Plot Summaries in Book Reviews & Why They Are Unnecessary // Monday Musings

Monday Musings is a weekly feature at Josie’s Book Corner, showcasing all thoughts on life, blogging and even possibly, wider issues.

As a book blogger, I write book reviews – and so do all the other book bloggers out there. You might be reading this as a book blogger yourself. One thing all book bloggers have in common is that we write reviews. More specifically, we write reviews on books that we’ve read. Our reviews tend to stick to a particular layout and the more you read book reviews by bloggers, the more you’ll realise that we all tend to write in the same format. Everyone writes differently though, and some can write reviews incredibly well and succinctly, while others sometimes don’t really grasp what it means to review a book – in my opinion, these are the people that tend to mix in their review with their plot summary. I’ve read reviews where I can’t tell where the plot summary begins or ends and it’s so frustrating, to the point where sometimes I feel as though the entire plot of a novel has just been given to me on a silver platter. That’s just not cool. NOT COOL.

But what’s the point of my rambling on right now? It’s not to tell you how book reviews should be written. No, everyone has their own personal style, and I believe they should flaunt that. I’m here to discuss the unimportance of plot summaries in book reviews. Like I mentioned before, most people, in their reviews, start off by giving a small – or large – plot summary before jumping in to their personal review. I don’t do this, because, obviously, I feel like they are not needed. This discussion corresponds somewhat to my last discussion post where I pondered the benefits of going into a book in ignorance.


Reasons Why Plot Summaries Are Unnecessary in Book Reviews

THEY’RE NOT EASILY WELL EXECUTED

You have to be very careful when dealing with a plot summary. Book reviews are there to inform readers about a specific novel and usually it’s targeted towards readers who have not yet read the particular book. That means, you need to write a plot summary in a way that doesn’t spoil your readers for the book. Sadly, I have been spoiled for books due to some reviewers who have given a plot summary that seems to explain everything crucial that happens and it’s very disappointing. I’ve even read reviews that weave the review in with the plot summary, which is even worse – I might as well have read the book through that review. Of course, in that sense, it was probably a case of getting the review structure right, and having everything in its clear sections.

THEY’RE USUALLY REITERATED BOOK BLURBS

Book blurbs – while at times, can be just as bad – are there for a reason and sometimes, people who write plot summaries sound as though they are restating the blurb, just in their own words and style of writing. When I see this, I can’t help but think: why did you even bother with that? You could’ve copied and pasted the Goodreads blurb and it would sound almost identical! Because that is exactly the case! If your plot summary sounds exactly like the blurb of the book, you might as well just copy and paste the blurb into your review.

SPOILERS, SPOILERS

This point ties in with the first point I made. Some people write summaries that are way too elaborate, to the point where it carries on explaining what happened throughout the entire novel. Seriously, if I WANTED to know what happen in the whole book, I’d google it. I wouldn’t be looking at your review.

GOING INTO A BOOK BLIND IS YOUR BEST BET

If you saw my last discussion post where I talked about how going into a book with ignorance was beneficial for your reading experience, you’ll know what I mean here. Plot summaries take away some of the mystery of the novel and can, in the process, also serve to lessen our enjoyment of the novel when we finally get to reading it. In my opinion, the only thing we need to know before going into a book, is a few keywords that summarises the novel as a whole. The genre, the themes of the book, the setting, etc. There is absolutely no need for a 100+ word summary of the novel.

I’ve rambled on enough. I conclude by saying that plot summaries are honestly, totally not needed in book reviews. The purpose of a book review is not to tell us what the story is about, but to inform us enough to convince us to read a book or not. You can get away with not writing a plot summary by even posting the blurb. However, to make it even better, just give a link to the Goodreads page. I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t like reading blurbs or summaries. So the best way to avoid spoilers is to give everyone the choice of clicking the link that will lead them to a blurb or a plot summary.


But now, as with all discussions, I am opening the floor – the virtual floor that is – up to all of you!

What do you think of plot summaries in book reviews?

Do you write plot summaries in your reviews?

Have you ever experienced a badly written or spoiler-y written plot summary?

41 thoughts on “Plot Summaries in Book Reviews & Why They Are Unnecessary // Monday Musings

  1. I really dislike summaries in reviews. I like to just get to the point of what the person thought about the book. Most of the time the summary is too long, contains spoilers or, like you said, is just a reworded book blurb. I just use the book blurb in my reviews since it’s part of the UBB plugin. Otherwise, I do no summary. I don’t even like touching on major plot points or commenting on the love interest – because even that can be a spoiler. I think if people do them on their reviews, keep it short and sweet and try not to spoil anything. We don’t need a play by play, that’s what reading the book is for!

