The Big Summary

There’s this little wordage thrown around that goes something along the lines of Show, Don’t Tell. And it’s good advice. Except when it isn’t.

There are times when a bit of summarising is a good thing.

“Two weeks later and she’d found nothing to indicate his history.”

That’s a good summary unless something very important to the story happened in that search. Maybe one or two attempts at finding something might help create a sense of frustration in the reader that the character feels? That might work. A bit of show to indicate the extent of the tell. That can work.

What about the big moments, the reveals, the foreshadows, the builds, and the climactic events?

They need to be shown in the now of the story, as it happens, and definitely not summarised.

What is the purpose of the story? If I don’t know that at the beginning, I won’t recognise the big moments, the trail of crumbs that lead to a possible answer, the emotional effect of the climactic events and reactions.

“Two shadows snaked through the alley, gained weight and substance, brought the smell of the restaurant bins and grease traps oozing through the air to the main street. Jai squeezed into the narrow gap between buildings, held her breath and closed her eyes, chanted don’t see me, don’t see me in her mind. The shadows stayed with her, portrayed on the back of her eyelids, with shapes that changed from hairy-limbed monsters to thin-skinned aliens. The drip of water through the grate at her feet matched the clump of heavy boots that became louder, came closer, stopped. Jai opened her eyes, opened her mouth …”

In the end, summaries have no emotional attachment to the reader, but the shows are all about the emotional connection to the story.

Emotion is what story is about. First, as a reader, we connect to the story through the characters. Whether it’s empathy or something else, we relate to the character and go into the story, into another place. We become another person for a while. We feel their story, live it with them, so it makes sense (from the writer perspective) to show all the pieces of the story that lead to that emotional release. Clutch them tight, make the heart beat, the neck sweat, the toes scrunch, then let it all come together at the end so the release is achieved.

Loved it. Great story. I can go to sleep now, relieved and relaxed. There was an answer.

In life, the answer often isn’t there, but in story, we have a chance to see how an answer may come from a situation. We live vicariously as the character, through the events and realisations, until there is some form of resolution.

And, yes, I know I do too much tell. I’m working on it, and writing up these little snippets helps me more than simply reading the rules. I need the three things to learn something solidly: read/hear the words, write/create the lesson (in words), act out the situation. Visual/aural, touch/temporal, physical/kinetic (I think!).

That’s me for another week; still working on the Black story and a few shorts. See you next Friday.

Photo by Nicolas Postiglioni on

7 thoughts on “The Big Summary

  1. Who says you do too much ‘tell’???? Whoever it is, do NOT listen.

    If we all wrote exactly the same way with exactly the same balance between telling and showing, there would be only one writer on the surface of the planet, and she’d be boring as hell. 😀

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