Writing Scene vs Summary

I’m a writer, if you haven’t figured that much out. I write screenplays, short stories, poetry, song lyrics, and I’m also writing a novel.

I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and since then I’ve been perfecting my craft. My writing still isn’t perfect, mind you. At least, not until after rounds and rounds of revisions.

I thought I’d start this segment to help out my fellow writers hoping to learn from things I’ve learned over the years.

Something I always have trouble with is writing scene so I figured it would be perfect to start with a discussion on scene vs summary.

In a scene, everything is shown using the five senses: sight, taste, sound, touch, and smell.

Example: The chicken soup simmered in the pot while she watched her children play outside in the sprinklers.

Not all the senses need to be in there but a good majority of them. Enough to show your audience what you want them to see.

Some summary is okay but the most compelling stories show and don’t tell.

Example: I had plenty of boyfriends. One with a weird mole on his chin. Another with abnormal sweat glands. One with no sweat glands. All a bunch of weirdos.

That sort of summary can be good in writing when used in small increments. Too much can leave a lot to be desired.

These principles hold true for all lengths of fiction, and even creative nonfiction (memoirs, travel pieces, etc.). Novels are 50,000 words or more of 85% scene and 15% summary. Short stories are 95% scene and 5% summary. Creative nonfiction pieces are 75% scene and 25% summary. All estimations, of course.

Think about it. Open any book. Read any story. Note to yourself all the times you see scene and when you see summary. Think about why these writers make these decisions that they do.

Practice makes perfect.


What did you think about this post? Did you find it helpful? Is there anything about writing that you have questions about? Comment and let me know!

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