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Summary versus Scene
Posted: Monday, May 9, 2011 12:16 AM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

I write primarily in scene. In fact, I was reading an MFA book the other day saying that most new authors do (once they learn it is preferred). However, the problems seems to be (and I'm experiencing this problem) that books need both summary and scene.

The book should primarily be scene. We want to dramatize the most important events and summarize the events that are relevant and necessary but not quite as exciting.

Main point being that rule #1 is to keep your audience hooked.

My problem is that I never know *when* to summarize. I can actually write summary very well when it's called for, but unfortunately I am too fearful to cut the scenes and replace them with summary.

Does anyone else have this problem? Are there any published authors who can give us budding authors some advice? Harper Collins recently reviewed a partial of my novel and asked to see the full and I have this gut feeling that one of their concerns will be pacing, which I know has nothing to do with verbosity (despite my forum posting) or irrelevance. It has entirely to do with just being too dang afraid to cut the scene and summarize.

If I'm being specific, part of the problem is that everything that I feel can be summarized involves an intercharacter relationship. If I summarize all those scenes, then the reader will not feel the enxt step in their relationship is "earned".

Those scenes do also move the main plot forward, but simply are not as intense as other scenes, and perhaps need to be summarized.

But I'm scarrrrrrred!

Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 12:38 AM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157

i think sometimes the confusion comes as a result of terminology rather than what we do. Scene and summery sounds like a similar concept to scene and sequel. I don't really follow either of those as presented in books. But maybe this will help.

I develop a novel by writing all the important scenes. These are the scenes where important things happen. Scenes with conflict. Scenes that drive the story forward. They can't be summarized because the events in the are needed to tell the story. They don't fit the "sequel" concept of the "give the reader a break" idea. I don't build in slow points or summaries because they're going to happen naturally.

When I have all my important scenes developed and lined up where they belong, it's time to work on the transitions. The transitions is where summary can come in. They also are natural slower points in the story. They're needed to make the story read smoother or else it will seem to jump from scene to scene.

Say I'm writing a mystery novel. My characters will find a clue that means they need to break into someone's house and search it. So, I've written the clue finding scene and the break in scene. But I need a transition to get the characters from one scene to the other. Transition, summary, sequel. There are lots of ways of handling it. But I don't want to describe every detail of getting ready and driving to the location -- unless something important happens. When nothing important happens, you can use summary or other techniques to move more quickly to the important part.

Or as someone once said -- Don't write the boring parts.

Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 2:15 AM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

Marie--So well put!

Here is what happened, in my case.

I had all my scenes for the main story. However, a couple scenes in the main story didn't feel "earned" to some of my readers because of an underdeveloped romance. So I added some scenes, placing them in the most requested area. In writing those scenes, I tried to make them plot relevant so that they would advance the plot. Now they do, especially after so many subsequent revisions. However, Let's say we awarded points to each scene. I feel some of my scenes get a 3 1/2-5 out of 5 on moving the plot forward. Some a little less than others, but I'm okay with that. But then I have scenes I'd only give a 2 to, maybe even a 1.

My thought is to summarize them. But then would I be putting myself back in the same shoes? Problem is, the romance is a subplot that supports the main plot but it's not the main plot and it's NOT in every scene--so there was no way to advance the romance adequately in the existing scenes. I needed to add. Does moving these scenes to summary make them lose their purpose, since the relationship would be "developing" along with a few minor plot points through summary?

Sometimes I think I failed at the conceptions stage, but with sincere publisher interest, I of course would like to figure out how to make this work. Basically, my problem is now I have a very well polished book of scenes. Yes, a few sequels in there as well. But perhaps some of my scenes are better off being expressed through moments of summary than active scene. Maybe not. I feel like it's impossible for *me* to tell. My audience seems to like some things that I personally don't think are necessary but they thing *are*. How do I reconcile that?

Your advice, I want to say, sounds really solid. I'm still a bit stuck, but you've helped a great deal. Good hearing from you again!
Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 11:08 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157

A couple of thoughts. First, and perhaps important to stress on a critique site -- you can't write a novel by committee.

Critiquers and beta-readers can point out where they saw problems, but fixing them often means looking behind their points and digging deeper into what you want to do with the novel. If I look at what you've told me and pull back from the whole scene/summery issue, it sounds like your readers are essentially saying the sub-plot feels like it's underdeveloped and not connecting with the main plot.

So the fix is to make those connect more, which you're trying to do while maintaining your current scenes. That may not be where the solution lies. Instead of analyzing scenes and summaries and breaking things down to numbers, you might want to just step back and look at the novel as a whole and decide if some overall rewriting is needed to meld your subplot and main plot together.

You mentioned reading an MFA book. An insight books may not mention -- when going through my MA program in creative writing, I tore my WIP apart more than once. To the extent that my murder turned into the victim and the victim the murderer. You may not need to do that, but you can't always look at a novel as a mathematical equation.
Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 11:52 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52


I think time line is an issue. I know the time needs to pass, otherwise even my own BS meter would go up on the steps they take in their relationship. At the same time, I really don't want to be putzing around developing relationship. I'd already developed it as much as I could within the existing scenes. I think it was very tightly woven BEFORE I added those scenes in. Adding those scenes, IMO, made it looser. But I can see why just about every reader was seeing it was needed. The relationship felt rushed otherwise. The subplot definitely drive the main plot in such a huge way that it's impossible to separate the two. In many parts, the sub plot and the main plot become one.

So, as you can imagine, I'm a bit in a pickle. I don't want to mess around with it anymore until I know what really needs to be done, because at this point, I fear I might make it worse instead of better. I also am known to be a little to quick to do major rewrites. (Honestly, just speaking of REWRITES--not even talking about revisions, editing, polishing, etc--I've probably had 100 versions of this book. So, if I'm going to rewrite again, I want to know what my plan is. The book is definitely better off for all the previous rewrites, and if I'd known more at the time, it wouldn't have needed so many. But at this point, I'm not convinced another rewrite would make it better--not until I know what my intention of that rewrite will be.

So I've stepped back and in the meantime and working on something else. But I have a major publisher (Harper Collins) that read the partial and requested the full, and I'm nervous. I hope they will be interested enough to work with me on getting this ready for publication, but if they turn me down, I probably will need a game plan to assess what needs to be changed and how. And If I'm going by my gut feeling, this is the area I'm beat on. There is such a thing as doing too much showing. And that's what I do lol

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