Should We Write the Whole Truth? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

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Thank you Raimey!


When I wrote my first draft of my first novel, I went scene by scene, chapter by chapter. I wrote in a logical timeline, from Monday, Tuesday, not knowing how to get to Friday where I really wanted the conflict to begin. I had no idea there was this really cool technique called Narrative Summary, and used effectively and efficiently, may work better then walking a reader through the whole truth.

Ever told an event from your day word for word and managed to hold attention from start to finish? I’m not sure if this is possible. I admit, I’ve done it. I’ve also watched eyes wander away.

In writing, Narrative Summary is a great way to hold on to a reader’s attention with a great fast-forward bridge where the reader may not notice a skip over a course of hours, maybe days, and may also remain engrossed on the page without scanning.

So what is it, you might ask?

According to Quora, I found the perfect definition:

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.

90 Day to Your Novel by Sarah Domet also states, “the narrator summarizes some events of the story for the reader, without showing the scene directly.”

Author Domet goes on to say, “you don’t have to show, in scene, how your character got from the end of chapter one to the beginning of chapter two by first getting a car, driving to the ferry, riding a ferry … then walking the rest of the way. But you will have to make clear to the reader that these changes took place.”

One of my favorite young adult books I’ve read this year and talked about multiple times is Panic, by Lauren Oliver. In one beautiful sentence Oliver transitions the reader from one Saturday to the next:

“Time tumbled, cascaded on, as though life had been set to fast-forward.”

Then she begins the next paragraph so perfectly, “Finally Saturday came, and she couldn’t avoid it anymore.”

I am so drawn in. I can see her panic, her nervous tension. And I want to read on and find out how she faces her worst fear in the next blind challenge against her peers.

One more example, you may ask?

A perfect one ends a chapter with a huge confrontational moment where our second POV main character Dodge is crushing on a girl and gives her a gift for her birthday. One he can’t afford. One he can’t stop thinking will finally show her he really cares. She’ll melt. She has to. Instead, she gives it right back and he’s so dejected he says the worst thing and they’re both sniffing back shadowed tears:

“Her eyes locked on his for a minute. He saw two dark holes, like wounds; then she whirled around and was gone.”

Thus, the chapter ends.

The next chapter begins with him home in his apartment, dreading his decision to head straight home the second he hears his mom call from the living room. To meet her new boy of the week. The father of a former classmate who had recently died. In the very game our two main characters are competing in. The entire scene is painted so we see Dodge’s awkward tension.

Oliver could have started the new chapter with the door in Dodge’s face, a slow walk down the hall, him shuffling down the steps to the street below, but she didn’t. We don’t need to watch a dejected walk of shame or the passing details of the city. Realistically, Dodge wouldn’t be paying attention to the city. Instead, Oliver shows us in the opening page of the new chapter with body language, dialogue, all the while, ramping up new conflict to peek our interest.

What can you do to try Narrative Summary?

Take out a scene you’ve stewed over. Maybe it doesn’t feel right. Maybe you’ve had comments from your beta readers, peers or editor how the action or conflict has dropped. Reread it. Seek places to summarize point A to B in a sentence. Notice the differences. Maybe try a new scene and write it out both ways. You might really like what you discover.

About Erika Beebe

Author, dreamer, and a momma to a couple of wonderful kids, I try to live life everyday in hope and inspire others along my way.

Posted on June 20, 2018, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Louise@DragonspireUK

    Great examples 🙂
    I love good scene transitions, and a poor one can ruin a story. I need to get better at leaving out travelling scenes, or conversations that don’t add to the plot. Sometimes it’s hard to stop my characters talking!

  2. Good post. Your blog is always educational.
    I used to time date my chapters to endure chronological progression. No longer. My books are still dialogue heavy, but I like the flexibility of skipping through time with narrative summary.

  3. alexjcavanaugh

    That’s the key to good story telling – skip the boring parts. Readers don’t mind a properly done fast-forward.

