Avoid Plot Summary

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Analysis vs. Plot Summary)

Unless you are writing a technical report that represents an investigation of an incident, never retell the plot of a story in your paper. You can always include a summary of how the relationship between two characters comes to be. Just remember that your professor is familiar with the story, so only a mere three to four lines suffices.

You know when you are in danger of plot summary when these four lines transition into one large paragraph. The sample excerpt represents plot summary. Information below represents an explanation of the student’s problem more fully and includes questions to help the student remove the plot summary. With this in mind, one method that works well for removing plot summary and developing an analysis is answering the questions. In answering the questions, you are analyzing the passages and the theme or themes that are present throughout a work. Let’s read.

Sample Excerpt

They both leave and Elisa notices the visitor as they pass him on the road.  She tried not to look, but did anyway.  She failed to tell Henry that he’d stopped by.  She comments that their outing would be good tonight; Henry instantly noticed that she had changed again.  Elisa notices the plants on the side of the road that the visitor throws out.  She immediately feels rejected and defeated.

Figure 31: Essay Excerpt on Elisa, “Chrysanthemums”


In the sample excerpt, the student recounts the events of Steinbeck’s short story, “Chrysanthemums.” The student doesn’t provide an analysis of the imagery the author uses to convey Elisa’s sentiments and feelings about the visitor’s lack of respect for the chrysanthemums. In other words, the student doesn’t evaluate the significance of the flowers to Elisa.


Why does Elisa feel rejected as she sees the flowers on the road? What do the flowers mean to Elisa? Provide in-text evidence.

Revision Considerations

Another method for removing plot summary is to separate those sentences that represent a retelling of the story. The first step is to examine the sentences. Evaluate them in light of the other sentences you use.

The second step is to determine why you feel the need to retell the story. In other words, what purpose do you want the sentences to serve within a particular body paragraph? If your plot summary is four or more lines, then you have to revise them so that they are only two sentences.

In essence, you only need two prep sentences for the beginning of your analysis. Before you can construct the prep sentences, you must determine what purpose you want the full body paragraph to serve. Then determine the purpose for each sentence you want to use to convey your ideas about the literary work.

Consider the following scenario:

If one body paragraph will highlight all of the issues Character A has in the literary work, then each sentence must service this purpose.

Topic Sentence A will introduce the character’s problem.

Supporting Sentence A will provide a sample event or action.

The prep sentence for Quote A will introduce the quote.

Follow-up Sentence A will evaluate the quote, its significance in the story, which will then lead to another event. Linking events may require a retelling of one part of the story.

Therefore, Two-Sentence Plot Summary A will serve a two-fold purpose: 1) provide more information about the character and also 2) provide a transition between events. After inserting the plot summary, you may insert more evaluation, another quote, or follow-up statements about the summary and/or quote.

The purpose here is to help you think more about the words on the page so you can analyze them. Bringing in a wealth of plot summary doesn’t serve as a fulfillment of the course requirements. Your job as the student is to analyze, not retell the story. You only need no more than two or a maximum of four sentences as prep statements for a quote or for your analysis. Keep this in mind as you revise your analysis.

See also the comment “Move Beyond Summary of Author’s Ideas: Analyze vs. Summarize” for an extended explanation.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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