Slaying Genre: Game of Scene vs Summary
I’ve been rereading the Song of Ice and Fire series in the hope that George R.R. Martin will decide to give us more than teasers of the (maybe) forthcoming Winds of Winter. There’s just too much information, too many characters and side-plots for me to keep in my brain and I want to be able to delve into the sixth book without constantly leafing through the other volumes (or worse, Googling) to figure out what crucial thing happened that I just don’t remember.
I hadn’t gotten too far along in book one, A Game of Thrones, when I realized that, for high fantasy with tons of knights, fights, and dragons, there’s a whole lot of exposition or summary of where we are, when we are, and with whom we sit around the blazing fire.
In our writing classes, we usually learn that over-use of exposition is a bit of a no-no, the sure-fire sign of a novice writer. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately as I teach an advanced revision course. In our Tuesday night class, we’ve been actively struggling with: “How much summary is too much?” and “What if my story is mostly expository?” These are important questions, the answers to which will dictate how successful your story or novel is, if your reader will follow into the dark caves and gloomy castles of your imagination. I encourage my students to compare their work with the works of writers they admire and so, of course, a comparison with Game of Thrones felt like an interesting exercise.
In the first ten chapters of A Game of Thrones, there’s quite a bit of scene, an eye-witness view of events as they unfold, complete with dialogue. There’s a lot of exposition, too. All of these chapters have some summary in them (and some of them have quite a bit). Six out of ten begin in scene and then back up, giving the reader some distance from the action (and the point of view characters, of which there are many). One of the most interesting things I noted was that the four that jump into summary straight away have point of view characters that are quite complex, that aren’t as action-based, at least in the first novel. Catelyn, Jon Snow, Tyrion, and Bran are quite broody folks, and possess (often by necessity of circumstances) rich inner lives that offer the reader perspectives on the world and circumstances of Westeros and beyond, of other characters who tend more toward swordplay and fist-fighting and less toward self-reflection. Employing this character-based balance of scene and summary works, and keeps me invested and interested (if, by my natural inclination, more intrigued by the broodier characters. And not just because Jon Snow’s so pretty).
Of course, there are the folks who tell me that they like GoT but they skip to the dialogue and the fight scenes, which makes me wonder if exposition and scene work differently for different genres, for different readers. What genre do you read and/or write? How do you deal with scene and summary? Answer in the comments!
KL Pereira's chapbook, Impossible Wolves was published by Deathless Press is 2013. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are forthcoming or appear in The Drum Literary Magazine, Shimmer Zine, Lightning Cake, The Golden Key, Innsmouth Free Press, Innsmouth Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, Bitch Magazine and other publications. Pereira’s work on fairy tales, sexuality, Wonder Woman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are featured on Studio 360 and other radio programs, cited in numerous publications, and assigned in courses all over the United States and Canada. Find Pereira online on klpereira.com and @kl_pereira.See other articles by KL Pereira