Wikipedia talk:How to write a plot summary

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Comment[edit]

This is good, but it's too much for the MOS page. This seems to work better if it was an essay that the MOS page linked to - as sort of an explaination for why it says to write a specific way.  BIGNOLE  (Contact me) 15:59, 8 July 2008 (UTC)

I agree - I didn't write this as an MOS page, I wrote it as a teaching tool. I don't think it's best as an essay either, though - simply put, I think it should carry some normative force. Perhaps we should tag it as something new entirely - a guide, or manual, or something. Phil Sandifer (talk) 16:05, 8 July 2008 (UTC)
I don't know if you can have manuals (you're referring to an editing guideline?) that are this small and specific to one section of an article. If so, go for it. If not, I think it will work best as an essay because it's too large for one section of the MOS, but we would lose some good explaination if we trimmed it down.  BIGNOLE  (Contact me) 16:08, 8 July 2008 (UTC)
I don't see a guideline that restricts it. ;) Phil Sandifer (talk) 16:12, 8 July 2008 (UTC)
You can try. Just post a notice at every relative page (all WikiProjects, Guidelines and Policies...include the people at FILM, TV, and BOOKS)  BIGNOLE  (Contact me) 16:13, 8 July 2008 (UTC)
This could possibly be expanded into writing character descriptions and other fictional elements (such as alien races on sci-fi shows). Then it could be a guideline for writing plot summaries - not so much a MOS, but something with more bite than just an essay. --MASEM 16:35, 8 July 2008 (UTC)
Good call - describing character histories and the like is really just a different flavor of plot summary, and the same logic works. I don't want to add another case study for that, and I don't think there's that much new advice to add, but I'll add some language making that point later today. Phil Sandifer (talk) 16:36, 8 July 2008 (UTC)
And as for an actual real case study, might I suggest using snapshots of the plot summary of the Dr. Who episode The Stolen Earth (warning, spoilers as it has yet to air in the States, but will in .. 3 weeks?) which I watched undergo small but substantial changes to get the plot summary to where it is today in its FAC bid, and shows (in general) good collaborative effort to improve it beyond a point-by-point approach. --MASEM 16:40, 8 July 2008 (UTC)
I don't want a real case study. Everyone can follow the logic on Red Riding Hood, and knows the source material. Phil Sandifer (talk) 16:44, 8 July 2008 (UTC)

Actually, the description of the plot *does* need to follow the order in which events takes place; that's precisely what a plot is, as opposed to story. Kbrewer36 (talk) 16:18, 26 December 2011 (UTC)kbrewer36

In other words, Wikipedia has confused "plot" and "story." What's being called for here is a story summary, not a plot summary. The story of *Memento* is that a guy's wife was (possibly) raped and killed, and he tries to get revenge etc. etc." That's not the plot, which, as it name suggests, is how the events occur in the story 99.37.200.255 (talk) 18:57, 19 February 2012 (UTC)kbrewer36

Hey there little red riding hood, you sure are looking good[edit]

In the revision history, it's clear how she gets eaten and then saved, but as written it's darn confusing. It really does need to be cleaned up... Hobit (talk) 20:28, 8 July 2008 (UTC)

Oh fine. I'll go with the "nice" version. :) Phil Sandifer (talk) 20:51, 8 July 2008 (UTC)

What projects[edit]

What projects need to be consulted on this, in your mind? Phil Sandifer (talk) 02:50, 13 July 2008 (UTC)


To start:
  1. WP:WAF
  2. WP:FILMS
  3. WP:TV
  4. WP:MOSFILMS
  5. WP:MOSTV
  6. WP:BOOKS <-- I mention them because, theoretically, their individual book pages have plot summaries too and the proposed guideline does not appear to be limited to just film media.
  7. Any topic WikiProject (i.e. WikiProject Horror, WikiProject Harry Potter, etc etc)

The more projects you notify, the less likely the chance that someone will come along and say, "I didn't know about this...I challenge the consensus that this should be a guideline". This way, you can go, "Wait, I left a message here, here, here, here, here, etc" and leave it at that.  BIGNOLE  (Contact me) 02:56, 13 July 2008 (UTC)

I've got it at WAF. Film, TV, and books are all very good ideas. I'm going to give a pass on the subject ones, I think, because I am hesitant to use them as policy vehicles for larger summary. Phil Sandifer (talk) 03:01, 13 July 2008 (UTC)

WP:VG, WP:COMIC, and WP:ANIME are some pretty big general Fiction-related WikiProjects. -- Ned Scott 07:08, 15 July 2008 (UTC)

Excellent. This page will definitely be useful and can even be used to point to when needed, especially if and when it is adopted. Gary King (talk) 21:06, 16 July 2008 (UTC)

Too much vs. too little spoiler[edit]

This is very well written, and I'd probably support it being a guideline, but I do have to comment on how much space you devote to explaining why you shouldn't have too many spoilers versus why you shouldn't have too few. I don't know about other projects or editors, but in my experience working at the animanga project, editors not well-versed in Wikipedia's guidelines and policies tend to avoid spoilers to whatever extent possible, rather than trying to cover everything. Therefore, I think you should probably spend a bit more space explaining why spoilers aren't to be avoided, referring to WP:SPOILER as appropriate. —Dinoguy1000 21:42, 16 July 2008 (UTC)

Done. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:46, 16 July 2008 (UTC)
All right, looks good. —Dinoguy1000 22:01, 16 July 2008 (UTC)

Suggestions[edit]

Looks like good progress is being made with this. I have to concur to Bignole that I do not quite see this as a guideline. It seems to qualify better as an essay, considering the amount of content addressing this topic. I would expect a guideline to be more to the point. The writing is casual, and while I don't mind reading it like that, I would expect more formal writing in a guideline.

I think that this should directly reference WP:NOT#PLOT: "Wikipedia treats fiction in an encyclopedic manner; discussing the reception, impact and significance of notable works. A concise plot summary is appropriate as part of the larger coverage of a fictional work." Indicate this in the lead section and use it a springboard into writing exactly how we can ensure that plot summaries are concise. Another reference to make is WP:OR, specifically, WP:PSTS. Fictional works are primary sources, so we can only make descriptive claims about them when we write a summary. Definitely factor in all the information from the paragraph starting with "Primary sources that have been published..." and to the end of the section.

