Summary versus Scene. What are they? When do you choose one over the other?*
Summary is where you take what happened in a relatively long period of time and convey it in a short space. It compresses time and detail, and it is mostly used to transition between scenes, to jump in time when nothing of vital importance happens to the story, or to fill in bits of background. It tells things that are necessary to know for the story to make sense, but aren’t as significant to the plot or development of the character. Summary should be used sparingly and generally only in short sections. Think of the montage technique in film making.
In Scene, on the other hand, you deal at length with what happened in a short period of time. Scene invites the reader into the story and makes them part of the action. Scene makes your readers see, feel, smell, taste, and hear what it happening. It is in scene where everything important should happen.
This is the beginning scene from The Bull Riding Witch:
I woke with my head pounding and my tongue coated with the fur balls of ten thousand cats. I nearly gagged at the stench that filled the air, a scent that combined the reek of inside of a knight’s armor after jousting with the odor of rotting flesh.
Confused, I examined my surroundings. Hung on the wall facing me was a portrait of a huge bull with its head down and its heels kicked high into the air. Incredibly, a man, hanging onto a rope with only one hand, sat on the bull’s back. Why would anyone ride a bull? Bulls were dangerous and impossible to control.
Piled high on the bedside table were plates covered with the remains of several meals, bowls with a few dregs of sour milk, and empty bottles. The sheet I laid on was stained with various substances I didn’t want to identify. Where was I? This was certainly no place worthy of me, the crown princess. Maybe I had somehow ended in the servants’ quarters, although I couldn’t imagine how.
I tried to sit up, and my head felt as if it were going to split in two. I groaned, and the sound was deep and masculine. What the . . .? I looked down at my arms. They were muscular and covered with hair. I grabbed my naked chest. My breasts were entirely flat, and my chest was covered with thick, coarse hair. When I rubbed my hand across my face, I felt thick stubble. I looked down at the short clothes, which were the only thing I was wearing; there was a bulge that just shouldn’t have been there. I lifted the waistband and peeked. Dear gods, how had I gotten one of those? I poked it with my finger, and it twitched. I snapped the waistband closed and jumped away, but I couldn’t get away from the body I was wearing.
My breath came in dizzying gasps, and my pulse raced. This was just a dream, I told myself. It couldn’t be real.
You feel the thickness of her tongue, smell the stench, see the bull riding poster, and sense her confusion. You are with Daulphina coming awake in a body that isn’t hers. A little bit later in the first chapter, I have a short summary of how she got there:
I tried to think back to how this could have happened. I’d been going to the Temple of Cailleach to meet my lover. Clenyeth had told me he had important information and I should come alone. Clenyeth and I had had to be careful. If my father found out about us, Clenyeth could hang.
I’d seen Clenyeth near the entrance to the cave that housed Cailleach’s temple. As I hurried toward him, someone had grabbed me from behind and put a cloth that smelled sickly sweet over my mouth and nose, and then . . . And then . . .
And then, I woke up as a man.
This gives the reader necessary background information, but they don’t experience it the same way as you do the scene. They aren’t there with her. It tells them things, but it doesn’t invite them into the story.
So a general rule, if it’s important, make it scene.
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*Disclaimer: The only unbreakable rule in fiction writing is “Does it work?” However, there are things that work more often than not. Make sure you understand a rule before you decide to break it in your case.