Posted by Erika Beebe
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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.