When it comes to certain detail in a fictional work, I would encourage ambiguous terms. Particular in film articles, there tends to be specialist knowledge about details such as locations, weapons, or vehicles. If these details are not explicitly identified in the fictional work, this may lead to disagreements about what it actually is. It would be best to make the issue as ambiguous as possible (calling it a building, a gun, or an automobile) since if it is not explicitly identified, it is probably not pertinent to the plot summary.

Lastly, I would express caution about describing plots that are out of order. Memento is easy enough to sort out, but there are experimental films (like David Lynch's work) in which it is not possible to identify what is relevant and what is irrelevant. It may be best to fall back to secondary sources that describe the film more succinctly, and if there is any critical commentary on any particular element of a purposely disorganized story, then it can be addressed elsewhere in the article. Just a few preliminary thoughts. I'll put this on my watchlist to see how it progresses and to engage in further discussion. —Erik (talkcontrib) - 18:39, 17 July 2008 (UTC)

I have to say, I disagree that it's not possible to summarize a David Lynch film without a secondary source. Harder, yes, but sometimes we summarize harder things - that's not a problem to me. I'll try to add the references you suggest, though. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:35, 17 July 2008 (UTC)
I don't think it's impossible. Moni3 brought Mulholland Drive (film) up to Featured Article status without relying on secondary sources for the plot summary. Films like Primer (film) may warrant such backup, though, if the articles want to see Featured Article status. —Erik (talkcontrib) - 21:39, 17 July 2008 (UTC)

Citations[edit]

This guideline says nothing about citations for plot summaries. How do we know that a plot summary isn't just made up by someone? Wouldn't it have to be referenced? I have seen some plot summaries tagged as original research which I can sort of understand. What's to stop vandals making stuff up for their own amusement? Shouldn't we at least be trying to reference pages or chapters of a book for fiction that point out where events take place? --bodnotbod (talk) 01:18, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

Generally, plot summaries are understood to be sourced to the work they are summarizing, and therefore don't need explicit sources. Anything that would otherwise be original research or personal synthesis still requires a source, though. ダイノガイ?!」(Dinoguy1000) 18:47, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
Plot summaries are generally considered to be implicitly cited to the work they summarize. Phil Sandifer (talk) 18:58, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
Unfortunately most plot summaries are WP:SYNTHESIS of those works featuring interpretations. These should require actual reliable sources, and if none exist then the details of the plot in question lack notability and should not be there in the first place. Plot summaries should only have a minimum amount of information specifically to be accurate and true to the source. Some articles should probably not even have plot summaries, as by encyclopedic standards it's generally one of the least important topics. We are WP:NOT study guides or Readers Digest condensed versions. DreamGuy (talk) 16:14, 7 September 2009 (UTC)

Merger[edit]

A request was made at Wikipedia talk:Plot summaries to merge that page, this page and/or Wikipedia:Plot-only description of fictional works. Accordingly, I am boldly merging much of the specific "how to" content to this page and cross-linking to the "why" content on the other. My intent is not to change the content or meaning on either page in any significant way, merely to reorganize and then rewrite for consistent flow and tone. Rossami (talk) 23:30, 24 July 2009 (UTC)

To clarify - the proposed vision for the way the pages work together is:
WP:NOTPLOT - policy level but deliberately very short
└> Wikipedia:Plot-only description of fictional works - supporting policy page elaborating on NOTPLOT just as WP:WINAD elaborates on WP:DICDEF
└> Wikipedia:How to write a plot summary - very detailed guideline page with all the tactical details, recommendations and best thinking on how to present the ideal plot summary.
Rossami (talk) 00:46, 25 July 2009 (UTC)

We shouldn't have three pages for the same topic, as it's WP:CREEPY in general, and, the farther down you go on the list, the less consensus is actually behind was written there. The pages describing how to do plot summaries have frequently violated multiple Wikipedia policies, such as WP:NOT, WP:V, and WP:UNDUE. We find that problem over and over, with people basically writing up their own POV fork of policy without getting proper community consensus or abiding by founding principles and then demanding people do what they say. DreamGuy (talk) 16:17, 7 September 2009 (UTC)

`12== Characters referred to by first or last name? ==

I have been unable to find any guidance on the subject. Since I see no technical reason for either, I'd suggest exercising common sense and naming them by the name by which they are mostly referred to in the film, but in any case I think it should be explicitly stated. --uKER (talk) 14:04, 25 August 2009 (UTC)

I agree. For example using video game characters the Miles Edgeworth is almost always refered to as Edgeworth and not Miles so it would make little sense to use Miles in that case. Ken Masters on the other hand is rarely refered to as Masters so Using Ken makes more sense.--76.66.188.175 (talk) 16:30, 4 October 2009 (UTC)
Similarly, Pride and Prejudice has 7 characters surnamed Bennet, but the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, never have their first names mentioned. A war film will probably refer to characters by rank and surname (e.g. Sgt. Thompson, Pvt. Harrison), and then again Lord of the Flies has a character almost inevitably called by his nickname "Piggy". Any attempt to make a hard rule will end up in stupidity somewhere. Shoemaker's Holiday Over 210 FCs served 17:29, 4 October 2009 (UTC)

Bizarre argument[edit]

The argument that this should be listed as having consensus instead of merely being an essay included the claim: "this page forms the heart of a widely used template". This is a completely spurious argument, as the template in question was created long before this page was created and originally referred to WP:NOT#PLOT. The policy itself has consensus, but the subpages are not watched as strongly, and I know much of the content of this page directly contradicts statements made during discussion of the consensus for the policy. If someone changed the template for POV problems to include a link to a page saying pushing POV is fine as long as the POV was morally superior all the pages using that template could not be used to claim consensus for the new page. Consensus must always be able to be demonstrated once it is challenged or else it isn't consensus at all. DreamGuy (talk) 20:06, 9 September 2009 (UTC)

