Narrative Summary

Narrative summary is possibly the most flexible of the various ways of presenting a story. Narrative summary doesn’t necessarily tie the author down to chronological order, the way dialog and dramatization do, nor does it require a focus on one particular aspect of the story, as description often does. This makes narrative summary at once both one of the most useful tools in a writer’s toolbox, and one of the trickiest.

Basically, narrative summary is just telling some of the story in whatever way seems to make the most sense. It gets used for everything from brief transitions between scenes (“He left the office and went down to the coffee shop.”) to longer summaries of what’s been happening (“The next six months were hard on everyone. Even after George found the whatchamacallit and Celia figured out where it fit into the alien machine, nobody could get it working. They almost ran out of air twice when the electrolysis machine broke. Etc.”).

Infodumps are chunks of narrative summary; so are most historical prologues, appendices, and those plot summaries of what happened in the previous two books of a series that crop up occasionally. Narrative summary can even crop up in dialog, as when the detective is presenting the case against the murderer, or when the guy who’s been missing for a week finally shows up and fills everyone in on where he’s been and what he’s been doing. Bits of narrative summary can be embedded in the middle of dramatized scenes to provide backstory or widen the scope. Traditional fairy tales are almost nothing but narrative summary, with maybe a few lines of dialog.

All these possibilities can make it a little hard to get a handle on narrative summary, and it’s complicated even more by the possibilities for stylistic variation. The style for narrative summary ranges from what’s referred to as plain, simple, or invisible to detailed or even elaborate. “The elders took their places on the dais. Elder Morgan stepped forward and presented Janet’s plan; after much discussion, the villagers voted in favor.” is plain narrative summary; “The elders filed in and seated themselves, one by one, on the dais, their white hair gleaming in the lamplight. Elder Morgan hobbled forward, and in a creaky voice that barely carried to the rear of the hall, read the plan that Janet had cooked up. When he finished, the villagers began talking…and talking…and talking. When the elder finally called for a vote two hours later, three-quarters of the men raised their spears in favor.” is more detailed and colorful, but it’s still narrative summary.

When you have a brief transition or a bit of narrative summary that’s embedded in a dramatized scene, it’s usually (not always) most effective to stick to the plain style of narrative summary. If all you need is a brief transition to get the characters from Time-and-Place A to Time-and-Place B, “He left the office and went down to the coffee shop” will do the job. Within a scene, one generally doesn’t want to bring the action to a screeching halt by suddenly calling attention to a bit of backstory, and a plain style (or one that matches the level of description in the scene, anyway) is likely to be the least noticeable.

The more lengthy the narrative summary section, however, the more interesting and memorable it needs to be in order to hold the reader’s attention. “Interesting and memorable” can come from content or from providing more concrete details and making stronger word choices than one would for a plain/invisible style (and really, trying to write three pages, or even three paragraphs, of narrative summary “invisibly” is just asking for readers to skip over them). Ideally, one would do both.

For example, “Sorry, Robert,” Jane said. She’d been there when Robert murdered Sam, and she wasn’t about to give him reason to make her his second victim” is plain style, but if this is the first we’ve heard about Robert murdering someone or Jane being there, the revelation alone is plenty dramatic enough to be memorable. On the other hand, “She’d been crouched behind the sofa when Robert cut Sam’s throat two years before…” isn’t much longer, but it’s considerably more specific and dramatic. Possibly too dramatic; if I don’t want the murder and Jane’s presence to overshadow what’s going on in the rest of the scene, I’ll stick to the plain version. If I do want this revelation to cast a long shadow, I’ll opt for the second.

