Scene or Summary – How to Decide

Many writers need to learn how to determine when to write a scene or summary. A scene may consist of dialogue, action tags, action/reaction, gestures, mannerisms, exposition, setting details, and character thoughts. A summary is simply a recap of something that has happened. The problem is writers often use a summary when they should use a scene and vice versa. But, how do you know when to write a scene?

Here’s a list of times you should use a scene:

-inciting incident
-surprises, twists, and complications that turn the protagonist’s journey upside down
-love scenes, especially the first time they kiss, or have sex, and any time there’s some sort of change as a result of the encounter
-crimes (committing a crime or uncovering a crime)
-any kind of struggle (physical, moral, emotional)
-turning points
-answers to the story question
-misconceptions and misunderstandings
-subplot resolutions
-black moment

You shouldn’t use a scene to show:

– mundane life events like going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, getting dressed, checking in at an airport, buying a soda, etc…
– how the character got from point A to point B—Sometimes, you need to let the reader assume the character must’ve jumped in a cab, gotten a ride to the station, gotten out of the cab, paid the driver, took his luggage, walked to the entrance, opened the door, entered the building, passed a crowd of people, got in line for a ticket, etc… Instead of writing all of this, simply end the scene and open the new scene wherever he needs to be and whenever the action/reaction is about to take place.

Have you struggled with deciding when to write a scene or a summary? Is it harder to decide when to use a scene or a summary?

For those who missed the post, my class Hook, Line, and Sinker: How to Hook Readers and Reel Them In will start in September. Registration is open and the class is filling up. For more information on the class go to:

Lynnette Labelle

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