5 Things You Don't Need To Include When Writing Summaries

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One of the challenges writers face when writing a novel is balancing scene with summary. Today's tip of the day focuses on what you should not include when summarizing a scene or event. Plus, try your hand at writing summary with a free exercise from Novel Shortcuts.

novel writing techniques | laura whitcomb author

When To Write Summaries Versus Scenes

Writing summary does not mean starting at the moment the last scene ended and covering everything that happens up to the moment the next scene begins. You only need to include those things that are significant to [the story]. There is a lot the readers will assume.

5 Things You Don’t Need To Include When Writing Summaries

  1. Uneventful travel. People walking out of rooms or riding, walking, or flying to a new location. Unless there’s something important about the way they got to the next place, leave it out.
  2. Home-life maintenance. If you don’t say what happened the rest of the night, readers will assume that normal things took place: sleeping, reading, and watching television.
  3. Workday maintenance. We know that the lawyer will probably have meetings, take phone calls, and read briefs. We’ll assume the teacher will give lessons, grade papers, and have coffee in the staff lounge. No need to even skim over that stuff unless doing so helps your story.
  4. Relationship maintenance. If you skip how your hero kisses his wife and kids when he gets home, what he says to them, and the look on this face during dinner, readers will assume that his relationships are rolling along as before.
  5. Ongoing emotions already stated. If you describe your protagonist being depressed and skip telling us her frame of mind between breakfast and dinner, readers will assume she continued to act depressed. No need to repeat or fortify this idea unless it helps the story.

Try This: A Summary Writing Exercise

Take a year of your life and try summarizing it into one paragraph. See if you find the most significant aspects to highlight. What changed that year? What would someone need to know in order for the next year of your life to make sense? Read it to someone else and see if they get a sense of that shortened journey through time. If you have trouble with a year of your own life, try summarizing a year of someone else’s life, a season of your favorite TV drama or comedy, a season for your favorite sports team. Repeat until ease sets in.

This excerpt comes from Laura Whitcomb's book, Novel Shortcuts. Learn more about her book on novel writing and read an exclusive author interview. Plus, don't miss out on these online writing workshops that focus on the novel:

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