    Great post!

    Molly @ Molly’s Book Nook

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly right! Summaries are not needed! They’re just another potential form of spoilers. However I do make comments on the love interest at times. Sometimes where I deem it better to keep it hidden, I do, but mainly, I discuss them.
      Thank you for stopping by Molly!

      Like

  2. Yeah, to be honest if someone includes a plot summary in their review, I tend to skim past it to get to the good stuff. I don’t want everything in the plot to be revealed and I like to go in blind as you said, but I am interested in their actual thoughts of the book. Great discussion lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m pretty much anti-summaries in reviews too *nods* But I think they’re okay if people like that??? Like I mean, they don’t HAVE to be spoilery and some people don’t like going in blind, so I definitely acknowledge that there are all kinds of readers here and we want different things.😂 Although I’m with you: GOING IN BLIND IS BEST.

    My biggest gripe is that I read reviews were it’s 90% plot summary…and ends with two sentences saying if they liked the book or not. WUT. I want to know your thoughts/feels for the ENTIRE book. That’s all I care about. In fact, I think so little of blurbs, in my reviews, I put the blurb/cover at the end and hardly summarise the book at all.😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I suppose. Each to their own, after all!
      YES CAIT, WE ARE THE BLIND READERS, WOO.
      Agh, yes, that’s what really grinds my gears! The ratio needs to be the other way around. I think I never summarise my books in book reviews anymore! I stick the blurb in there and that is about it.

      Like

  4. Great discussion topic, Josie! When I started blogging, I never included summaries because I felt like people could just read the synopsis. But I started including them for some books that have really vague blurbs, so now I do it a bit more often. I also include then because I know that sometimes when I read reviews, I don’t always read the included synopsis because I’m so excited to get to the review. So I kinda want to give a brief summary for those people who don’t read synopses.

    But I completely understand where you’re coming from because I’ve seen so many book reviews that don’t actually review the book. Instead it’s just one long summary of what the book was about. I’ve also seen some really horrendous plot summaries that don’t actually tell you what you need to know succinctly. And I find those kind of annoying because I don’t need to know little facts about the book. Either give me nothing or give me a clear and concise (but not spoilery) summary!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jenna!
      I understand your reasons for including summaries and I like yours! In your case, I see that it’s justified. If they are in there just for clarification of the plot such as for a second or third book, or to help with a vague blurb, then I’d say it’s all right.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  5. I find self-written synopses are necessary only if you aren’t including the actual book blurb in the contents of the review (which is never the case).

    A few months back, I still included a paragraph or two on the premise; basically a elaborated version of the synopsis but found it incredibly tedious to write to be both different from the existing blurb and one that didn’t expound on too much detail as far as to give any spoilers. I always stuck to stopping at the point where the “hook” (re conflict) of the story was.

    But I’ve always felt that it was just a rehashed version of what was already accessible and didn’t really focus on what I intended my subcategory (“premise”) to analyze–the originality and overall effectiveness of story being told (e.g. did all the elements therein meet the expectation of what it set out to achieve). So now, as of 2016, I stopped [basically] paraphrasing the synopsis and just stuck to the latter details of giving an opinion on what’s mentioned above.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! Having a blurb and a summary afterwards is quite unnecessary and, like you said, tedious. I suppose some people might like having the choice of reading the classic blurb or the summary, but still.
      That’s awesome, Joey! Thanks for stopping by, it’s been a while!

      Like

  6. This post really caught my eye because to an extent, I am guilty of this crime. I totally get where you’re coming from as I hate getting spoiled by reviews, especially when it’s about a book I have yet to read.

    However, personally, I like starting my reviews off by setting up and establishing what the book is about and what themes the story deals with. I’m not a fan of using book blurbs when writing in depth reviews. I prefer using them in my mini reviews as the purpose of my mini reviews is to save myself the time of going into explicit details. Anyway. The reason why I don’t depend on book blurbs is that based from my own experiences, sometimes the blurbs aren’t as enticing as they should be. Sometimes after reading the blurb, I’m still unsure as to whether I want to give the story a shot or not. In such cases, I look for alternative summaries in the reviews of other people to see if the story is worth looking into and if it is capable of intriguing me. This is a complicated feat to do as, like you said, most summaries are either paraphrased book blurbs or unwanted spoilers. Rarely do I come across reviews that present the book without giving anything away.