  • Thank you for your opinion that it is a spurious argument. Oddly, though, your arguments don't seem grounded in any manner I can make out. As far as I can see, you are the only person claiming there is no consensus that this page represents the way we write plot summaries on Wikipedia. If you believe that to be the case, I invite you to rewrite the page so that it closer resembles that consensus. That would prove more beneficial than edit warring over the tag at the top. Your other arguments hold little water because firstly the template in question, {{plot}}, is protected so cannot be changed "for POV problems to include a link to a page saying pushing POV is fine" unless we have a rogue admin on our hands, which isn't the case here. Secondly, the template was actually amended per discussion on the talk page which you participated in as the sole dissenter, as can be seen at Template talk:Plot#Suggested rewording of template: please vote. Now if you want to challenge that decision, you are in the wrong place doing it here. And also, your suggestion that this is somehow in breach of WP:PLOT isn't supported by the fact that that policy links to the guideline Wikipedia:Manual of Style (writing about fiction) which in turn links to this page. Now you may well be right that this page isn't watched as well as it should, but that doesn't support the idea that you can unilaterally decide this page has no consensus behind it based on your opinion of what may have been said in a discussion on some other page. If you believe there is no consensus behind this page, it will readily be demonstrated by the other participants in this debate. Until such a time, I suggest we refrain from edit warring over the tag, which has been tagged as representing community consensus for over a year now. Since you are the only person in that time to dispute that consensus, I would suggest your view is not supported by consensus. Oh, and on Wikipedia, consensus is not detroyed each time someone challenges it. Consensus is determined by examining "the quality of the arguments, the history of how they came about, the objections of those who disagree, and existing documentation in the project namespace". You have failed to demonstrate any arguments against the practises described on this page, you have failed to demonstrate any history of any arguments, you have failed to list any objections aside your own view that "no consensus established to give it a name beyond just essay when clearly not a policy or guideline", a view which somehow ignores the fact that for over a year this page was tagged as a guideline, and the existing documentation within the project namespace, as I have shown, clearly supports the view that there is consensus on the practises described on this page. Hiding T 11:26, 10 September 2009 (UTC)
    • I have to question whether this is consensus, but for the opposite reason: it's far too reasonable, and would lead to mercifully brief summaries that wouldn't dominate articles. Given that DreamGuy and I question its representation of consensus on opposite grounds, it's probably shooting the middle reasonably well. Philosophically, I agree with DreamGuy that the plot summary is the least important part of an article, but NOT#PLOT doesn't prohibit having plot summaries by any reasonable reading.—Kww(talk) 01:37, 13 September 2009 (UTC)
I see little chance of this essay's achieving consensus, because it lacks a taxonomy of stories and similar works. Some stories have complex plots, and it's important keep the summary coherent in terms of how the main characters reach the conclusion. Others are about emotions and/or relationships, and causal chains are less important. Others are really just collections of incidents, as in Picaresque novels, where events are just illustrations of points the author wants to make. The taxonomy also includes works that are parts of a series, e.g. the Harry Potter novels or Babylon Five, where earlier members often set up events that occur later. Etc., etc. - I'm sure there are types within the taxonomy that I haven't even heard of. The requirements for a plot summary will vary widely between " classes". Without a comprehensive taxonomy any proposed guideline will be inappropriate to some types.

This essay[edit]

Featured articles almost always go against this essay. They regularly have far more than 500 words:


Plot summaries in Featured articles on literary fiction

This is basically everything in the FA section "Literature and theatre" that A. was on some sort of literary work (as opposed to an author, etc), B. had a plot section, and C. that I spotted as a literary work on a very quick look-over.

Featured article Approximate word count Notes
Candide 1370
The Country Wife 1049 Laid out over two sections
Creatures of Impulse 886
The General in his Labyrinth 881
Hamlet 1092
La Cousine Bette 858
Mary: A Fiction 340
Night (book) 2863 This is actually nonfiction
Original Stories from Real Life 462 This book doesn't actually have a plot
Proserpine_(play) 419
The Raven 327 (see note) Also includes the entire 1235 word complete text of the poem (!)
Romeo and Juliet 565
Roy of the Rovers 1584 Comic strip
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 532
To Kill a Mockingbird 541

About 1/3rd of this sample (admittedly, not a systematic one) has over 1000 characters in the plot summary. In one case, the entire 1235 word original work is quoted in full (albeit, you have to click "more" to see it)


They quote or paraphrase dialogue as it suits them, and regularly describe scenes in detail.

If we're going to treat this as pseudo-policy, can we at least make some attempt to keep this in line with featured article requirements? Shoemaker's Holiday Over 210 FCs served 23:03, 1 October 2009 (UTC)

If Featured Articles go against the WP:NOTPLOT policy then they should be fixed. Saying that 1/3 of them go against what this page says is not a reason to change this page, it's a reason to improve those articles. FA status is not some stamp that means anything in them becomes policy. DreamGuy (talk) 01:11, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
I hardly think that's the right lesson to take from this. NOTPLOT doesn't even SAY anything about length, and was very nearly deleted earlier this year. Shoemaker's Holiday Over 210 FCs served 01:14, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
  • If you read the page it states There is no set length for a plot summary though many editors generally recommend 300 to 500 words for a typical novel, movie or similar work. Why is anyone arguing thispage sets a limit of 500 words, when the page directly contradicts that argument? Hiding T 09:25, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
    • It also suggests not mentioning all of Odysseus' adventures, that dialogue can never be paraphrased or quoted, and that individual scenes shouldn't be included. None of this is true of FAs. Shoemaker's Holiday Over 210 FCs served 11:44, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
      • No it doesn't. The word "never" is not contained in the page at all. Hiding T 12:44, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
        • I'm sorry, it actually says "Well-written plot summaries describe the major events in the work but do not describe individual scenes or paraphrase dialog." - that's not borne out by featured articles in the least. In particular, I'm pretty sure it's impossible to write a plot summary without describing some individual scenes. Shoemaker's Holiday Over 210 FCs served 14:00, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
          • Well, we've got two issues here. I suppose we have to work out whether plot summaries which appear in featured articles are well written, and work out what well written plot summaries do too. I don't think it is a given that featured articles are well written, for example. We've also got to understand what is meant by "major event", since a major event could in certain instances be a specific scene. How would you suggest re-writing it? Hiding T 14:04, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
            • Well, of course they should describe individual scenes, and even quote or paraphrase short sections of key dialogue (for instance, if one character has a speech, and that speech motivates every other action in the plot - I had that recently in a plot where one character was blackmailing another, and the details of the blackmail and what he got the other character to do on the basis of it is the basis for every other plot point, and all this comes out in one lengthy scene, with two key speeches. Not to include summaries of these would make the rest of the plot incomprehensible. However, there were also some subplots that didn't connect with the main plot (which I cut completely), and one subplot I had to include some of if the ending was going to make sense, but which I trimmed down fairly ruthlessly, and then quoted a tiny snippet of dialogue from the key scene of the subplot that encapsulated their characterisation and relationship, thus making it clear they were important, with much less leadup than would otherwise be required.
In short, what they shouldn't do is treat every scene as equally important: Less important scenes and subplots should be minimised or cut, whereas key scenes should be described in whatever level of detail is necessary to allow the plot to be understood. Shoemaker's Holiday Over 210 FCs served 14:43, 2 October 2009 (UTC)

