1. black-radish
    Offline

    black-radish Senior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2010
    Messages:
    156
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Netherlands

    need help with Narrative Summary.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by black-radish, May 9, 2010.

    Hey everyone!

    I was hoping someone could explain Narrative Summary, action and description...

    I mean, I get the difference, but it's all a bit vague. I know the rules but I it's hard to use them or to find examples. I think it's really hard to see the difference.
    I'm not sure if this is the same as 'show and tell'..?


    For example, I don't get how you can make description of a situation active, and not narrative..

    I think I'm overusing Narrative Summary, but I find it hard to tell the difference from description or action..

    I mean if I say: "He walked to the door"
    Is that action or summary?

    Or when I say: "There were dark stains in the carpet"
    Is that description or summary?
    And how can I make it more active? More like it's happening at that very moment?

    Could someone give some clear examples?
    Sorry if this is a stupid question.. :redface:

    Anyway, thanks for the help!


    ~ Lola
    :)
     
  2. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    action...

    description...
    here's just one way:
    nothing's a stupid question, if you need an answer...

    narrative summary [as one would include in a query letter]:

    action:
    description:
    does that help?

    love and hugs, maia
     
  3. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,978
    Likes Received:
    5,498
    Edited to note: Oops. I totally ignored the "description" part of the question, and just discussed action versus summary. Sorry about that.

    I'd say that "He walked to the door." is action and "There were dark stains in the carpet." could be part of either action or narrative summary. For example:

    Action: The lieutenant crouched, frowning, and peered at the floor. There were dark stains in the carpet. He ordered, "Take a sample of the carpet fibers, here, and the matting below."

    Narrative Summary: The crime scene team did their usual thing, and found very little. There were dark stains on the carpet. There was one shell casing in the bathroom. And that was all.

    Here are some more pairs of lines demonstrating the difference as I understand it:

    -

    Action: He walked to the door, opened it, locked it behind him, and ran down the stairs. Down in the parking garage, he pulled his keys out of his pocket... (etc., etc., etc.)

    Narrative summary: He went home and went to bed.

    -

    Action: He flipped through the pages in the yearbook. "Wilson, Wilson... ah, here he is." He made a note of the middle name, then put the book back on the shelf.

    Narrative summary: He spent Tuesday researching Wilson, finding his middle name in a high school yearbook at the library, his legal address at the Hall of Records, and his photograph in a wedding shot in last year's paper.

    -

    Action: I threw a punch at the taller one, then doubled over as the shorter one jabbed me in the side.

    Narrative summary: It was a long, ugly fight, but we were the ones to walk away in the end.

    ----

    I don't think that there's anything _wrong_ with narrative summary. As you can see in my "walked to the door" example, describing every action when things are dull can get really old. You don't need to hear about every stop sign and stop light and shift of feet from the gas to the brake pedal as the hero goes home. You can make all that go away with a couple of summary lines.

    On the other hand, if the hero walks into his apartment and someone's waiting to ambush him, you generally don't want to summarize that down to, "Someone was waiting for him and knocked him out."

    So tying a couple of these together, you may have action going on with the lieutenant looking around the crime scene, giving orders, and heading for the door. Then you might switch to summary while he goes down to the parking lot to get his car and drive home. Then back to detailed action as he gets out his key to open his apartment door, where he'll get knocked on the head by the intruder.

    Then back to detailed action when he wakes up. Then a summary of the state of his ransacked apartment. And so on.

    I do think that summary versions action, and telling versus showing, are often related. While they're not irrevocably tied together, summary tends to be telling, and action tends to be showing. I'd say that the summary/telling link is tighter than the action/showing link - both of the following lines are action, but the first tells and the second shows:

    The Lieutenant was quietly furious. "Didn't I tell you to take those samples?"
    The Lieutenant's jaw set, and his tone was flat and even. "Didn't I tell you to take those samples?"

    Edited more to add. Y'know, the summary/telling link isn't that tight, either. Both of the following are summary, and again the first is telling and the second is showing:

    She spent the next week in a state of idle depression.
    For the next seven days, she slept late, ate little, and stared blankly at the television from the time that she got home from work until the moment that she fell asleep on the couch.

    ChickenFreak
     
  4. black-radish
    Offline

    black-radish Senior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2010
    Messages:
    156
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Netherlands
    Hey!

    Thanks for your responses :) I think I get it a little better now.

    I was reading some books about writing and in everyone they warned me a billion times that beginning writers tend to overuse the narrative summary, I guess I got scared into thinking it applied to me, because I'm looking at my work again and I think I use action and description when there's something important going on and just narrative summary at the less interesting bits..

    I think this is one of those things that confuse me when I think about it too much.. :)

    When I say in example
    "It was a busy street. There was a man on my right who was talking agitated against his phone, while pressing various buttons at the same time. Right next to him was a hotdog vendor who was yelling at a man for letting his dog urinate against his cart."

    It's a summary of what's happening on the street, but it's also a description? So I'm not sure which one it is, but I'm guessing description?

    When I say: "It was a busy street, there was a man to my right who had a discussion with his phone and next to him was a furious hotdog vendor, who was yelling to a man and his dog."