The plain-vs.-detail decision also applies when the writer is using narrative summary as a third alternative to the usual “show it or skip it” system that writers are so often encouraged to adopt. “For six months, they worked on the gizmo, to no avail. Finally in April, they…” makes a very fine, plain, simple transition if nothing interesting or story-relevant happens during those six months. There are at least three times when a writer may want a lot more than this single sentence, however: first, when things happen during that six-month period that are interesting and story-relevant, but not quite important enough to show in detail; second, when the writer wants the reader to have more of a sense that six months have actually gone by and the next scene can’t possibly be happening two or three hours after the previous one; and third, when the writer isn’t actually sure whether anything interesting or story-relevant happens in that six months and can’t find out without writing more of a summary than “For six months, they worked on the gizmo.”

That last is, I think, more common than a lot of writers want to admit, and the biggest problem with it is that if one writes the six-month summary and discovers that nothing really interesting or story-relevant happens after all, one has to cut it. Lots of us really, really hate doing that. When one has made up several pages of details, there are nearly always cool bits that the writer loves somewhere in there, and it is extremely hard to be clear-eyed about which of them are really needed in the story and which aren’t. It’s even harder to be ruthless enough to cut the ones that one dearly loves (and spent hours figuring out), even after it’s become obvious that they just don’t belong in this book.

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23 Responses to Narrative Summary

  1. “…When you have a brief transition or a bit of narrative summary that’s embedded in a dramatized scene…”

    I don’t believe I can tell the difference between a “dramatized scene” and a highly detailed narrative summary.

    To me scenes and transitions and narrative summary and dramatization all seem to be the exact same thing, and I feel like I handle them all the exact same way.

    … this would have something to do with me being a ‘holistic’ writer?

    • pcwrede says:

      Michelle – Some of it’s the holistic thing, but some of it is that narrative is narrative, and the lines between types of narrative are very blurry. It’s like looking at a heap of broken glass, some of which is from windows and some of which is from drinking glasses and some of which is from Christmas lights: The smaller the pieces, the harder it is to tell whether the bit of glass you’re looking at started off as window pane or light bulb. And the less it really matters.

      I wouldn’t worry about it. Some writers need the whole process laid out clearly and analytically in order to see where they’re going wrong; other writers are much better off doing it by intuition. If you’re an intuitive writer, the only real reason you’d ever NEED to know this stuff is if you wanted an MFA or an advanced degree in English Lit.

  2. Louise says:

    I have to work very hard on forcing myself to use plain narrative summary – I tend to feel like absolutely everything has to be witty, or interesting, or vital, so even writing: “They snuck through the town toward the bridge,” feels like I’m cheating, and like I should be detailing every moment of their sneaking, and make it all important. As for writing something like “six months later,” the very idea sends me into a tizzy.

    I’m working on it, because I don’t want to exhaust the reader or myself by cramming details into absolutely everything, but it is still difficult for me to know when I can use plain narrative summary, and when I really do need to add the details.

    Practice, practice, practice.

  3. ABeth says:

    When trimming large chunks, I cut them from the main text, and paste them into a file of their own, so I don’t feel so bad about losing them. They’re still there, if I ever want to look at Things That Didn’t Work, or Paths Not Taken! Much less painful.

    I see why narrative is all… jumbled. “he read the letter” is certainly, by one very focused definition, a kind of narrative summary, even if it’s in the middle of dialog, action, etc. Look too close and everything gets reduced to pixels.

  4. Chicory says:

    I think you just clarified why I have so much trouble with transitions. I’m one of those who writes it all out to see if it’s important or not, and then spends a lot of time going `no! That description MUST exist!’ Maybe I can cut the habit now that I see what I’m doing.

  5. II find it hard to believe that I don’t analyze.
    I think maybe I just analyze differently.

    You have been talking about scenes versus transitions and narrative summary versus dramatization.

    If I were to cover the roughly the same subject matter I would end up saying “areas of greater story density, require more details, and areas of less story density require fewer.”