    And I guess that’s why. I want to be one of the rare ones that pull it off. However, I wouldn’t call the first part of my reviews as a summary of the book, but rather an introduction as I usually just talk about the first few chapters rather than the entire plot. That’s just my two cents though. Introduce the story rather than summarize it. But again, I totally understand where you’re coming from and I do agree with many of your points. Thank you for the discussion! This was fascinating. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Shealea! I’m so glad this discussion intrigued you!
      I see where you’re coming from. The kind of summaries I like to see, however, are ones that basically tell of the themes and the main overall ‘thing’ that it’s about. Not what actually happens on the story with great detail, but some core things that will help someone understand what they will be going into.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The only time I really provide a book blurb in my review is if it’s a second book or so on in a series. But I definitely agree with you; going in mostly blind gives me a better reading experience overall!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, I would agree with that. Second or third books etc. need that small little summarisation, in a way, to clarify. Of course because some people may be reading the review of a second book but the first book is jot fresh in their mind.
      I’m glad you think going in blind is good too! Woo! 😊

      Like

      • The only time I think spoilers are okay is if I would never read the book. Otherwise, it really kills the joy. :/ but yes, reading the first book is a sacred experience that should not be ruined by others!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I thought at first you meant the classic book blurb and I was like AH NO BUT I NEED IT. But I completely understand frustration with spoilery plot summaries.
    I just copy the Goodreads blurb, which honestly, I want in every book review I read. I think the blurb just gives you the plot on a strictly need-to-know basis so that you can see whether you want to read the book or not. I 100% understand wanting to go into a book blind, but I mean, then I really shouldn’t be reading a book review on it since that’s going to give me some sort of sight about the book.
    This is such a unique post, Josie! LOVE IT!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Becca! Your comments always make me happy that I’m a blogger. 😊
      I would never be so outrageous as to say that we should not have book blurbs! Book blurbs are needed, I agree! But some book blurbs can spoil you as well, sometimes.
      You’re right though – if you wanted to go into a book blind, you would read the review. But I try to write my reviews in a way that can allow a person to still go into the book fairly blind, you know? 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a great post, Josie. I like how you’re so open about something a lot of book reviewers tend to do. I played around with inserting plot summaries in my reviews for a bit, but then I stopped for the very reasons you mention: 1) you never know when you might accidentally spoil someone, and 2) I couldn’t figure out how to accurately grab the essence of the book without giving it all away. Which is why I paste the Goodreads synopsis above my review, under a bold heading so that people will get to choose if they want to read the blurb or not. It’s much easier for both the reviewer, and the reader.
    You made some great points. Your posts are always such a pleasure to read (though I’ve been off my blogging game for a while.) XD

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Aimal! I aim to expose and discuss any issues or topics with full honesty!
      Yes, that’s exactly why! Unless we can really master the plot summary, it’s much better to just avoid it and copy and paste the blurb from Goodreads.
      I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and enjoy my blog! It means so much to me! 😊

      Like

  10. As always, I don’t think you’ve rambled at all. You very clearly stated the drawbacks of putting plot summaries in a review post and I agree on every. single. account. I personally just copy the Goodreads blurb and that’s it, unless I think it’s misleading, then I will mention that in a single sentence or two at maximum. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I agree that it’s annoying when the entire content of a review is just a step-by-step reiteration of the plot (like the book reports I used to write for school when I was about six and didn’t really know what a book report was supposed to be… 😳 ), but I do still think it’s important to include some kind of summary… After all, a review doesn’t need to give a summary in order to tell you whether a book is good or not, but it does need a summary to tell you what the book’s actually about. I personally would be really disappointed if I went out to the bookshop/library after reading a really glowing (but blind) review of a book, only to find that that book is on a topic that I found inherently unappealing.

    As for re-writing blurbs, I find that it’s nice to be able to use my summaries in order to express what I thought the story was about in my own words, but that’s really just a matter of personal preference… And as long as the reviewer is careful to avoid spoilers, I don’t see that there’s any harm in writing one. That said, there are some books that I think are better to read blind (like We Were Liars by E. Lockhart), but those are the kind of books that I wouldn’t really want to write a review for, anyway (or, at least, not more that “I liked/loved/hated/was ambivalent to it.”).

    I myself have never been spoiled by a review, but I’m aware that it does happen (which is why I mark all my full reviews as spoiler-free).

    Long, rambly post is long and rambly. tl;dr – To each their own, I guess… ^^’

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right in saying that we need to know at least what the book is about. But I feel like when you’re doing a review, you won’t be able to really separate your thoughts from the main themes and gist of the story – you’ll find yourself talking about the main things of the book without even really realising it! (At least, that’s what I do!)
      But yes, as you said, to each their own! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m probably a little over-cautious about spoilers in my reviews; I’m sometimes reluctant even to say things like “this character’s motivations were really surprising”, because it might change the reader’s expectations of that character. :/ Generally speaking, I prefer to be as vague as possible when discussing anything beyond the book’s basic premise… But I also don’t find it too hard to avoid giving away actual plot details, as long as I consider my words carefully.