Tags[edit]

This is (allegedly) an essay. Whhy remove the tag about how it would be nice if people followed it? Feel free to go write another essay and tag it how you want. But this is an essay. That means, by definition, it doesn't represent the views of everyone or even have to. Unless we start removing humor tags and all that from essays, I can't see what harm the tag does. But I'm fed up with tag warring. In fact, I'm fed up with people who think any of this matters and who constantly have to battle until they get their own way instead of simply trying to rub along nicely. If everyone stopoped playing policitics on Wikipedia it would be a much better place. Hiding T 14:14, 2 October 2009 (UTC)

Well, okay, point. But we do need to try and bring this at least roughly in line with Wiki reality. This is a heavily linked essay, and thus should not contain blanket statements about best practice that are in complete and total opposition to what the community has identified as our best articles on fiction. Shoemaker's Holiday Over 210 FCs served 14:26, 2 October 2009 (UTC)
Hey, it's a wiki. You don't need my permission to edit. this page and this page should be kept in mind, but other than that, you should feel free to edit the page so it better reflects community consensus. Hiding T 10:17, 12 October 2009 (UTC)

The Lost Symbol[edit]

FYI, debate about the length of the plot section in an article is on-going at Talk:The Lost Symbol#Length of plot section. Any interested editors are invited to participate. --Elonka 15:56, 2 November 2009 (UTC)

Examples of good & bad plot summaries[edit]

I think the essay would benefit by having a list of a few plot summaries on Wikipedia, and explaining why they are particularly good or bad. It would be helpful for editors to study how real summaries follow or ignore the advice in the essay. Something like this:

  • The Thief and the Cobbler (1892, 1147 and 1280 words, as of 20:32, 5 March 2009) - A terrible one. There are three different versions of the film, and the article provides lengthy plot dumps for all three, instead of explaining the differences between each one. As the summaries are all hopelessly drowned in detail, they are very hard and slow to read, and the differences are almost impossible to understand.
  • Citizen Kane (575 words,as of 12:10, 25 November 2009) - This one does the job well: Everything necessary is described (Who Kane is, the present-day and flashback plotlines, the ending) without unnecessarily detailed description of individual scenes. The present-day and flashback plotlines are summarised separately instead of the repetitive "First he met that person and discovered that, then met another person and discovered more, etc". The role of the sled is also explained without resorting to original research.

I would like some feedback before adding this to the article. What and how many examples to have, in how much detail should they be analyzed, etc.--LaukkuTheGreit (TalkContribs) 10:32, 25 November 2009 (UTC)

We should also probably have some summaries that don't closely follow the essay, but which are still good summaries. If there are any, that is. The point is to give more insight in what is a good summary.--LaukkuTheGreit (TalkContribs) 10:40, 25 November 2009 (UTC)

Citizen Kane's plot summary is good, but with a few pieces of prose. I agree that

The Thief and the Cobbler's summuary is excessive, but what to do would depend on circumstances, for example if there were sufficient sources it might be OK to split the article into 3 - if we're very lucky.

It would be good to have a wider range of examples. Genres I'd worked on (I'm naming no names; if the zealots attack the articles I've worked on I'll treat them to the sharp end of a WP:POINT):
  • Detective stories. There the plots are complex. To limit the lenths of the summaries, I included only the main chains of events, without which the plot would be full of holes, summarised other aspects in "Reception" and "Themes" if the sources make a point of these aspects.
  • Hard science fiction is an unusual genre, as the summary plot often needs to include the main points of the science scenario - otherwise it's intelligible. And then the plot summary proper needs to include enough to explain the irrelevance of the science as with of the main causal chain(s).
  • Works in a series can present challenges, for example if an incident in an early work has a hidden significance that is revealed in a later work.
  • At the other of the scale, a picaresque may have separate incidents whose only connection is that they are amusing. --Philcha (talk) 11:37, 25 November 2009 (UTC)
The plot for The Thief and the Cobbler has been fixed a long time ago. The reason I used an old version is that it was a great example of an overly excessive plot and why they are bad. The wider range of examples are a good point, and exactly what I was hoping for.--LaukkuTheGreit (TalkContribs) 12:13, 25 November 2009 (UTC)

Organization[edit]

The first few sections of the page are extremely disorganized. The reader is warned three or four times in as many sections that (a) the purpose of a plot summary is to explain the story, not to entertain the reader; (b) the summary should be as short as possible; and (c) it's okay to reorder events to make the plot clearer. So why not organize the sections that way and delete the unnecessary repetition? —Codrdan (talk) 10:49, 25 November 2009 (UTC)

Why is this not a guideline?[edit]

Has it ever actually been proposed? This seems like guideline material. Would anyone else be in agreement with proposing a promotion to guideline status? Swarm(Talk) 06:50, 1 February 2010 (UTC)