    If the conversation has a lot of important things going on in it, information, character reactions, etc, then where that conversation is happening also gains story importance. If it matters that George responds to what Sally said by striding angrily about, then he it matters that he has room to stride about in. A few details describing the room will become necessary due to the density of story-stuff. “George tromped his way across the oriental rug, over to the whatnot shelf, past fireplace the grandfather clock and then back to to the table. He glared at Sally for what seemed like forever. ‘That’s…’ ‘Yes?’ she asked him, all false aimiability. He growled, spun on his heel, and made the circuit again.”

    If there’s something that needs to be said, but the wording doesn’t matter and the neither of speaker has strong emotional reactions, and so on, and nothing else of story importance is going on, this is an area of very thin story density, if I provide supporting details, I bog the story down. Their surroundings, for example, probably won’t matter either: “On sunday Sally reminded George that the garage door needed fixing.”

    But if I have six other important story things that need to happen on Sunday, the best place to fit in the reminder might be the middle of a high density section. Can it be used as a detail providing support for any of my other current story goals — establishment of character, perhaps? Does it fit nicely into some other important conversation (I may need to write the conversation to find out)? “‘George never gets anything done,’ Sally pointed out nastily, as she straighted the stacks of paper in front of her so that they formed nice neat piles. ‘Which reminds me George…” another pile was lined up precisely one inch from the previous one ‘…you still didn’t get the garage door fixed.’ George slammed the stapler he had been holding down on the table…”

    If there doesn’t end up being any way to combine that story bit with the other nearby bits, then it’ll probably get lower density treatment, but probably not as low, because the surrounding story material is likely to slop into that space. “George stormed off so abruptly that Sally forgot to mention the garage door, so she brought it up at dinner, instead. He just scowled and kept eating.”

    If something is very important, but of low intrinsic story density, it’s sometimes a good idea to purposely avoid sliding it into a higher density section, because if only one thing is going on, that one thing gains additional story weight. The audience knows that the garage door is important, because a low density section of story was provided just for that.

    Sometimes you need to do the reverse, make sure some story point finds its way into a high density section, because you don’t want the audience pay special attention to it. “George never gets anything done. He hasn’t vacuumed the west bedroom, weeded the garden or fixed the garage door. He’s too busy mucking about with his conjuring tricks and that so called ‘book of spells’”.

    Story density can vary from moment to moment. In the current WIP I have a leave-taking section that involves a lover’s spat, a horse acting up, a practical joke, and a formal (but short) ceremony, all involving huge amounts of character and background, within the space of probably not much more than half an hour. I’ve got a lot of story stuff to fit in, but for nearly ten minutes right in the middle, there isn’t enough story to support any detail at all. “When all the flyers were stapled and stacked, George, still fuming…”

    I’m analyzing things, but I’m analyzing processes and relationships. I’m not chunking and grouping.

  6. green_knight says:

    Pat, thanks for this post. I don’t think cutting is a big problem – once you have the detail, it’s rarely wasted in my experience, it can be slipped into memories and comparisons and writing future scenes because I can find further detail more easily for not working in a white room.

    (Also, I want to turn the ‘story-relevant’ on its head – you can only decide that once you know the story. Since this is one of the weaknesses of my write-as-you-go process – I only know the story *after* I’ve written it – I wonder whether there *is* such a thing as ‘story-relevant’ or whether it’s not a matter of choices – you can tell the story with a series of tinkering spotlights, and another where you pack all the action and character relation in the finding and then the breakthrough six months later.
    For me, the skipping to the next major point often happens out of impatience – I want to know what happens next, and big events are easier to imagine – but I don’t think it’s necessarily the best solution.

    Michelle, your last comment is resonating with me. I’ll have to think very carefully about how to practice this more. You seem to have a much larger toolbox than me when it comes to _how_ you integrate information with the rest of the story – a better sense of what the story needs at this point and more ways of putting that down paper.

    I’ll have to let this percolate in my brain quite a bit, but thanks for writing it out in such detail.

