I hear the question asked a lot about the difference between scene and summary and their roles in writing. I thought I’d share some of the things I learned about both while studying for my degree in creative writing. It’s always a good idea to review the basics of writing every now and then.
Scene and summary is the way in which the story is revealed. It’s all about pacing—controlling the speed of the narrative. Scene should be presented 70% of the time and summary 30%—each contributing to each other. I have found that the 70/30 rule seems to fit in a lot of things with writing. But I always say, there are no rules except grammar—feel free to find your own way of combining the two. This is what creates your voice in the story. So what exactly are they?
Scene slows the reader down. It is the more personal—plot driven section of the story. Scene is the detailed portions of the piece—the evidence of the story—the most important parts. In a film the scene would be the close ups, the emotional moment in the show. Scene is where the dialogue takes place and we get to know the main character on a more personal level.
Summary is where the story speeds up. It is the way the writer reveals a lot of the back-story and research in the story. In a film the summary would be the wide shot—taking in all the things that are around the main character. There is still detail in summary, you can describe the setting, the time, other characters, but the real detail is in the scene. When you switch to summary in your writing you are describing the surroundings, giving information, and moving the reader from one place to another. With summary you can take a lengthy amount of time and condense it.
Scene and summary are used to help the reader understand and embrace the characters in the story. In scene we come to love or hate the characters and in summary we move along in the story. These are the important parts of a story. Like I said before the 70/30 rule is there but really it’s up to you how you want your story to play out. I write middle-grade so I stay in scene a lot more than say an epic fantasy that has many wide shots. A romance writer is going to be in scene a lot more than a historical fiction writer. Genres play a huge role. It’s also our own personal style. The point is to know what Scene is and what Summary is and how to use them. I challenge you to remind yourself of the basics every now and then. Happy writing!