    It's a summary, right? But isn't it still a description of what is going on?

    Thanks again for the help!
     
  5. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,978
    Likes Received:
    5,498
    I'd say that both of those are description* at a detail level appropriate for action - they're not summary. The fact that there's a "man to your right" and a specific hotdog vendor doing a specific thing puts you in the middle of a specific moment, and that's not narrative summary. Narrative summary is a way to avoid specific moments, to give a general summary of what happened in a period of time.

    Narrative summary with some of this description might be more like:

    "I walked to work, building up a fog of irritation at the the cellphone users, hotdog vendors, yapping dogs, and other unrepentant noisemakers that always seemed to be on the city streets. When I got to the office...."

    ChickenFreak

    * Actually, are they description or action? If the character is watching activity but the activity is just there for local color as much as a description of the brickwork in a building is, and the character will not be joining in, is that description or action? I don't suppose it particularly matters, but now I'm curious.
     
  6. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    you seem to be confused about the term 'narrative summary' and the word 'summary'... in re writing, a 'summary' is what you include in a query letter, to let the agent/editor know what happens in the book... it 'sums' up the plot...and it does so in 'narrative' form... thus could be called a 'narrative summary'...

    'narrative' is the the term used for the non-dialog part of the work itself and contains both action and description...
     
  7. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,978
    Likes Received:
    5,498
    Well, now I'm confused. Wikipedia (yes, I realize that Wikipedia is not what one would call the definitive source, but I don't have access to the real source that's cited) refers to narrative summary in the sense that I think that the OP means, here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_(literature)#Summarization

    "Summarization (also referred to as summary, narration, or narrative summary) is the fiction-writing mode whereby story events are condensed. The reader is told what happens, rather than having it shown..."

    Another couple of URLs that use the term in this sense:

    http://writeabetternovel.net/use-half-scenes-to-enrich-your-narrative-summaries/
    http://www.annemini.com/?p=7678

    So I think that the OP was asking about the fiction writing mode referred to by the Wikipedia article, where events are condensed rather than being described moment by moment. I don't know if there's a more common term for this mode? Edited to add: I see that Wikipedia also suggests summarization, narration, or summary, but these seem even more ambiguous than narrative summary.

    ChickenFreak
     
  8. black-radish
    Offline

    black-radish Senior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2010
    Messages:
    156
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Netherlands

    Yes I did :)

    However, my knowledge is straight out of 'writing fiction for dummies', I'm not sure how accurate that book is, but I found it very usefull.

    I mean narrative summary (basically a summery that describes actions over a period of time ) apposed to action, description or dialogue (which takes place 'right now' )

    Maybe what's confusing is that I write in past tense, so I find it hard to see the action as happening 'right now'..? It's just when I read my work I simply don't know if it's summary or action..

    Xx Lola


    edit:


    I just read the wiki articles you linked. I guess it doesn't matter what the exact term is, as long as the rythm and flow seems right to me.. :)
     
  9. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,978
    Likes Received:
    5,498
    Re:

    "Maybe what's confusing is that I write in past tense, so I find it hard to see the action as happening 'right now'..? It's just when I read my work I simply don't know if it's summary or action.."

    I agree that "right now" is a little confusing. I'd put it as "in a specific moment".

    For example, if Joe is walking to work and the hotdog vendor is directly on his right, that's a specific moment, because he's going to keep walking - at one moment the hotdog vendor is ahead (and slightly to the right), at another he's directly on his right, at another he's behind him. And the vendor will only briefly yell about the dog, and the man will only briefly play with his phone, so all of those are specific moments.

    But it's not as if there are precisely two levels of being "in the moment" - I think that there are an infinity of levels, and it's an arbitrary (but useful) choice to decide that this end of the scale is action, this end is summary, and somewhere in the middle it gets fuzzy.

    For example, I'd say that both of these are action, but the first is much closer to the summary end of the scale than the second is:

    - Joe walked to the door.
    - Joe stared at the door, afraid of what he might find behind it. He took one step, then paused, feeling his bare foot settle into the plush carpet.

    And "Joe walked to the door" is only action in context - I'm assuming that Joe's in a single modest-sized room, so he gets to the door fairly quickly and without anything of note happening while he's on his way. If Joe is in, say, a big old grand train station, "Joe walked to the door" could be considered to be summary, because it might take him a good five minutes to get there. And it might be written as summary:

    - Joe made his way to the exit, threading through the crowd, meeting and joking with several acquaintances on the way.

    What makes this summary is the fact that we're summarizing several moments. If this were action, we'd follow Joe through meeting the acquaintances, what they said, what he said, and so on. One line of this written as action might be:

    - Joe turned to start toward the exit, but didn't make it more than two steps - a raised eyebrow, a pleased grunt, and he veered toward a woman in a dark raincoat, cheerfully calling, "Janet! And what are _you_ doing out of the office?"

    I'm not sure if that helps at all?
     
  10. black-radish
    Offline

    black-radish Senior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2010
    Messages:
    156
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Netherlands
    That's a great way of seeing it, thanks so much! :) I haven't thought about it like that! I finally get it :D

    Thanks again for the help! :)
     

Share This Page