  7. tess says:

    Michelle, I’ve noticed something like that in some very popular light mystery series, except there everything is focused on the mystery. The detective’s conversation about some clue can ‘travel’ from one location to another, even continue seamlessly as she drives one companion home, then she sits down to dinner with another. In another series, the travelling detectives get a clue in a conversation in London, then: “On Tuesday in Belgium, Inspector Lestrade brought them the recovered bullet. It was etc.” I have to look closely to see the seams; they are just a few invisible words. L.M. Montgomery’s village coversations sometimes continue over several days or longer without telling just when and where anyone is.

  8. green_knight,

    I thought I’d try writing about figuring out what the story needs even when you don’t know what’s going to happen, which is something I do a lot.

    I think the question I ask myself when writing by the seat of my pants isn’t “Is this relevant?”, but, “Does this go somewhere, and might it possibly be going in my direction?”

    Patricia commented once that character development is not just showing the character but showing something about the character that the audience doesn’t already know.

    This means that no character development is happening unless the audience is learning something new about the character. That’s the “Is it going somewhere?” part of the question. Are we learning new stuff about this character? That character? Any of the characters?

    The same thing goes for plot. Plot requires change. If things are happening, but they aren’t really changing much of anything, then they can’t be plot.

    So it is possible to spot areas where story stops moving, and it’s possible to be working on keeping a story moving, even when you don’t know where it’s headed.

    But that was only half of my question.
    Just as important, I suspect, is the “Is it going my direction?” part.

    This is where the people who plan in advance have a clear advantage. But just because you don’t have a roadmap, doesn’t mean you can’t navigate, and “A nice cozy cabin on a beach somewhere” is just as valid a goal to steer toward as “New York, NY.”

    For me when I’m “pantsing” (and even when I’m not) I have an idea of the “feel” of the story I’m aiming for. I’ve got a goal that (somewhat simplified) may sound like “bright clean action adventure” or “sweet romance” or “comedy-ofmanners romantic intrigue”. I may not know what the resolution of the story is, but I know what kinds of resolutions will satisfy me, and I may not know what happens, but I do know what kinds of things I want to see happening — not just in general (because that covers waaay to much territory) but for this story in particular. That makes it possible for me to tell if what I’ve got is what I’m looking for.

    Why “feel”? Well, I’m a kinesthetic dominant thinker — “feel” is probably what speaks to me the loudest. If I was a theme focused writer instead, I could use that to recognize what belongs to my story and what doesn’t. Or if I were visual, I could be filtering based on the “look” of things. I don’t think it matters what criteria is being used, just that it needs to speak strongly to the writer.

    … And at this point I’m about run out of generalities, and I’ve no idea what sort of specifics would be helpful. If you want me to expand on anything I’ve said in this comment or the last one, (or anywhere at all), just let me know. :)

  9. green_knight says:

    Michelle,
    I’m perfectly happy with the abstract principle – that’s made pefect sense to me, though ‘story density’ is a nice way of putting it and one I’ll adopt. (As a fellow kinesthetic, it just slotted into place.)

    What I’m struggling with is the ability to write about an events in a variety of ways. You’ve sketched out – and I’m assuming without much effort – a process of cycling through various options – if I want the effect to be this, I’ll reach for those tools – and half the examples you’ve sketched are things I could not have written consciously. (I’ve probably written similar at some point – but I don’t have the control.)

    So I’ll go away and ponder this in a post of my own to see whether I can see the pattern behind this a bit better. Your examples – rather than the theory, which is logical and easy to develop – were exactly what I needed.

  10. I meant for the latest post to have examples, but I really, really, really was having trouble with that, and I finally gave up and wrote down the general principals and stopped.

