Writing Summaries of Arguments and Narratives
Step 1: mapping out the argument
One useful method for working toward summarizing the argument of a text, whether an essay, film, picture, or advertisement, is to first determine the central concept on which the argument of the piece hinges.
A clue for that may be in the title, but not always. For instance, for McKee's chapter "Structure and Meaning," perhaps the central concept is "meaning," and then the argument will have to do with how the quality of structure impacts the meaning of a story.
Once you have a candidate for the central concept, next try to map out the steps the author takes to demonstrate what the audience should value and not value concerning that concept. Here you are trying to show what the author considers "good reasons" to support her or his claims. So for McKee, what kind of structure does he value and why does he think his audience should value what he does? What kind of structure does he not value and why?
Step 2: distinguishing a network of controlling values
This next step asks you to bring into a single statement what the author values and how the author believes that value will lead to a good end, and how not valuing that value (and valuing some other value) will lead to a negative, undesirable end.
A general rule to think about is that any text projects toward what it values (the "purpose" of the argument) as a way to compensate or avoid what it does not value (the "context" of the argument).
Please read through the lecture notes on "Controlling Value" to help in understanding how to crystalize an argument into its context and purpose.
Step 3: writing the summary
In summarizing a narrative, follow the same steps, which have been translated from Mckee's method of determining the controlling idea of a narrative: go to the last act's climax and determine what value "wins" there, and then look back into the narrative to ascertain the cause.
For example: The Matrix, a film by the Wachowski Siblings, is the story of a young man, Neo, who is trapped in an illusionary mind-set that tells him he is free and normal, when in fact he is a slave and suffers the most evil form of exploitation imaginable. A group of people (Morpheus, Trinity, etc.) who have already freed themselves from the slavery of the matrix, believe Neo to be a sort of savior. Consequently, they seek Neo out, eluding the seemingly unstoppable agents, and free him in order to battle and ultimately overcome the forces (i.e., the agents) who relentlessly enforce the order of the inhumane matrix. Neo ultimatelyovercomes the necessary limitations of the matrix even the agents must obey, and so wins the battle at hand, letting instinct and humanity triumph over reason and servitude.
For the most part, begin the summary by writing the title and author in the first sentence. Also in this first sentence, try to capture the thrust of the argument, using verbs such as: claims, asserts, argues, objects, attacks, defends, contends. There are many more. Experiment with the possibilities. From the get go, show what the author is arguing for and against. Then show how the author argues for and against.
Once you've gotten the first major statement where you introduce the author and title of the text and present the central claim, then you will need to lay out in more explicit detail what the author values, and what exactly the author claims will bring about the expression of this value. What good reasons does the author have for the audience to accept her or his claims?
You will also need to lay out what the author does not value and what, if left unaltered, would produce this undesirable value. In the process of laying these two sides out, you will need to define key terms the author uses.