  4. Great post. I find authors fall into this trap because someone told them to always “show, don’t tell.” But these are perfect examples of where the reader doesn’t need every detail.

  5. This is a great trick in writing and one I think takes a lot of skill. You need to know WHAT can be left out and how to gloss over it without making the reader feel like they missed something. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do because it gets easier with practice.

  6. Great post. I totally agree with what you’re saying. It’s so important to leave out the dull parts of life. No one wants to read the boring bits. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I helped my friend with this in her last book. She was stuck on a scene where the character’s sink broke and water was flying everywhere and she couldn’t figure out how to move it along and get the character to the hardware store. So I suggested she start at the hardware store, with some inappropriate humor to lead in and hook, and then just summarize why she was there. My friend loved it and she was able to finally move forward.

  8. I struggle with narrative summary. I often find when my story slows down, adding dialogue helps. But I definitely see the reverse as a good technique.

  9. Thank you for sharing this! I admit, I have trouble with narrative summary and wanting to share everything that happens! It is definitely a skill set I want to build, so this post is wonderful! 😀

  10. To avoid being repetitive, I’ll use ‘she told them everything’. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  11. “Time tumbled, cascaded on, as though life had been set to fast-forward.” Oh that’s good!

    It can sure get tiresome to write every single step our characters take. I call this transitions, or I use transitional phrases, to get from one moment to the next with a “jump” that flows smoothly.

  12. Oh, this is such a great tip! I’ve got a scene that I can probably apply this technique to.

  13. This is a wonderful tip! I tend to use narrative summary more at chapter breaks, but I’m stuck in a place right now that applying this post to may fix! Thank you

  14. I think we can add your definition (“Narrative Summary is a great way to hold on to a reader’s attention with a great fast-forward bridge”) to the list of great ones for this. Will share this on Facebook in the next month for sure. Another great post, Erika!

  15. Definitely an important skill. Thanks for tips and examples here!

  16. Thank you, Erica. Some good things to keep in mind here, especially since I’m expecting my current WIP to cover a much greater time period than previous ones.

  17. Excellent tip. I once had a teen writer ask me how to move a character through the mundane, like showering and using the bathroom without boring the reader. Definitely a time to tell not show, unless it’s a necessary part of the plot.

  18. I love that you give us examples then a corrective action.
    We must make narrative decisions with each story, you’ve given us permission to go with our instincts.

  19. Great post! It’s so easy to write that the character opened the car door, got in the car, closed the car door, drove to the movie theater, opened the car door, got out of the car, closed the car door, and walked into the theater.

    However, we’d lose the readers if we did that every time! We definitely need transitions that aren’t mundane. Your post offers up advice to do so!

  20. Victoria Marie Lees

    This is great info, Erika. I love the “Narrative Summary is a great way to hold on to a reader’s attention with a great fast-forward bridge.” Well said, my dear. Thanks for all you do to assist your fellow writer. Enjoy your weekend!

  21. tyreanmartinson

    I love this post and the examples you used, along with that last quote. Perfectly said and put together! I struggle with this, even though I cut about fifty pages of “getting there” scenes from my first novel. It’s still a bad habit of mine to stalk my character through the boring moments, instead of just showing up for the Instagram highlights.

    • I am right there with you Tyrean. I seem to think part of the story is going from place to place but I am working on it 🙂 Thank you for stopping in today 🙂

  22. Very sound advice.
    I always go back to the idea that “stories are life without the boring parts”, and unless the story is a single continuous scene, there will be times where one needs to skip from one “interesting scene” to the next.
    I think part of the question is “did anything interesting or unexpected happen?”
    I feel like any time a character has a plan, and events unfold exactly as they planned, that in and of itself makes the scenes less interesting.
    I will admit, part of me is always reluctant to summarize. I guess, on some level, it feels too easy, but again, every story needs some summary.
    It all comes back to what’s interesting, I think.

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