This is the second of a five-part series about fantasy writing craft. These posts explore five techniques for composing the story’s narrative passages.
Part 1 talked about Goings-on, which urged the fantasy writer to add actions to the story that would show, not tell, and to advance the plot. Today we discuss when to apply the opposite wisdom–summarizing instead of adding detail.
Not all details of story happenings are important. Do the step-by-step actions advance the plot? If not, summarize the trifling matters.
Consider: “Xenia took Firesnort’s bit, bridal, and saddle from their hooks and dragged the tack to the waiting dragon. She patted the dracon between his saucer-sized orange eyes, slipped the bit into his mouth, and adjusted the fit.”
If getting a dragon ready to ride is the same as a horse, then the reader already knows this. Spending story time on these familiar activities slow down the action. Instead show an interesting detail about dragon diets (which the reader does not know).
Xenia saddled Firesnort. She yanked the belly band strap to cinch it around his puffy midsection. He broke wind, then let loose a flaming belch to burn away the stench. Her clothes ignited. Xenia dove to the ground and rolled to put out the fire.
“You fool of a dragon. Don’t eat wart root before bedtime. It gives you gas. Now you’ve singed my hair.”
To speed up your story, write a summary of the uninteresting events.
Consider: “Earl turned his back on the Tree Counsel and shuffled away as fast as his roots allowed. The Ent left the southern end of Olde Forest. He traveled through the rolling hills of Cumberland, across the rocky slopes of the Flatirons, and finally entered New Mirkwood forest. His cousin tended a wizard’s library here. Earl coaxed his way into Hildebrand’s home and immersed himself in a good book.”
Yawn. The first and last parts have promise, but the middle is boring. So do the time warp and condense the uninteresting travelogue.
Earl the Ent turned his back on the Rude Old Fools and shuffled away. He crossed Treeland to his cousin Hildebrand’s place in New Mirkwood. Only magicians and bookish Ents visited his cousin’s library. Hildebrand introduced Earl to Wizard Nob.
“The Tree Counsel insulted me,” Earl said. “What can I do?”
Nob grinned. “They don’t like snakes. Find an asp potion and I’ll make it.”
Earl found Hildebrand’s books about herbology and rattlesnakes. Revenge made them a good read.
Write a summary when a dialogue’s exact words are unimportant. Instead, keep the reader riveted with conflict-filled patter.
Consider: “Greetings, Madam Elizabeth.” William bowed to the vampire queen. “How have you been?”
“My dear William. I have been mostly well, but suffered indigestion last week. What about you?”
“I am well. I dodged a hanging mob at Cadbury last month.”
Just proofreading this dialogue made Lita cringe. Vampires would not have such polite, boring talk. They would leap into the bloody good stuff.
The stale odor of the vampire queen’s undercroft made William wrinkle his nose. Best to get this over with. He stepped forward. She clung to the ceiling, waiting for him.
“My dear William. You’ve been a naughty boy.”
That silky tone meant only one thing. William knelt and bowed his head. “Cadbury folk are hasty about hangings.”
A whisper of movement, then Madam Elizabeth stood in front of him. She hissed. “News of your indiscretion upset me. I feasted on a poet to calm myself. His absinthe-laced blood gave me the vapors.”
“Forgive me. I beg you.”
Madam Elizabeth caressed his hair. Her talons were out. “Stand, William.”
He did so. Any moment now, he would be dead. “What do you want of me?”
“I want to get the taste of that dreadful wordsmith out of my mouth.”
William stroked her lovely face, put his finger under her chin, and drew Madam Elizabeth near. She tugged William’s scarf away from his neck. His pulse all but thundered in his bare throat.
“I will do anything if you spare my life,” William said.
“I know. That’s my good boy.”