scene & summary

(and gap)

Anything that is a scene, in the sense that I mean it, could begin with the words “one day.” It happens at one specific moment, in one specific place that is rendered as a world of the senses that a reader can enter. It’s crucial to make the reader see, but note, too, that the physical sensations and the thoughts are just as important. In a scene people speak, gesture, think, react, they pick up and use the specific stuff of a specific spot in the world. They are going through something, they want to achieve something, they have desire & frustration & demands to make and they are struggling overtly or covertly to get what they want and elude what they’re terrified of. In a scene we see the action unfold before us moment by moment. That may well include the action inside you, your thoughts, your feelings — unfolding in great detail. If you are the protagonist, we are right there with you, not even next to you but going through it as you did.

Yet you cannot make the reader go through everything in this way, in this sharp and close a focus. “Show don’t tell” is not always good advice. If you try to operate strictly in terms of “show don’t tell,” getting to the end of a narrative begins to seem almost impossible. It is necessary to jump, to leave gaps, to make use of summary. A week, a month, a year must pass in a paragraph. Perhaps you write in terms of the habitual – those things that “would” happen, that “always” happened. Perhaps you simply cut to the chase, the outcome of that period of time. Perhaps it is a case of “everything stayed much the same until . . .” However it’s done, some use of summary, in this sense, is necessary to narrative writing.

One of the most basic ways in which you structure your narrative is the orchestration of scene and summary and gaps – how much of each you employ, the timing of when you shift from scene to summary (or skip over a period of time altogether), your choice of which events become full-fledged scenes, the overall rhythm that is created by how you choose to move forward.


You download this document here: Scene+Summary+Gap