Wikipedia:Plot-only description of fictional works

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A plot summary is a retelling, a summary, or an abridged or shortened précis of the events that occur within a work of fiction. The purpose of a plot summary is to help the reader understand the important events within a work of fiction, be they of the work as a whole or of an individual character.

The coverage of a fictional work should not be a mere plot summary. A summary should facilitate substantial coverage of the work's real-world development, reception, and significance. This means that an article about a work of fiction or elements from such works should not solely be a summary of the primary and tertiary sources, they should also include real world context from reliable secondary sources. Coverage of fictional topics should provide balanced coverage that includes both plot summary and real-world context.

Balanced coverage

The goal of Wikipedia is to create an encyclopedia; merely being true or useful does not automatically make something suitable for inclusion in an encyclopedia. As part of the over-riding goal of creating top-quality encyclopedia articles, Wikipedia seeks to cover fictional works from a broad perspective.

Per the Manual of Style for fiction, articles about fiction, like all Wikipedia articles, should describe their subject matter from the perspective of the real world in which the work or element of fiction is embedded, and should not solely be a plot summary. Articles should also include the real world context of the work (such as its development, legacy, critical reception, and any sourced literary analysis), alongside a reasonably concise description of the work's plot, characters, and setting.

Special consideration must be given to providing balanced coverage of fictional topics because their subject matter is inherently not real. Presenting fictional material from the original work is fine, provided that the passages are short, are given the proper context, and do not constitute the main portion of the article. If such passages stray into the realm of interpretation, secondary sources must be provided to avoid original research.

Avoiding violating copyright

Articles should be based upon reliable, third-party published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy. Reliable sources are needed to substantiate material within articles, and citations directing the reader to those sources are needed to give credit to authors and publishers, in order to avoid plagiarism and copyright violations.

For copyrighted works, excessively detailed plot summaries may result in a copyright violation. In a 1993 US fair use court case, Twin Peaks Productions vs. Publications International, it was ruled that a book about a television series constituted copyright infringement because, among other things, it contained a detailed account of "every intricate plot twist and element of character development" found in the original. According to the ruling, it is okay if a plot is "briefly described for purposes of adding significant criticism or comment about the author's plotting technique", but may constitute a copyright violation if it "goes far beyond merely identifying their basic outline for the transformative purposes of comment or criticism" and instead simply "recount[s] for its readers precisely the plot details" of a fictional work.

A similar case was Warner Bros. and J. K. Rowling vs. RDR Books, in which RDR Books had sought to publish a detailed encyclopedic guide to the Harry Potter series. Warner Bros. and Rowling won the suit, with the verdict citing that The Lexicon’s verbatim copying of ... highly aesthetic expression raises a significant question as to whether it was reasonably necessary for the purpose of creating a useful and complete reference guide. The verdict affirmed that such guides to fiction can fall under United States fair use law, but should avoid excessive use of creative expression to avoid copyright infringement.

Some care should be taken not to provide a point-by-point description of the plot, but instead to provide an overview, appropriate to give the reader a general understanding of the work, but not intended to replace the work itself. Even in out-of-copyright works, a very detailed plot summary should only be used on sub-pages intended to cover sourced literary criticism or analysis of the plot and characters, where the extended plot summary can be used to assist the reader in understanding the discussion.

Wikipedia has yet to have any legal action taken against it for copyright violations. It is expected that if such did occur, the general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation would inform the community of such actions.

Sample of a plot summary found to be infringing

This sample of a plot summary for Twin Peaks' first episode is quoted in Twin Peaks Productions v. Publications International, where it was found to serve "no transformative function" and to elaborate the plot "in detail far beyond what is required to serve any legitimate purpose".[1] The court quotes six paragraphs, and notes that represents "less than half of one episode"; a smaller sample is used here.

In the bucolic Northwest lumber town of Twin Peaks, Pete Martell discovers a body on the riverfront outside the Packard Mill. He calls Sheriff Truman ... "She's dead, wrapped in plastic," he sputters. Truman, Deputy Andy, and Doc Hayward go to inspect the body, which they discover to be that of Laura Palmer--the most popular girl in town. The body is wrapped in plastic sheeting and wound in white tape.

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper drives into town, primly dressed in a dark suit and tie and dictating the minutiae of his travels to his secretary, Diane, into a microcassette recorder. When he meets Sheriff Truman--Harry S. Truman, that is--he immediately questions Truman about the local trees, beginning his preoccupation with the local flora and fauna.

Back at the station house, Cooper springs open Laura's diary and finds two significant entries (which he is careful to record for Diane): the last, dated February 23, which reads "nervous about meeting J tonight," and one 18 days earlier, which includes an envelope containing a safety deposit box key and white powder, and reads simply, "Day One." Cooper speculates that the white powder is cocaine, but Harry can't believe it. Laura?[1]

J. K. Rowling also won a copyright infringement case halting the Harry Potter Lexicon's print publication, whose detailed descriptions of plot elements—taken from its affiliated, online fan encyclopedia—appropriated too much of her work to serve as a reference guide.[2]

Fixing stubs or bad articles

Wikipedia articles frequently start out as stubs, and for fictional works, such stubs often initially contain little more than a synopsis of the plot. Articles on fictional works containing little more than a plot summary should be improved to provide more balanced coverage or tagged with {{allplot}}. (Note that regardless of the length of the page or the numbers of edits made to it, a page containing only plot summary is still a stub - an incomplete article.)

A good encyclopedia article about a work of fiction will almost always include a brief synopsis of the major points of the plot. This is important to helping our readers understand the context of the analysis and impact of the work. However, if the plot description is overly-detailed, covering the point-by-point details of the work, be bold and rewrite the description to the level more appropriate to a paper-free encyclopedia; or tag it with {{plot}}. Consider comparing the page to the plot summary in a few featured articles on similar topics: if the featured articles contain much less detail, and there is not a good reason for this article to contain more, then it's probably too detailed.

If there is no plot summary, use the tag {{No plot}} and if the plot is insufficient, {{More plot}}.

If real-world context, impact, or analysis is missing from the article, take a few minutes to add it. (Reminder: Encyclopedias are, by definition, tertiary sources. The literary analysis must be independently sourced, verifiable and balanced. No original research and no fan-site-like material.)

At a minimum, a few sources ought to be given to demonstrate that the work of fiction is notable. (Note that the lack of such citations does not per se mean the article should be deleted.)

If the article is written from an in-universe perspective (that is, one which describes the narrative from the perspective of characters within the fictional universe, treating it as if it were real and ignoring real-world context and sourced analysis), be bold and rewrite it. This is a particularly common problem for articles which are primarily or solely plot summary. The in-universe perspective is misleading to readers and often invites unverifiable original research. In-universe perspectives are inappropriate for encyclopedia articles.

Stubs with no possibility for expansion

All stubs should have the potential to develop into full articles. A stub that has no possibility whatsoever for expansion beyond stub status is presenting the verifiable information in the wrong way. Wikipedia should not have single-fact articles.

Per our deletion policy, stubs that cannot possibly be expanded beyond perpetual stub status should be either renamed, merged, or refactored into articles with wider scope, that can be expanded beyond perpetual stub status, or deleted if it cannot be renamed, merged, or refactored.

See also

For information about the inclusion criteria for fictional topics, see


  1. ^ a b Twin Peaks Productions v. Publications International, United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. 1993
  2. ^ "Harry Potter: J.K. Rowling wins copyright infringement case". Die Welt. September 9, 2008.