        In regards to themes, do you consider revealing them to be spoiler-y? I don’t, really (except, maybe, when an author adds in a theme that the readers are clearly not supposed to expect). For example, I wouldn’t have a problem saying in a review, “This book deals with feminism/racism/classism/whatever-ism”, so long as the how of it isn’t revealed…

        This was a great topic, by the way! Very thought-provoking. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I definitely don’t think themes are spoilery. In fact, I encourage people to share what the themes of a book are. It’s part of giving that background to what the book is going to be about so that readers can determine whether it fits with their preferences and their reason style, you know?

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I like to have the blurb of a book at the beginning of the review, to give some context to what I’m saying.

    I see what you’re getting at though. There are a lot of ‘reviews’ floating around in the blogosphere that are just extended summaries.

    I think how much that you talk about plot sort of depends on the review. Like, if you feel that a particular topic was handled badly then it often means going into some plot specifics to explain exactly why. If you’re going to do that though, it is important to let your reader know if they are looking to avoid any spoilers at all.

    I think there is a happy medium. If you don’t talk about plot at all then anyone coming to you review without having read the book won’t understand what your review is all about. On the other hand though, as you’ve pointed out, nobody wants to read a review that is a brief version of the entire plot with ‘…and it’s great!’ tacked on the end. I also kind of think bloggers who do that are those who are figuring out how to review. I definitely did it more when I first started.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Context. Yep I get where you’re coming from. I’d agree with that in terms of reviewing second, third, forth, etc. books in a series, just so that people can refresh their minds on what happens next. But then that needs an included spoiler warning.
      Ah, you make a good point – some people don’t know how to write them properly. You’re so right there. I suppose taking that time to write summaries on their reviews would help develop their skills and make them better.
      Thank you for stopping by! 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I used to write my own summary of the book, but I stopped doing that and just used the book’s own blurb. One, because it takes a lot of effort for me to write the summary that doesn’t sound like I just copied the blurb. Two, because like you I found it unnecessary to repeat what the blurb basically said.
    I tend to also skip the summaries when reading reviews, mostly because if it’s a book I’ve read then I don’t need to know what it’s about and if it’s new then I don’t want the story spoiled for me. I have a huge problem with spoilers, because I can’t bring myself to read a book once I know what’s going to happen, no matter how much I’ve been looking forward to reading it. In a completely unrelated note, I’m also wary whenever I read on reviews “watch out for that surprising twist” so much that when it happens it’s not surprising anymore, since you’re already expecting it. But I tend to do that too so I’m confused, lol.
    In a way, I guess people will just write whatever they feel like adding to their reviews. But yeah, if the review is basically just a longer version of the blurb with opinion intertwined in it, then most likely I will not read it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s very hard to justify whether we should have blurbs or not. There’s the case of people who don’t read them, but then again there are people who actually DO pay attention with them. Then there’s the issue of possible spoilers, paraphrasing the book blurb, and all of that.
      But you’re right. People write whatever they like and whatever suits them. I’d just love to at least see people write summaries in a much more conscious and careful manner!
      Thank you for stopping by! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I don’t know, I like when a review tells me something about what the book is about. It’s like when you write literature analyses, you should always include a brief summary of the story before going on to analyse it.

    It doesn’t have to be long or super detailed, just one or two sentences is often enough, but I’m very rarely going to pick up a book just because I read a review that said it was good but said nothing about the plot. Because I’m still going to go read the goodreads synopsis before I read the book anyway, so a brief synopsis in the review would’ve saved me some time. I’ve gone in blind few times with books most people agree you should mostly go in blind on (like More Than This by Patrick Ness) but even then I’ve still known a little bit about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, the thing is, I think someone who is writing a review, no matter whether they put the blurb in or not, will talk about the plot to some degree anyway. That’s why o justify it as being unnecessary.
      Of course, I don’t mind a few sentences explaining the overall things of the story: the main story line, the themes surrounding the story.

      Like

  15. I used to write summaries into my reviews when I was new but I slowly learnt that they were unnecessary. Now I just copy the book blurb (with credit) and put it at the top of my review then review it. I think reiterating book blurbs is an easy way to make the review longer and it’s really no one’s fault. Some people just don’t know which is why I’m so Glad you wrote this post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, by reiterating your book blurb you’re making it longer than it needs to be! Sometimes I even like to shorten a book blurb even further and write a one or two sentence summary myself but that is very rare.
      It’s great that you think this post was impactful! I hope it helps others with their reviewing.

      Liked by 1 person

Tell me your fabulous thoughts, bookworms!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s