    I think I couldn’t come up with examples, because I can’t find something that belongs to a story that isn’t really there. I would have to use an actual story as an example. I could probably describe at great length how I wrote the first 2500 words of the story I started last week. ::rueful::

  11. Cecelia Ward says:

    Hello everyone,

    I think I’ve got an idea about Narrative summary. I love Patricia’s and ABeth’s humorous examples about the bits of glass and the pixels. I will be keeping those thoughts in mind as I try not to follow Chicory’s lead in saying “No! That description MUST exist!” *laugh*

    I find that I want to pack a lot of detail in, but I don’t want to sound like I’m purposefully putting in details. I don’t know, when I reread something I’ve written and try to read it out loud it seems long and chunky. I think my figurative garden hose has a kink in it. :S

  12. tess says:

    Cecilia, why not make a connection between the detail and the point of the scene? Suppose it’s already established that the grandfather clock was an heirloom from her grandfather, and the oriental rug was a gift from her former boyfriend. And this background of hers is an issue between her and the person who is striding around. Even without adding extra words to this scene, the reader’s knowledge would give resonance to the objects now and suggest what memories might be in the strider’s mind as he sees them.

  13. green_knight says:

    I’m still working on coming to terms with this, but I’m starting to wonder whether ‘unity of time and place’ isn’t an illusion, because now that I’m thinking about the ‘search-the-library’ scene, almost _any_ search worth its salt is going to contain more codensed and more drawn-out sections. In the end, I don’t see how the techniques for skipping over the bulk of the three-month search are going to be all that different than the techniques skipping over the bulk of a three-hour search: in both cases you’ll want to convey the sense of ‘searching frantically’ where the fact that they are searching is important, but not necessarily individual actions or not-finds.

    Yesterday, CJ Cherryh talked on her blog about how a story was a web and plot was entirely incidental to the characters relations – I don’t see it quite the same way (all of my stories have some things that just Must Happen) – but it’s intrigueing.

    And I can see how it would work – I think you’re both talking about the same mental model of a story, more or less. And while I’m finding it difficult to keep track even of the plot, plot alone is *so much not* the story that ‘what happens next’ is a useless question. (My protag is trying to enter Faerie. Faerie isn’t there. The exact same thing happened in the last volume; but the solution that worked then doesn’t work now. She’s just worked out why. And that’s where I’m stuck.)

    Thinking about the shape of the scene is more useful than ‘what happens next’ (she finds a way and continues on her journey). ‘Story density’ helps me to gain a concept of how much scene I need here. I feel I need to write it out – it’s important for her character development and her ongoing relationship with Faerie – without making too much of a song and dance about it.

    II think I grok what you were illustrating with George and the garage door – I can’t put words to it yet, which means it’s still percolating through my brain, but thanks to you, its now becoming a bit more conscious. I’ll have to think about the whole ‘story density’ and ‘how to get information across’ some more. I especially like the sense – and I’m sure this is mostly a case of gaining practice at this kind of thinking – of weaving the information into the larger fabric. The ‘hide the clue’ was a classic example – we won’t pay attention to the garage door if we’re thinking about George’s Book of Spells.

  14. tess says:

    green_knight, I’m with you about needing a term for ‘the bit where they search the library’ but I’m with Pat about three months being too long to call a ‘scene.’ Too many other things would be happening during that three months. But as you say, even a three hour search would need a lot of skipping and condensing.

    Perhaps ‘the summary of the search of the library’? A long summary enlivened with (or packed with) bits of scenic material, maybe some ‘scenelets’.

  15. Cecelia Ward says:

    Tess,

    I would love to be able to link information like that, but I’ve not usually had a chance to introduce the details prior to the scene I want to write them into.

    For example: Olivia paced agressively around her bedchambers. She was fuming about her parents’ audacity at arranging a marriage for her. Back and forth she paced, her feet carrying her passed the ornate gilded mirror that she absolutely hated.

    But what does the mirror have to do with her pacing or her anger? I didn’t previously mention that Olivia hated gold nor that she usually feels overly scrutinized throughout the day and mirrors bother her because they cause her to scrutinize herself. Is it worth describing the mirror in detail to include this extra information or is it better to skip beyond the mirror and why Olivia hates it so that she stops pacing and starts doing something about her frustration at her parents? Or does that all depend on what happens next?

