of immediate scenes and more…

So I have been reading this fascinating book “Solutions For Writers” by Sol Stein.

In one of the chapters, he talks about the three ways in which you can write prose, or fiction to be more precise.
– Descriptive
– Narrative Summary
– Immediate Scene

Description is the depiction of a locale or person.

Narrative Summary is the recounting of what happens offstage, out of the reader’s sight and hearing, a scene that is told rather than shown. The key word there being “told”

An Immediate Scene happens in front of the reader, is visible, and therefore filmable.

Much of the pre 20th century writing belonged to the first two categories. However when the medium is visual (TV/Movies), immediate scenes became the natural way to film. It is more direct, and something the viewer can relate to more easily. Maybe as a consequence of that, most people today tend to dislike descriptive prose, and even narrative summary, unless done superbly, can bore them to death. Consequently, the easiest hook today is to write using immediate scenes. Far more appealing, and the reader is continuously involved. But the thing about writing in immediate scenes is that dialogues become overwhelmingly important as well. Stale, run of the mill dialogues are a recipe for disaster.

Non fiction typically is almost impossible to write using immediate scenes. But many of the better journalists today try, in some way or the other, (maybe through metaphors, or through little snippets of conversation, real or imagined, or by appearing to be at the scene of action) to introduce an element of immediacy in their writing to make it more appealing.

For instance, quite often today, you might find passages like “It’s 5:30 AM, 11th December, in Dras Sector, Kargil. The Jawan, wrapped in multiple layers of wollen clothing, shivers at his post, desperately trying to stay awake by concentrating on the faint echoes of the firing from across the border”.

A decade or two ago, that same passage may have been purely descriptive/narrative summary in nature, maybe it would have read “One has to salute the Indian soldier who stands guard at Dras in the bitterly cold winter mornings”.

Hmm…maybe that example wasn’t perfect, but you get the picture. The idea is to make the scene come alive.

I think one of the reasons some people have liked my stories is because much of it is immediate. I tend not to write descriptive or narrative prose. It’s just something that does not come naturally to me, and is something I am not particularly good at either. I have never consciously employed any particular technique, but I probably need to think more carefully in the future about these things.

As an aside, Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill employs a narrative summary as the device for recounting the murder of O-ren Ishi’s parents, and her subsequent revenge. But by employing animation as the technique, that narrative summary seems somewhat immediate, and the very uniqueness of the idea makes it more appealing than a traditional flashback (which is also immediate) would have been.


Posted on April 12, 2004, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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