Summary Vs. Scene

By Britney Pieta

(Source: Professor Tammie Bob, Fiction Class, COD, spring semester of 2010)

What is the difference between summarizing an event and using scenes to describe an event in a story? When is it better to use one over the other? Read more below to find out!

Summary and scene both have an impact on the reader’s sense of time within a story. Summary takes an event or a group of events and relates the action very quickly, in the broadest strokes, giving the reader the sense that time is passing very rapidly, mostly because it takes the reader very little time to read it.


1. For instance, here is a summary a character might give of an experience at school:


A shy girl named Kay, had trouble believing-in and loving herself. Her kind teacher Professor Loveheart was worried about her because she was a good student and  her grades were slipping. It is just the area of “Love 101,”wasn’t her best subject. The day she was called to the office would be a wonderful turning point in her life

So why would a writer choose to use summary, to speed up the reader’s sense of time passing?

• To catch the reader up to the present as quickly as possible.
• To cover weeks, months, or even years in a few sentences.
• To convey necessary but not necessarily interesting information to the reader.

2. Scene, on the other hand, is just like a scene in a movie. It slows down the action to a single moment or series of moments, includes action, setting, and dialogue.


A single scene of great detail will make it appear to the reader to occur very gradually, and the passage of time will seem to slow down or even stop. Notice how much more slowly the events occur here. The reader is close to the action and to the characters and feels invested in what’s happening.

“Ms. Kay, the headmaster would like to see you in her office,” the voice boomed from the school speakers.
Everyone in the class went, “ouuuu….you must be in trouble.”  The kids whispered as she walked past. She was scared and was gripping her book very hard, trying to get out of the classroom without any more unnecessary attention.
​            Kay gulped loudly. Her hand was shaking as she turned the doorknob very carefully looking through the door just open a crack.
​            “Youuu…Youuuu wanted to see me….?”
“Come sit right over here by me Ms. Kay,”  She said patting the chair with a very warm and kind smile.

And why would a writer choose to slow down the reader’s sense of time?

·         To develop character, to invest the reader emotionally in the story

·         To increase tension

·         To introduce importan

·         Characters and situations

1.      If it’s important or interesting enough to be the crux of the whole story, then it deserves a detailed, well-developed scene. There will still be times when you will need to summarize information for the reader in order to “fill in the blanks,” so to speak. The trick is in choosing the right times.

The most emotional, the most conflicted, the most humorous , the most crucial moments will need to go in scenes. Linking those important scenes will be brief moments of summary, moving the reader from one important moment to the next, from the past to the present, the present to the future.

 Janet Burroway, in Writing Fiction, says that “summary can be called the mortar of the story, but scenes are the building blocks.” Both will be necessary to building a good story.

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