Suspend Your Disbelief

Shop Talk |

Get Writing: Scene and Summary, Minimalist and Maximalist


Blue Sky at Sunrise

I have a problem telling stories. Sometimes in my excitement it’s difficult to gauge how much detail a friend, or a reader, actually needs to know. Because while not all details are important to understanding the events, to me, often the details are the most interesting part. So, if I’m trying to describe how late the train was, so late that it made me miss my doctor’s appointment, instead I might end up talking more about the argument I eavesdropped on while waiting for that train, and the maroon, bedazzled pumps of the woman who was hissing at her partner. After all, which was more significant?

So, sometimes when I’m writing, if I want to tell a story, I’ll do it two ways: first as a summary of the events. In this summary I get to make digressions, remark on the weather, those fabulous shoes, and generally wind my way through the narrative. Then, I’ll put that aside, and write the scene. Here, the peanut gallery has to shut up. What actually happened? What did those arguing people say to one another? Stripped down, what is it about this experience that mattered?

Of course most narratives mix summary and scene, and eventually, that’s what happens as I bring a little of my inner monologue, my incessant and nosy noticing, back into the scene. Sometime’s I’m not sure what mattered most about an experience until I try to put it into words. Having two representations can help test out how the truth of the moment comes through in both maximalist and minimalist form.

Exercise: Write a summary of a specific experience. Then, write a scene of that same experience.


Further reading:

Join the Discussion

Literary Partners