    *Gets confused*

    On a side note, I also get into trouble when I am inventing things on the fly.

  16. tess says:

    @Cecilia. Well, if you want to introduce Olivia’s feelings about her parents, this would be a good time to do that and introduce the mirror at the same time. It wouldn’t require physical details of the mirror. Then later when you wanted some detail to pack in a future scene, a mirror could be there and it would automatically feel connected.

    You (generic) could even add a tiny bit of action to the first bit by having the mother barge in and make Olivia look at her reflection, saying something critical, or saying she should lose weight before the wedding, or something. That would introduce the subject of the wedding and its date AND the long-term friction with the mother AND the ‘symbolism’ of the mirror, all at once, in maybe just one or two sentences.

  17. green_knight says:

    Tess, whether anything story-important happens during that time depends on the book and its overall scope – in an epic you might very well have one or more characters doing one thing (fighting, exploring, searching for the McGuffin. Instead of several scenes where they start searching, search, keep searching, keep searching, and finally find it, (where the unsuccessful middle scenes need to be propped up with something else) it’s perfectly possible to just tell the searching in one go.

    The more I think about this, the more I feel that the blow-by-blow account is the exception, rather than the rule.

  18. @ green_knight “…but I’m starting to wonder whether ‘unity of time and place’ isn’t an illusion…”

    Now you’re thinking like me. :)

    @Cecelia
    “Olivia paced agressively around her bedchambers. She was fuming about her parents’ audacity at arranging a marriage for her. Back and forth she paced, her feet carrying her passed the ornate gilded mirror that she absolutely hated.”

    The first two sentences are what I would call “low detail” and what other people would call “narrative summary”. Then it looks like you changed your mind, about what you wanted to do. “Back and forth she paced her feet carrying…” This is the same information as “Olivia paced” only now you’re using more detail. It feels to me almost like we went backwards in time a bit and started over.

    If the mirror is going to be described, then you probably want the surrounding material to have enough detail that the mirror description flows into it (unless you want the mirror to stand out like the proverbial gun on the mantlepiece):

    Olivia’s feet carried her across the floor — almost slamming her into the door, but she checked herself just in time. “How dare they! How dare they just arrange my marriage without even asking me?” She whirled about and strode back toward bed her bed — past the Louis XV writing desk, past the ornate rococo mirror. “What I owe to my consequence, like hell! Ungrateful child, you bet! I don’t care how much stuff they’ve given me! Did I ask for it?” She turned on her heel, too angry to stop. Back toward the door she went. This time she caught sight of herself in the mirror as she careened past, and her hands clenched into fists. She hated that mirror. She hated all the gilded furniture — so fussy, so ostentatious, so snobby. But she hated the mirror worst of all. It made her feel like someone was always watching her, like she couldn’t get away from scrutiny even here, in what should be her sanctuary. She had reached the door again, and this time she did bang into it — slamming her shoulder against the thick oak and making it shiver. If she was had to be watched, then at least she could also be heard. “Listen to that, mother! You’ve driven me over the edge. Your daughter who always at least tried to do it your way, can’t do it any more!” She turned around and there was the mirror again — the frame a mass of looping and curling leaves and vines. And there was her reflection, trapped inside them. Strangled. Confined…

    Or if this moment hasn’t got that much density, and the original level of detail was the right one, then just carry on with roughly the same level:

    Olivia paced aggressively around her bedchambers. She was fuming about her parent’s audacity at arranging a marriage for her, and she knew if she didn’t let off some steam she’d do something disastrous — scream, pound on the door, break the ornate mirror hanging over her dressing table into a hundred pieces. Two more times across the room and back and she was ready to start thinking again. There had to be some way out of this…

    “But what does the mirror have to do with her pacing or her anger?”

    Maybe nothing.

