonetheless, my goal isn’t to attack anyone. My personal feelings are quite strong on the subject and I felt like sharing these thoughts with you all. Madame Gabs referred to synopsis copying as my pet peeve, and honestly, she wouldn’t be too far off the mark. I suppose it’s a concept I simply don’t understand, and I feel that it can be an incredible waste of some amazing potential out there.

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44 thoughts on “The Professional & Consumer Merits of Writing Your Own Synopses – A Discussion

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  2. I usually call it ‘the premise’ rather than the synopsis or the summary when I’m writing reviews since to me those terms mean a full run-down of the entire plot, and that’s not what I’m doing. That’s totally a personal thing, but it’s what I prefer! 🙂 I’ve always written my own version of these – for the reasons you’ve said, and also because I’ve always found them fun to write (I’m weirdly good at them – book blurb commissioners should totally hire me and give me all the monies! Lol.)

    I used to put Content Warnings in the ‘Not so great-bits’ section – but now I give them their own section towards the end of the review so that it’s clear where they are, and because they aren’t a negative point as such, just something to be aware of. I might also give a warning at the top of the post if I talk about the topic before the CW section.

    I always get anxious about the CWs – I have a massive fear that I’ll miss something out and someone will think something isn’t in it when it is. So, yeah, I try to leave some sort of advice that the list isn’t exhaustive at the end of the section – cos sometimes I’m like, ‘is this a CW? Or am I overthinking it?’ (A lot of the time, I’m overthinking it!) ❤

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  3. Really insightful article! 🙂 I have always used other synopses (either from MyAnimeList, Amazon, or TVTropes) in my reviews, but I may consider writing a summary from scratch now! I really appreciate how many resources you put into this; I think it is a topic that not many other online creators have broached. Since I am a published author, honing this skill may be helpful for me in the future, too!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I agree! It lends itself to more contructive thinking, I am glad that my perspective has been broaded to something that I hadn’t considered before. Thank you! 🙂 (and thank you for reposting, I started my blog in the summer of 2020 – so, I didn’t stumble upon this post until today 😅)

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  4. Pingback: #Controversed Part 1: What Does Controversy Mean to You? | BiblioNyan

  5. YES to everything you said!! When i started blogging i’m pretty sure i just copied stuff from MAL #thehorror and even to this day I always feel like i can’t write a summary well (don’t even get me started on my actual review #rip). i always worry that i’ve added spoilers, even if they’re minor, since i’m not one of those people that blow up at spoilers. after a while of blogging i started writing my own summaries and i like to think i’ve gotten better at it? i can’t be too sure xD

    whenever i visit book bloggers, the summaries are one of the first things that turn me off. i’ll usually just skip it and i won’t be as invested in the review because reviewers tend to just jump into their thoughts after that. i guess the only time i don’t mind is if i have read the book and know what’s going on or if it’s such a well-known title that i know the basic premise.

    great post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I honestly find that most synopsis given on the backs/insides of books and similar for cinema things always gives away too much information. I’m the kind of person who loathes spoilers. In fact, I don’t like knowing very much at all about a book going into it so I don’t risk creating any preconceptions. I want the story to speak to me as much as it can without taint (if that makes sense), and that’s another reason when people steal synopses it frustrates me.

      I agree that it can be difficult to write your own synopsis, especially if something has a complex plot to it. My only advice is to keep trying. You will get better with each one and one day it will become natural. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting and sharing your experiences. ♥

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  6. Writing your own synopsis is the way to go. It always comes across as super lazy when I see people just copying and pasting. There are even a few sites that a bulk of the “reviews” they offer are just a copy + paste and maybe a sentence or two. What does that even contribute?

    Liked by 1 person

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