It's not a guideline, just a set of vague generalities and a few "on the one hand ... one the other ..."
In the case study, "Little Red Riding Hood", the actual story can be written in 10 pages. The plot is about 240 words. In a 300-page novel (not really long), a proportion plot summary would be 7,200 words - about as long as "Little Red Riding Hood". So "Little Red Riding Hood" is not a realistic example, it's far too easy.
The essay does not analyse the requirements of different genres. There are some where I couldn't see a plot at long, e.g. chicklit, and ones, e.g. some detective or science fiction, where it's difficult to lead the more important characters from the start to the end without include a lot of incidents - so the plot summary would be fairly long even if it omits sub-plots and 2nd-level characters. To handle the requirements of different genres, the guideline would need a taxonomy. --Philcha (talk) 21:38, 15 February 2010 (UTC)

This misquotes policy/guidelines.[edit]

While it is hard to quantify a strict word limit, since no two articles are equal, for films, Wikipedia:WikiProject Films/Style guidelines offers guidance that "plot summaries for feature films should be between 400 and 700 words"; Wikipedia:WikiProject Television/Style guidelines recommends "100–200 words; upwards of 350 words for complex storylines" for television episodes in episode lists, or "200-500" in standalone episode articles; and for novels Wikipedia:WikiProject Novels/Style guidelines says that plot summaries "should aim to be no more than three or four paragraphs".

While this is partially true, all of these then go on to state that particularly complicated works may require more space. Hence, an addition is needed:

However, as all three go on to note, particularly complex plots may need a more lengthy summary than the general guidance.

This is, indeed, explicitly stated in the Film and Novels guidelines, if you check the links, and is present, though vaguer in Television.

Secondly, the article claims:

Most importantly, plot summaries shouldn't swamp an article. This is policy.

That's not what WP:PLOT says. WP:PLOT says that summaries must not be the only part of an article, and that they must be put in context. While the sentiment is no doubt true - we shouldn't swamp the article with plot, it's not what the linked policy says, and we shouldn't lie to our readers in an essay about the content of policy. 86.** IP (talk) 16:39, 11 May 2012 (UTC)

Because these are all disparate pages, and that policy/guideline is descriptive and not prescriptive, we shouldn't worry about to-the-letter accuracy but the intent. PLOT doesn't explicitly say "plot shouldn't swamp an article" but it is clear that's the intent. --MASEM (t) 19:23, 11 May 2012 (UTC)
I'd say, no, it's not clear that's the intent. PLOT says things must be put into context. It doesn't set strict length requirements, though. Now, WP:MOSWAF, as a guideline, rightfully sets stronger guidelines, since it's setting out what to strive for. How about just "See WP:MOSWAF" instead of "This is policy"? That said, I do find that message box a little annoyingly cutesy in its other content, so I'd rather we just talk about it in the lead a bit. 86.** IP (talk) 19:36, 11 May 2012 (UTC)
I oppose your edit on the strongest possible terms. Do not instate it again unless you gain editorial consensus. --87.79.213.106 (talk) 22:50, 11 May 2012 (UTC)
Sorry but that was the intent when WP:PLOT was written. True, we did not reach consensus on strict word-count limits but the concept of proportionality was very clearly and explicitly intended when WP:PLOT was first written. If plot content "swamps the article" then it clearly is not in the appropriate proportion for an encyclopedia article.
Remember that a large part of the need for WP:PLOT (though not the only need) is based on copyright law. Regardless of wording, the plot of a work of fiction is itself an item of copyright. We can assert fair use only to the extent that our use is proportional and in keeping with our fundamental purpose. A section within a larger encyclopedia article discussing criticisms, social impact, etc is perfectly reasonable. An unadorned regurgitation of the plot is not. And, yes, that's policy. Rossami (talk) 23:54, 11 May 2012 (UTC)
We should be a little careful about exaggeration. That you claim it was what was intended is not the same as policy saying it. It is pretty much in WP:MOSWAF so it's not like we can't discuss it, but we should be clear and include qualifications. 86.** IP (talk) 09:53, 12 May 2012 (UTC)
It's about WP:NOTPLOT. That is policy. Why don't you just come out of the closet and openly admit that you're just trying to get rid of WP:NOTPLOT via the backdoor? --87.79.106.55 (talk) 13:56, 12 May 2012 (UTC)

Just to step back a moment, I trust the other edit (the one noting that the guidelines saay that particularly complex plots can be slightly longer) is fine? 86.** IP (talk) 09:50, 12 May 2012 (UTC)