    Maybe it could have been anything in the room, but you came up with a mirror first. My rule is that the first thing to come to mind is the best thing, until I realize I’ve just thought of something better. The first idea wins all ties, because if I were to continually second-guess myself I’d never get anywhere.

    If something comes up that makes me realize I should have been going on about the writing desk, or the china cat, or her stuffed bear instead, I can always go back and fix it. (Or actually, what I usually do is make a note and carry on, but that’s a mileage varying thing — some writers need to fix first and then go on.)

    Just as frequently the mirror becomes important to the story, because now that I’ve mentioned it, it’s there to be used again.

    “Is it worth describing the mirror in detail to include this extra information?”

    That depends on what you are trying to accomplish beyond just the physical part of “what happens”. Do you think that her reaction to the mirror shows us something new about her, and is that information important to understanding how she behaves? Does describing the mirror help the reader understand the setting? How much text has passed by since you last described a setting, maybe it’s time to do it again, just so your readers remain grounded in the world? Does she need some kind of detail to support the depiction of her anger and the mirror is what came to mind?

    If you don’t know that you have anything to accomplish, but when you start writing the low detail version, your instincts start screaming at you saying, “Needs more!”, then give it more. Trust your backbrain.

    If your instincts are being unhelpful, and your mind is blank, that’s possibly an indication that you could use to do a bit of thinking ahead. What happens next? How important is her being angry to what happens next? If she is about to do something rash, then the anger she feels right now is paramount, and a high detail version is called for. If the anger is just something she needs to fight back so that she can think and plan rationally, then it has very little story impact and a lower detail version is probably better.

    If you can’t figure out what happens next until you write this bit, then just write it as it comes to you. There’s no rule that says you have to get the level of detail right on the first pass.

    IMHO, YMMV, other disclaimers as required.

  19. tess says:

    green_knight said: “whether anything story-important happens during that time”

    We may be agreeing on the larger issue here. In a blow by blow ‘scene’ devoted to the library search, in theory everything between the search’s beginning and its end would have to be included, whether story-important or not. And to keep strict unity of time and place, they’d have to be camping in the library.

    So since in reality they didn’t do that, but made repeated visits with other (non-story-importnat) things happening between (like food, sleep, etc), a ‘unit’ devoted to the search couldn’t be a traditional ‘scene.’

    So I agree that the blow-by-blow account wouldn’t work here. Someone might get close by making the last quarter-hour or so blow-by-blow, leading up to it with transition/summary describing the previous months of search.

  20. tess says:

    Michelle said: “It feels to me almost like we went backwards in time a bit and started over.”

    In context, I disagree. This pacing is a repeated action. I see the change in detail level more as zooming in, both in space and time. The first several pacings are told like summary; then we zoom in closer on the next few pacings.

    Then, as in your second example, she might threaten the mirror with the heavy, silver, stiff-bristled hairbrush her mother’s stern maid always used to brush Olivia’s hair. Then perhaps for a finish to this small ‘scene’, Olivia might collapse to cry or sit down to think calmly.

    In this POV we’re following Olivia’s thoughts, and she will be noticing objects that have an emotional meaning to her (the mirror, the brush) which is connected to what she’s thinking about right now (her quarrel with her mother). So it all fits together. You can choose an object that has adjectives that also apply to the mother or the relationship: stiff, heavy, stern, silver (meaning rich/ostentatious/oppressive).

    So however many words you want to use to describe her feelings about her mother, you can attach them to objects, thus including several objects without slowing things down.

  21. Cecelia Ward says:

    Michelle,

    Oh my wow! I am all agog at your high-detailed description of my pitiful little example blurb! Kudos to you. :D

    Tess,
    I think I might hone into Olivia’s thoughts a bit more about her feelings towards her parents and her frustration with society and start mentally “attacking” some of the objects in her room. That sounds like a good way to bring Olivia’s emotions to a peak before she acts.

    Thank you both for your comments and help! :D

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