Summary Passages Must Show and Tell

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel about caregiving and ALS. Her short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, was a finalist in the Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Awards. Her fiction has won Gold and Silver Medals from Readers' Favorites International Book Awards, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and many others.

Summary passages keep stories moving forward to the next “big scene.” A “scene” means the action that’s happening in pseudo-real-time. There’s conflict between people or between a person and a force of nature. The author knows that readers want to see those moments dramatized. The protagonist confronts his or her nemesis or reaches a fork in the road. The tornado sweeps across the Plains, endangering the woman hiding in her basement. The daughter sits by her father’s bed, holding his liver-spotted hand and hoping she can find the courage to tell him what’s in her heart.

hands, compassion, help, summary passages

Image from Pixabay via jclk8888

As I mentioned in my previous post on the old writing maxim about “Show, Don’t Tell,” in those important scenes, readers witness the unfolding of events.

At the end of that post I began talking about what I call “summary passages,” although others refer to these same kinds of passages as exposition or narration or narrative summary. The point I want to make is that even in summary passages, writers must do a great deal of “showing.”

By placing visual and other sensory images before the reader’s minds-eye, the author is creating an illusion. The illusion is that we’re really there…in the story, participating, guessing how we’re supposed to feel, and looking for clues. We witness what happens. By providing information from all five senses, the authors reels us in.

Keep the Story Alive Through Details and Attitude

Telling can conjure up a character just as effectively as showing. Look at how the details in this passage bring the character back to life.

The excerpt below is charged with emotion, both the emotion of the dead girl and the emotions still acting on the town’s children. The story voice rings with moral indignation and irony, coloring our view of