Not in my opinion, no. --87.79.106.55 (talk) 13:50, 12 May 2012 (UTC)
  • Comment: This is a reasonable question with reasoned arguments on both sides. While this debate continues, please leave the page alone and stop this low-grade revert war. I have reverted the page to the last stable version before the debate began. Let's reach consensus here before attempting to change the page again. Rossami (talk) 14:17, 12 May 2012 (UTC)
  • the actual place where the rule appears is MOS FILM. (We may be divided if it is the intent of nOT PLOT, but we have been arguing about that in multiple context for years; I do not think there is consensus that NOT PLOT means anything more restrictive than that the coverage of a work in WP should not be entirely or almost entirely plot; some people may think it ought to, but I do not think it has consensus--the difficulty in changing the wording is that it has so far been impossible to find sufficient consensus on any other wording. So we have to take it as meaning what we are all agreed it means.)
But I consider this irrelevant. The question that has been raised is not what the current rule is, but what the rule should be. We are discussing the advisability of a change in the relevant policy & guideline--obviously what is said here should be consonant with MOS FILM & if we think something should be changed that requires a change there also, we should change it. Policy & guidelines are subject to change. Though we do not want to fight over each article in terms of fundamentals, we do have sometimes to rediscuss fundamentals. (I would also argue that all detail about content, as distinct from format and arrangement , should be removed from the MOS--it is too subject to variation to be called policy. As an alternative to removing things from the MOS, I would also accept asa first step the much coarser-grained one of demoting the entire MOS to a guideline. But that's a more general question, and for the moment it might be better to work with the existing structure. ).
For most elements of an article , the amount of detail can be determined by the sources available, on the assumption that the amount of available reliable sourcing will correspond in some rough manner to the importance. The difficulty is that this is not true for plot: we are not limited by sources. Since the preferred source for plot is the work itself, for all surviving works the source is available in sufficient detail to support even the most detailed writing. (This applies to all Plots, not just film, but at least there is the agreement that everything about a particular film should be in one article--that agreement is not present for all other creative fields. This greatly simplifies the discussion, since we need only decide what to include, not where to put it.) Thus, for most films the source is available in sufficient detail to support describing not just each scene, but the details of each scene. I'm not saying we should do this,but we do have the authoritative sources to write an annotation of everything that is visible or audible. The RS for films is in addition very easily available for most films people here would want to write about--though of course for a great many, though copies are known they are not readily available unless one has access to a specialist collection.
The only guideline that makes sense to me is that the level of detail should vary based on the importance of the film and the complexity of the plot. Importance is a vague term, but the factors are usually fairly obvious: films from famous directors, that have won awards, that are objects of academic study, that are especially popular. (As an additional consideration,for films that have been analyzed in detail, the basic description should at least support the analysis being cited.)
This is what I think makes sense for the purpose of an encyclopedia. People can be assumed to want to know more about things that are important to them, Editors here can also be assumed to want to write more about the ones they think important. WP is not paper, and there is no degree of detail that could not be accomplished, if we wanted to do it. As a minimum, I think everyone at WP is agreed, as a part of the general policy of being an encyclopedia, that we write for the reader with a general interest in a subject, not for the hobbyist intent on every possible detail. As I see it, that rulers out the description of the details of every scene, line by line through the script as produced. We do not write for the person who can repeat from memory the complete dialog of a film. But what is the argument that scene by scene ought to be considered too much detail? DGG ( talk ) 06:16, 1 January 2013 (UTC)
That the plot shouldn't swamp the article is a direct consequence of WP:V's insistence that we base our articles on independent sources. Using primary sources for material is certainly permitted, but an article which is predominantly plot recitation is based on the work, not on independent sources. At the worst, we should change the wikilink, not the text.—Kww(talk) 06:39, 1 January 2013 (UTC)
And of course, we are a tertiary source, meant to summarize works, not detail them. It is very easy to write detail plot-only articles that do not violate OR with respect to the primary source, but that type of coverage is just not encyclopedic. Hence why [WP:NOT#PLOT]] exists. --MASEM (t) 06:49, 1 January 2013 (UTC)

What is the point[edit]

What is the point of the spoiler section of this essay when all it leads to is edit wars with pendantic editors who believe it is their duty to disclose every murderer, every solution to a detective story in a four line episode summary, citing Wikipedia spoiler as policy. REVUpminster (talk) 14:35, 29 September 2012 (UTC)

The "point" is in the first paragraph, which evidently you thought you could ignore. And of course, it is an essay. Nothing more. It can't contradict WP:SPOILER. Barsoomian (talk) 16:54, 30 September 2012 (UTC)
And you ignore the second paragraph. Delete it instead of stalking me.REVUpminster (talk) 19:50, 30 September 2012 (UTC)
The essay here is fine, if you bother to read all of it and not try to take part of it out of context. Barsoomian (talk) 18:15, 1 October 2012 (UTC)
  • I do not have to worry anymore, just copypaste from the official site. Seems to be the norm on articles like Merlin even if it ends with a ?. Odd to have a question mark in an encyclopedia. REVUpminster (talk) 19:58, 23 October 2012 (UTC)

That bit about past and future[edit]

I've removed the following sentence because I found it confusing, or maybe it's just written in a confusing way. It's from the Ways of organizing a plot summary section. It's just not clear to me what purpose it serves, and it seems more likely than not to simply confuse the reader.

At any particular point of the story, as it unfolds, there is a now, and hence a past and a future, so whether some event mentioned in the story is past, present, or, future changes as the story progresses; the entire description is presented as if the story's now is a continuous present.

Frungi (talk) 05:09, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

The point is related to writing plot summaries in the present tense, which moves along with the plot's present as presented to the reader/viewer. --MASEM (t) 05:17, 14 March 2013 (UTC)
Right, that's what the sentence preceding it was about; but this sentence just confuses the issue unnecessarily, unless I'm missing something. I'm also not sure what is meant by "matching the way that the story is experienced" in the previous sentence. Maybe they could use a rewrite? —Frungi (talk) 05:41, 14 March 2013 (UTC)
Unfortunately I don't know why it was added, if it was in response to a specific problem plaguing plot summaries at the time. The key is to keep the present tense going along with the work's main plot; if it flashbacks, we go past tense, etc. --MASEM (t) 05:57, 14 March 2013 (UTC)
I've edited it a bit to hopefully be more clear. But of course, please improve it further if you can. —Frungi (talk) 06:21, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

RfC: Do plot summaries require citations?[edit]

Are citations required in plot summaries where it’s clear that the work being summarized is the source? I’m currently having a disagreement with a fellow editor on this question and not sure if it’s definitively answered. More specifically, when summarizing a comic book series, is it necessary to cite each volume or issue being summarized? Or is this optional? —Frungi (talk) 06:48, 15 March 2013 (UTC)

