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Modes of Prose

When you tell a story, it’s easy to slip into a mode of communication I call overview. This is when you say what happened, but without most of the story element. Jack liked going to bars to meet women, and sometimes they’d talk to him, but mostly he would go home empty handed. That is overview. I think it’s tempting to write that way because the movies have a form of this called montage, where the passing of time is sped up, someone ages, or a pattern of behavior is revealed, and then time gets back to normal and here we are in the future. But in the movies, you actually see the character doing stuff.

For prose, the best way to reveal important elements of your story is through dialogue, where characters talk to each other. But dialogue also includes revealing blocking. The two or three characters can’t just sit there. They have to do something while they talk. There are subtle ways to reveal their emotions or motivations, like tapping, or pacing, or building or destroying something.

In action scenes, where someone is doing something that moves the plot forward, you typically need dialogue to help explain or support the actions.

And in inner dialogue, the reader gets the intimate thoughts of the Point of View character. Too little of this breaks the flow. Too much bores the reader. This can be a good mode for transitional scenes. Jack drove his Buick away from the bar. He’d struck out again. Maybe he needed to chew on a mint. Or maybe Martha was right. Maybe he should finally call her.

It takes more effort to write scenes directly, and stay with the story in real time. But your story will be much more readable than an overview.

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One thought on “Modes of Prose

  1. Also known as showing instead of telling. Something I struggle with. But there is definitely a place for some telling or overview in just about every story. It’s interesting, on the chapter I was working on last night I actually switched from dialogue of a page or two to overview because I decided the overview, told in first person, would provide me a greater opportunity to add some detail.

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