1. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    Telling the scene before showing it?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BillyxRansom, Sep 6, 2008.

    In a persuasive essay, you might state your opinion on a particular subject, and then you would elaborate on it, sometimes in very great detail. Does this work just as effectively in fiction, or should this be avoided at all costs? Can you tell what happened in a particular incident, and then in the next paragraph, show it in great detail? Would this make for bad writing if it was done frequently throughout the story? I feel like I have to summarize what events I want to show, before I can actually show them. But the thing is, I feel like it would be decent if it went into the actual body of the story. Am I on the wrong track here?

    P.S. I have been making a lot of threads lately. I apologize if that's annoying or overwhelming.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I would never do it because while it might be good for a persuasive essay, it feels like unnecessary repetition in a story. I actually would not recommend it at all. You need to elaborate as you go along instead of providing a summary and then showing it in detail. I have seen what you say a few times before but not very often, and it was only used two or three times in the novel.
     
  3. Kylie
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    Kylie Contributing Member

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    I don't know that that's necessary in most novels, but perhaps in yours, it is. Personally, I find it very annoying when the author repeats something over and over again. It makes me feel like the author thinks I don't get the point so he/she has to try to somehow tell it to me all over again.

    Try asking yourself these questions:

    • Is it necessary?
    • Are the detailed explanations needed or is a brief explanation enough?
    • Is there a way to work around it?
    • Can the particular incident be described briefly, but at the same time with the amount of detail needed?
     
  4. ciavyn
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    ciavyn Senior Member

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    Ransom - another thought on this. I'm sure you've read books which have titles that allude to something, but you don't know exactly what it is unti you've read that chapter. Or the author starts each section or chapter with a quote from someone famous, that suggest what is going to happen, but are too vague to tell the whole story. Personally, I like that style, as it makes for interesting reading. So that is one way you could do it.

    Another thing that has been done is to give the climax, sometimes even the ending, and then you flashback to an earlier period to tell the story - sort of like what the televeision show, Quantum Leap did. He always ended up in the middle of something, and then had to go through and fingure out what had happened.

    Just some ideas.
     
  5. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I would say that you don't want to do it....I've had to get myself out of the habit of repeating myself too. Matter or fact, it's the biggest thing I look for now when i edit my chapters.
    Keep it simple, but with enough detail to draw the reader in. Just make sure to leave enough out to keep their attention riveted.
     
  6. Scattercat
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    Scattercat Active Member

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    It can be done, but it should be used with great caution.

    As a technique, it is seen far more often in nonfiction, where the purpose is usually to lay out a point in summary and then "prove" it with in-depth analysis. With fiction, it is rare that you'd want to tell us the summary of an event, and then go and do a detailed review of each step of the event.

    Some things that are similar that do function well in fiction, handled properly:

    1) Dropping hints or portents of things to come.

    2) Referring to an event in the text, and then having a "history book" or similar document that is "excerpted" between chapters, which tells the further story of the relevant event.

    3) Flashbacks, which work best in first-person narratives, but can be used anywhere. The main character is reminded of a significant event in his/her past, which we then get to relive through their memories.

    Flashbacks should be used sparingly, if at all. Too many of them can overload your reader with information, or simply confuse them with too many time shifts.

    You will almost never want to open with a description of an event, and then launch into a detailed retelling. The only situation I can think of where a novel or story might use that approach would be one in which you, the author, are deliberately mimicking the sound and tone of a history textbook for some sort of narrative twist.
     
  7. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I think it's something that could work once in a great while (especially if the scene is from a particular character's POV--there can first be a summary of what basically happened, then a longer explanation regarding their thoughts, actions, reactions, feelings, etc.), but not when used often. If used often it just comes across as way too repetitive, as others here have said. Why describe the same thing twice if you really don't have to?

    If you feel you "have to" summarize every time, then go into more detail, why not do both, then cut out the one that reads more weakly than the other, and leave in just the one that works better? Sometimes it might be the summarized version (better if the event isn't hugely important), sometimes it might be the longer, "shown" version (better for getting the reader into an important scene), but at least you won't keep repeating yourself.
     
  8. Gone Wishing
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    Gone Wishing Contributing Member

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    I actually see this kind of technique used all the time, to great effect. More often it's not a matter of summarising upcoming events and then explaining them in greater detail, but rather just one line that can even "give away" the ending (ever read an opening sentence that introduced a character, then used the infamous 'little did s/he know s/he was about to...' ?)

    Sometimes clueing the reader in on what's about to happen can create a curiosity as to how it's going to happen, and therefore inspire them to read on.
     
  9. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    If I picked up a novel and it did that, I would stop reading it. Not sure if that is helpful or not. I am not sure how many other people would do that. I just don't want to know what is going to happen before it happens. I want to be suprised.
     

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