Plot summaries - as long as they summarize and make no attempt to interpret or analyze - are assumed to be sourcable to the primary work and do not need to be sourced. That said, you can include inline citations to cite books, specific pages, quotes, etc. The only place where it would start to become important is that if you are trying to summarize a long running series where it may be difficult for one to locate a specific event if they are unfamiliar with the work, a cite to the appropriate volume would probably help out. But if, say, you're summarizing a single issue of a series, then no, you likely don't need to include these. IT can't hurt, but you're not required to. --MASEM (t) 14:06, 15 March 2013 (UTC)
Requiring citations directly from the primary source being referred to seems very nonsensical to me. Maybe the editor thinks that the article would be enhanced if the plot summary sentences referenced which volume it came from. But in my opinion this is not necessarily the case. Or perhaps it's actually an attempt to delete the plot summaries instead of enhancing them. I myself do not like adding citations simply because it is too time consuming for me (considering that it is obvious to the reader where the material is coming from) for the time I can spend on volunteer efforts. I think it would be appropriate if the editor who is demanding the citations add them themselves, and I would support that. However demanding the slave work from somebody else for something obvious to everyone reading the plot summary seems pretty inappropriate. I welcome another editor citing wikipeidia's policies concerning the relevant issues here. I simply do not have the time to dig through them all right now. Nodekeeper (talk) 03:45, 18 March 2013 (UTC)
Serial works can demand a bit more. Take the Walking Dead comic, well over 100 issues. If there was a death of a major character that was critical to the plot, it might be worthwhile to drop the cite to which issue that happened in to aid someone researching that facet. It would be far different if it was a single issue or like a 4-10 issue series where it wouldn't be too hard to find. --MASEM (t) 03:42, 18 March 2013 (UTC)
Fine. Are you willing to do the work of researching the sentence and adding the relevant citation?? Because if Wikipeda started to demand citations for all the plot summaries that it has, it would be empty pretty fast - even just considering the plot summaries coming from multi-volume works. It might be nice to have, but not necessary for a straight forward overview article. It would make more sense to follow the same format that is done with television shows and have a link to another article "List of Walking Dead Comics" where specific issue's plot summaries could be discussed in further depth and people might could find the relevant volume numbers referenced there. This follows an already tried and proven format method already established for other mediums and helps promote consistency of formatting across Wikipedia while providing additional depth without burdening any specific broad plot summary or overview. You're quite welcome to do the work! :) Nodekeeper (talk) 04:00, 18 March 2013 (UTC)
It's only "obvious to the reader where the material is coming from" if the work in question is self-contained, not sprawling across dozens or hundreds of installments (and sometimes across various distinct titles), as is often the case with comic books… like I specifically asked about in my question here. In this particular case of The Walking Dead, the editor desiring citations (me) does not have immediate access to the works in question, and so can't add them himself. If someone would be willing to donate to me either the entire series or the funds to purchase it, then I absolutely would be willing to source the summary to any level of detail. But the best freely available source I'm aware of is the Walking Dead Wkia, and if that's considered reliable by WP standards, I'll happily cite that instead.
Please, please do not use "editors are too lazy to do X" as an excuse to not require editors to do X. This is a fallacious argument, as you can surely see now if you didn't before. —Frungi (talk) 04:50, 18 March 2013 (UTC)
It really depends on how it is all presented. It may be necessary, it may not. The point is that broad strokes about a work of fiction don't need to be sourced since those should be obvious to the work (eg we'd never have to cite "The Walking Dead is about a zombie apocalypse"), but if the plot summary gets into finer detail, it may be necessary to narrow where that plot point happens if its not obvious, and particularly if it is contested. --MASEM (t) 04:11, 18 March 2013 (UTC)
  • I suggest not requiring primary citations for plot at all, with the exception of a challenge by another editor. Abductive (reasoning) 13:59, 18 March 2013 (UTC)
    • This is actually not good advice. One should always strive to find plot summaries from secondary sources and use those - its just that for most works, a rigorous plot summary is rarely given in third-party works. (Most of the time, this would be part of the review of a work, which purposely is going to be short and only cover the first fraction of a work to avoid giving spoilers). So we have no problem with the implicit primary sourcing that we use with plot summaries, but this should be considered only acceptable in lieu of other sources. If it is known that the plot of a work is given sufficient analysis by other sources, we should be using those sources to ween off the primary one when possible. However, this is not the same issue as the question being asked. --MASEM (t) 14:16, 18 March 2013 (UTC)
    Not even for a large series? Is it really best to not let the reader know which of many books an event occurs in? —Frungi (talk) 03:46, 19 March 2013 (UTC)
    No, because important plot points tend to be repeated. I'm sure most readers are more interested in character arcs. Abductive (reasoning) 17:42, 23 March 2013 (UTC)
  • I remain in favor of requiring citations to reliable secondary sources for all plot summaries, and consider our current practice of allowing them to be sourced solely to primary sources to be wrong. If no one has ever bothered to write a plot summary of a work, why should we have one? Despite what people claim, a short objective plot summary isn't possible. Consider "A young girl named Dorothy travels to a far-away land, killing the first person she meets. She then teams with three outcasts on a quest to kill again." Short, sweet, fully policy-compliant, but completely misses the point of The Wizard of Oz. As in all other things, we need to rely on reliable secondary sources in order to avoid original research.—Kww(talk) 04:29, 19 March 2013 (UTC)
    • We have policy that takes care of gross misintepretation that that example provides, stressing a POV that the movie doesn't support nor coverage of the work. If someone inserted that into an article, it would certainly be reverted or corrected. (read: I would counter that is policy compliant under NPOV) But to the other point, again, the issue is that we often have plenty of secondary sources that cover a work in a critical manner, but tiptoe around any major plot elements despite the fact they are addressing them. That works for a newspaper or magazine but not for an encyclopedic article. And since we strive to be complete, ignoring the absence of a spelled-out plot is not meeting that. I would argue that the amount of plot summary of a work as a whole relative to the amount of coverage the work has gotten should be kept in mind: A work that has may be 3 reliable sources that cover it (sufficient for notability) should not have pages and pages of primary information. But in just the concise plot summary, that's not a problem. --MASEM (t) 06:19, 19 March 2013 (UTC)
      • I fully agree that my summary is wrong, but I don't think you would be able to refute it without relying on secondary sources. In its own misguided way, it's a faithful repetition of the main plot points. If it weren't for the widespread familiarity of the story, it could easily pass for being acceptable. When it gets to some of the esoteric material we have on this site, I'm certain that similarly woefully bad summaries are sitting unchallenged due to the mantra that it is acceptable to rely on the primary source material for a plot summary.—Kww(talk) 21:05, 19 March 2013 (UTC)
