For the fiction writer, repetition is a trap, and a tough one to avoid. Later events must be set up, new characters need to know what readers already do; and sometimes it takes a few mishaps—possibly in the same setting—to get the protagonist properly cornered. Writers often hope that so long as something’s slightly different, such as the same anger for the same reason but more intently, readers will find it new. Sadly, that’s rarely the case.
Nor will scene versus what’s known as summary/sequel/narrative entirely solve the redundancy problem. Summary can magnificently foreshadow or dispense information. But the high stakes that fiction needs frequently originate in scene rather than summary. Or between them.
Tip: Exploit the underused territory between scene and summary.
The mixture of narrative and scene creates the illusion of “live” fictional time, just at a faster pace.
Because she hadn’t contacted him since returning to New York, Ed reared back when Anna tried to hug him.
That’s a really brief, somewhat oversimplified example of the landscape between a full-blown scene and an entirely collapsed summary. Yet the sentence illustrates a swift summary (the dependent opening clause) preceding the start of a scene (the independent final clause).
Combine scene with summary, and you can accelerate the pace, or speed at which events pass readers. Instead of revisiting what readers have already seen (she hasn’t contacted him since returning to New York), modify something. Did Anna start to call Ed? Did Anna run into her former fiancé? Did Ed’s voice mail quit functioning? Change helps pursue not only the original source of tension and perhaps something else entirely.
That’s because novelty is not only what readers want but what novelists need. Bypass the parallel or similar by shaking things up. That’s a boundless source of tension, emotion, and originality, not to mention the potential for symbolism, suspense, and complex characterization.
What kinds of questions shake things up so that nothing ever feels exactly the same?
- If the location feels identical, how has the place changed?
- Could an email or phone call let you summarize part of a scene?
- If the character’s emotion is similar, how can you add a contrary nuance or dimension?
- Depending on your novel’s point of view, can you revisit a moment from another perspective?
- Can the scene end very differently this time?
- Can you add a “ticking clock”?
- Can you develop rather than merely repeat any symbolism?
- What’s the effect of a similar place at a very different time?
These questions suggest ways to manage momentum. And in “5 Ways to Pace Your Story,” K.M. Weiland observes that
Pacing is like a dam. It allows the writer to control just how fast or how slow his plot flows through the riverbed of his story.
Pace originates not just from syntax and rhythm, but also scene and summary. Explore the fertile territory between those last two.