Summaries Within A Story: Filler Or Thoughtful?

I spent some time looking for this answer, but I couldn’t find an appropriate one. In a story, do you appreciate it when an author tries to summarise a complicated sequence / plot line after it has happened? Particularly in a fast moving action scene when things come hard and fast in short tight paragraphs.

Usually, this happens in a “think-back” by a protagonist trying to make sense of what just happened before he decides his next course of action. It’s usually not necessary for the advancement of the plot, but I see a lot of writers using it, sort of like a milestone to recap and move on. Usually this involves asking a lot of questions, that might be an attempt to engage the reader.

So my question – Is this considered crappy filler content, or is it natural to engage the reader in the thought process of solving the issue at hand. It doesn’t move the plot, nothing happens in the story, it’s just a mini-storyline in the head of the protagonist recapping the last series of events.

I’ve seen it work sometimes, but I’ve also seen it fail utterly, even in bestsellers. Seems to work best for mysteries (getting into the head of the investigator) but complicated stories like Sci-Fi and Fantasy uses a lot of it as well. What are your thoughts. Would you include them into your own story ?


15 thoughts on “Summaries Within A Story: Filler Or Thoughtful?

  1. I only put something like that in if I feel I haven’t completely explained the outcome of the scene, and even then, a sentence is adequate. Anything more tends to be overexplaining. One thing I’ve learned is, readers want to feel as though they are smart enough to get it the first time!

  2. If I do sum up the action, I do it with more action. Example, Eddie my MC breaks into the room of the pedophile, killing the two bodyguards, runs up the stairs to the den of iniquity. He shoots the pedophile twice in the chest, leads the kids out of the room.

    The next scene is Eddie in the hallway vomiting in a plant. Next chapter.

    • Maybe I didn’t get it clear. Action moves the story ahead, your passage describes the story. I’m talking about those ‘in the head of your character’ moments where he seems to be running through events that just happened, like a thought bubble.

      • Sorry I was confused. I dont do that because I am not a good enough writer to pull that off.

      • Haha, that’s a strange thought, because I see it as a crutch whenever I’m afraid the writing’s too messy.

      • You see it as a crutch because you are a good writer. I see it as a technique that is too difficult for me to attempt becuase I am not a good writer.

      • Lol, why do you keep saying you’re not a real writer? I’m read your accounts of the war. It’s gritty, doesn’t overplay sensationalism and you manage a story about days of waiting around seem interesting.

        Your experience in a story-worthy setting sets you apart from a lot of us already.

      • Thank you. That is one of the most wonderful compliments anyone has ever given me. I am seriously flattered.

        I say that I am not a writer because I have no formal training in the craft. I started three years ago with a crazy idea about a novel and it has grown from there. I was a psychology major in college, I have a Maters in Education and I turned that background into something I really wanted to do which was be a pilot. After thirteen years in the military, I quit. Now I am a Captain at FedEx. I am so blessed to have found a soft landing place after every twist of life.

        Three years ago, I decided that I was going to write a novel. I had an idea and some time. Here I am but when I say that I am not very good, I mean it. I read things that you have written and I am memorized. You make things so beautiful and clear. I read things that others have done and I find myself lacking. I have a real problem with grammar, Sentence structure, POV and more.

        I think that my writing is better, but I am not attempting to win the third grade essay competition. I am entering a world where most authors never get published. They never get a sniff of a contract because there is only one Tom Clancy. Everyone is compared to him and most everyone is found to be lacking. I honestly don’t know if I will ever get published. Currently, I am having fun making up a story. I still have a hope that once again I will win the lottery of life. I won it twice so far. I was selected to be a military pilot and I got hired by FedEx. I will have to be lucky again. By the way, I define luck as when hard work meets opportunity.

        That is too much about me, tell me about you. When did you start writing? What are you working on?

      • Haha, I only started writing seriously a few months ago, though I did do a lot of research papers and stuff a few years ago in university.

        You downplay yourself too much, be it experience, insight or wisdom, you have them more than me. My suggestion is to play on your strength and maybe try a non-fiction / first person PoV approach in your war experience (need to find an angle though – e..g your summary of the C130s wing to wing on the airfield shows through your eyes the sense of the scope of the war that none of us will be able to imagine, also 5 tons of MREs).

        Don’t worry so much about the writing / language. If your story is compelling enough in the first draft, it’ll sell by itself. There’s a debate about how flowery or banal writing should be anyway (remember more than 50% of the english-speaking world are non-native, even more are coming on board as China opens, so big flowery words and arbitrary concepts which sound nice to you don’t always work.)

        As for me, I’m floundering due to personal matters now. Writing provides an escape for me. You can read the Write Habits article I’ve posted yesterday to get an idea. Oh, and follow Lindaghill, she just finished her first draft and is giving very solid advice from the perspective of a person just a couple of steps ahead of us in the process.

      • Wilson,

        We all flounder with personal issues. That is so common, what makes it seem insurmountable is that we don’t talk about it. I am sorry that you are struggling with life. I know the feeling and I hope you find a way to turn it into something positive and good.

        Thank you for all the kind comments and words of encouragement. It really means a lot to me. I am like everyone else, in that I am not as confident as I should be and many times I see my own faults instead of seeing my strengths.

      • Glad I made ya feel better, now get to writing!

  3. Personally, I try to avoid it, in writing, and even reading. In some places it is fine, but should not be used constantly.

    If something, for example, really strange happens, like a sudden shift in another character’s actions, I would possibly add the main character trying to mull over why they acted as such. But it should still try and give some reason to it: be it a realization of something is going on (good or bad), a shift in opinion towards that event, person, or thing.

    If engaging the reader, it should trigger a memory of something that has happened, or of knowledge they would have that the main character does not. Case and point, the writer putting in a scene that the main character is not even aware / present in. It’d turn into one of those “Oh! He / She doesn’t know!” and builds either excitement / fear for the character as they are trying to figure it out.

    Always have a reason for it, be it obvious or a revelation later that ties back into it. Makes it more interesting. It can be used effectively, but if it’s just a random thought process, I prefer to skip it. I’ve seen it in books too, and honestly, if it becomes too lengthy, or doesn’t really add to the story, I skip it. No effect to the story you’re trying to tell anyways.

    • I’m skipping them for now until I find a way to use them. Right now, it seems like I’m using them for nothing but filler or when I think what I said before is too convoluted, both just needs to be rewritten. No point adding crap on crap.

      I’m trying to go for shorter stories, so I’ll try to be more concise.

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