        • Oh, I don't question that there may be cases of works where like a tiny fraction of people have seen it, and thus the lack of familiarity may led to the case where those writing it twist the language inappropriately ala your example. But, and importantly, this is no different from any of our articles on highly technical topics, like complex math concepts or the like, where only a small fraction of readers may be familiar with the work which often draws from primary sources, and moreso that the references - while not behind paywalls - may not be easy to get to. Some of these topics cannot be covered in detail by secondary sources because they are that esoteric - they get enough to be notable but not enough to drill down at an encyclopedic-appropriate level. The same twists can be done and left unchecked for years. As long as we understand that such twisting of the primary sources to a result like this is not appropriate anywhere, but that we are only a volunteer work, we just have to recognize that we fix th ese as they are encountered and discovered and it is quite possible for twisted information to be submarined into the work otherwise. --MASEM (t) 21:44, 19 March 2013 (UTC)
In light of discussion here (even if it wasn’t quite on topic with the question of citing summaries of serial works), I propose editing the appropriate WP: pages to greatly encourage (but not mandate) using secondary sources in all plot summaries, or to “see also” the broader existing policy pages like WP:SECONDARY. Writing an original summary of a plot is arguably original research, after all. —Frungi (talk) 01:26, 20 March 2013 (UTC)
No its not - no more than taking any other source and summarizing and paraphrasing it for inclusion in WP. There is an allowable degree of "original research" in summarizing a work as long as the summary does not introduce any new concepts not introduced in the original work or combination thereof. In a plot summary from the primary source, the same is true. Kww's example is where this is violated, because that short version frames Dorothy as a villain, while it is clear from the work that she's the heroine. Suggesting finding secondary sources is sound advice, but we would need a larger consensus to make that "stronger" than a suggestion, since current practice says otherwise. --MASEM (t) 01:51, 20 March 2013 (UTC)
But in lieu of secondary sources, how can you decide what aspects of a plot are important enough to include and what are trivial enough to exclude without doing OR? It seems like a variant of WP:SYN. At best, wouldn’t it be skewed to the summarizer's own viewpoint? —Frungi (talk) 04:21, 20 March 2013 (UTC)
Surely, this is the raison d'être of Wikipedia — the consensus achieved during the editing/revising process of involved users on a specific article –
 – Gareth Griffith-Jones |The Welsh Buzzard| 14:55, 20 March 2013 (UTC)
Yeah, exactly. We look to keep plots concise (partially through WP:NOT#PLOT, and guidelines like WP:FILMPLOT) which helps to avoid excess trivial details, and when it comes to tone, consensus editing prevents twisted versions, ala the Wizard of Oz example, from being propagated. It's not a problem unique to fiction - the only difference is that when we are writing about a work of fiction, we can presume that the work itself is a source. --MASEM (t) 15:11, 20 March 2013 (UTC)
Consensus is surely important, but isn’t verifiability more important in an encyclopedia? Short of going and reading the entire book(s) for themselves (and coming up with their own interpretations), how are readers to know that the editors’ interpretation is correct? And in an edit dispute, who’s to say who’s right? It just seems to me that including secondary sources would avoid any potential mess, even if that potential is small, and is good practice for an encyclopedia anyway. —Frungi (talk) 04:12, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
"going and reading the entire book(s) for themselves" is the core principle of verifability. (A core running principle of WP:V is "verifability, not truth"). There's no question about including secondary sources to help a plot summary, but WP:V does not require that as long as the work's published. --MASEM (t) 05:03, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
True on the first point, but I meant that a plot summary is not simply a restatement of information; it’s an editor’s interpretation of the work, as much as we may try to keep reinterpretation to a minimum, and thus warrants verifying beyond the work itself. That’s how I see it, anyway. In factual matters, it’s possible to just state the plain facts; not so with a story, where there’s a whole book’s worth of fictional facts to pick and choose from, so reinterpretation is inevitable and that should be sourced. But maybe mine is an overly critical view, so I’ll be quiet now unless others say they agree. —Frungi (talk) 05:29, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
"Going and reading the entire book" is precisely what a decent citation system is in place to avoid. It's why I source things to links like http://www.billboard.com/charts/2007-11-03/alternative-songs instead of saying "Oh, you can verify it by readingBillboard". That's one of the reasons I detest plot summaries sourced to the work. A change to a plot summary for a show like Wizards of Waverly Place will come up when I'm reviewing and editor's edits, and to decide whether it's vandalism or not would require me to actually watch an episode of the show. The heat death of the universe will come first.—Kww(talk) 05:39, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
And in many articles, such changes often aren’t cited to any particular episode of the show or issue of the comic or what have you, making it even more difficult to verify, which is what prompted my original question here. —Frungi (talk) 05:46, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
(ec)Again, there is zero difference between editors summarizing a work into a concise plot summary, and editors summarizing a research paper or the like into a concise summary of the work, in terms of policies like WP:OR. And the more obscure the field or the work it is, the more likely that fewer will actually catch that. Secondary sourcing will not fix this because the same problems can exist in summarizing secondary sources. Twisted interpretations can come from any scenarios. (The only effective difference is that fiction articles tend to get more views and subsequently more vandals than, say, advanced academic topics, but that's not a reason to change policy). Now, if we're talking about narrowing down where in a multi-episode series or a lengthy novel a certain event happens, now that's a reasonable request, and one that should be done if editors feel that the work is too broad to leave without appropriate guides or markers. But primary sources are valid sources to start , and you're basically arguing to nix any primary sources, and that's just not going to happen until WP:V is changed. --MASEM (t) 05:52, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
No, no—I was arguing that it ought to be common practice, perhaps even policy, to supplement those primary sources with secondaries. But you make a good point. I just thought that it would be harder to twist multiple sources than just one. —Frungi (talk) 05:58, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
I am absolutely for the concept that if secondary sources are known or expected to exist for any part of the plot, they should be used to supplement the primary (and I'd go "should" more than "ought to", in terms of requirements.) But we cannot eliminate the usage of the primary source. I do think that we should argue for inclusion of specific explicit primary source markers for longer, serial works when the work as a whole is being discussed, if the plot summary is not clear where this happens, but these at best will likely only a strong suggestion and not a requirement given what passes at FA --MASEM (t) 06:05, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
It makes me a little sad that the best we’ve got somewhat determines the best we can do as an encyclopedia, if I’m reading your last sentence correctly—like we shouldn’t set a higher standard because that's not our standard. But maybe I’m just being cynical and overtired. But as far as the secondary sources argument, it seems like what I’ve really been arguing with you here without realizing is, “You’re not agreeing with me hard enough!” =) —Frungi (talk) 06:51, 21 March 2013 (UTC)