cue Team America song

Okay, now that you know I like to have fun with my writing...

I'd like to write a montage in prose fiction. It would be a sort of a wizard training sequence, or something to that effect (pretty close).

Obviously montages are easier to do in movies, as they're a very movie-focused technique, which are basically film-editing at work on sequences shot on film.

Novels could conceivably do the same thing, as it's story-telling, but there's obviously different strengths and weaknesses to the two different mediums (media?).

The context: four years ago (in-story) a bunch of rifts opened up above all the major cities of the world (Earth). These brought through monsters, and gave people super powers, wherein they are able to either do things with super powers naturally, such as wield an element (fire, lightning, ice, whatever) or some other set of related powers. Ninja types could use shadow powers or even actual invisibility, for instance. It's generally tied in conceptually. If a character's power-concept is storms, you can usually fling lightning from your hands, be immune to electrocution, and even fly, as storms are often windy. That's one example.

The character I'm writing this story about is that character's girlfriend. She is able to manipulate Rift energy, where it exists. She doesn't have inherent elemental powers like her boyfriend. He's limited to storm-based powers. His best friend has rock powers - the ability to manipulate the ground in various ways, and even to create rock-skin for a short duration. He can only control dirt, rock, earth stuff (not really trees, that's a different power, just literal rock. (No surprise, he loves rock-n-roll. It's kinda his thing.) Another female member of the group has a few psychic powers, such as mind-reading and invisibility. They're not as destructive, so she can use them for longer - they have a lower mana cost.

This girl learns how to weave effects with Rift energy. She has the whole range of powers to work with, but a more limited amount of willpower and energy/mana/whatever to work with. She has an affinity for healing powers, and is usually called up for patching them up (it takes longer the nastier the wound, it's not an instant process). The title I want to go for is Cliche Healer Girl, which tested interestingly somewhere else. I was talking about a JRPG stereotype, which is the shy, meek, kinda not-very-interesting, but "pure" character type in soooooooo many JRPGs. Girls who are 100% pure are the default in a lot of fantasy, it sometimes seems, not so much in the west, but in the east, at least in games, you get the stereotype. I titled a post Cliche Healer Girl, to see if the forum had experienced this a lot.

And someone thought "Oh man, I thought this was going to be a story!" I think they loved the title, too.

Years later, I've just come up with my story. This character, who starts of kinda shy and plain and pure, but also a bit Ivory Tower syndrome (think Rapunzel or the stereotype of the fair princess) goes through magical training that opens her mind and strengthens her as a character. Not sure exactly what she'll go through, but at some point, I think it might be useful to have a learning montage. It'll be a short story, after all, though it could probably spin out into a novella naturally. I don't know for sure, I'll see where it goes.

Anyway, the question is, how to do a montage in prose form? I think the word is a french one from literary theory circles, so does that mean it originally came from written narrative? If it did, I think I'd know about it.

In film and TV, you can do a montage much easier than in a book, I think. You get training montages the most, as well as lock-and-load and power ups in more fantastic stories (ie Power Rangers and Sailor Moon). Even Rocky had a montage! (I'll stop now, promise)

I think readers coming across a montage might find it hilarious, as you normally get it on screen. Team America sings a song explaining how to do a training montage in film. Can't say I've seen too many montages in games, but I'm sure there's one at the end of Mass Effect 3 when the Alliance finally descend on Earth for the showdown. Been a while since I played it though. Could be off, but I swear I remember that happening!

I haven't been able to find a whole heap of advice on this particular way of doing montages. The general advice is "context needed", so I've said everything I've worked out SO FAR.

The setting is very apocalyptic, with ruined cities, and there are references to nerd culture (that does of course irk some while delighting many others, from what I understand. But with the type of humour it displays, a montage wouldn't be out of place. I just don't really know how to do one in prose, as it's not, to my knowledge, a prose device but a visual device, even if the word and definition first would have appeared in books. (I have a book on critical and literary terms, which I'll be referring to for more info.)

I think that's everything I've currently got. I hope that's a good explanation (I seem to be doing well here! :).

  • You could try reading some Shakespeare. – Xandar The Zenon Apr 18 '16 at 3:54
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    I'd suggest cutting this post down. You mention a wizard training montage, then proceed to try and tell us a lot of context that's not necessary to the question. – TriskalJM Apr 20 '16 at 13:27
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    Yeah, simply posit the question "how to port a montage to the written page" we don't need to know the story or the characters to come up with ideas, of which I'd use a script format; yet be overly clear to the reader what I'm about to accomplish in the prose. Play with different formats and decide which reads the clearest & best. – Tapper7 May 18 '16 at 22:55
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    Check out Isaac Asimovs "End of Eternity" - he has a montage like section where his main character goes through important things that happened in his life during a couple of weeks/months. – Erk Jul 3 '16 at 1:03
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    I've seen montages in prose a couple times, but they were never graceful or compelling. I like replacing these with sequences of journal entries, press headlines, ship log, or the likes. – SF. Mar 9 '17 at 9:34

You can't do a montage in prose, anymore than you can paint a symphony or score a sunset. It is simply a technique of a different media. Each media has its own storytelling devices and you should not try to mimic the devices of one media while working in another.

It is worth asking, in this regard, whether you are actually trying to write a covert movie. It seems that many writers today are doing this. They are writing a novel, but in their heads they are really seeing a movie. I suspect the reason so many are writing like this is that while it is extraordinarily difficult to get a movie script produced, anyone can write a novel and self publish on Amazon. Still, the novel is a fundamentally different form, and you simply cannot achieve the effect of a movie in the novel format. You would do much better to accept the format you have chosen to write in and use its devices and conventions to achieve your end.

And here's the thing about montages: they are a rather lame attempt by movies to do something that novels can do very well, but which movies really have no good way of doing, and that is narration. A novel can use narration to bridge between one dramatized scene and another. In the hands of a good writer, the narrative passages can be just as fine, just as compelling, and just as important to the story arc as the dramatized parts. Indeed, they are some of the finest passages in literature. Prose is the perfect medium for narrative.

Doing narrative in the movies, however, is next to impossible. You can do scrolling captions, like the beginning of Star Wars, you can do narrative voice over, you can do various forms of one character filling in another, and you can do montages. All of these have to be used with the greatest restraint because they all make for lousy film. "Show don't tell" is imperative in the movies because movies cannot tell well. Thus movies have a really hard time doing the narrative bridge. This restricts the kinds of stories you can tell well in that format.

So, you are writing in a medium that excels at the narrative bridge, that can make the narrative bridge a piece of fine and memorable art as powerful as any dramatized portion of the text, and you are asking for a way to imitate the way a media that can't do this well attempts to make up for its deficiency, and one that is in any case impossible to execute in prose. So don't. Write narrative. It's the right choice for the media, and, if done well, a powerful choice.

  • I recently rewrote a story of mine. It was originally written as a screen play and had two scenes which were montages depicting two different stages of a young couple's budding relationship. When I rewrote the story as prose, I scrapped the montages entirely and simply fleshed out one event from each montage. – EvilSnack Jun 10 '17 at 4:22

Montage is a visual gimmick, invented to imitate what writers have been able to do all along, which is simply to vary the pace of their storytelling. In prose, all you're looking for is a little brevity...

Billy McHero, trained with the finest clan warriors, awkwardly at first, stabbing himself in the toe, and falling into bogs and dungheaps, but growing in condfidence, successfully wrestling hogs and rhododendrons, until finally, he was ready to prove himself in the Trial of the Horseradish.

That's a very short 'training montage'. If you want a longer one just put in more detail. If necessary you can write a string of anecdotes, "On her first day...A week later...Eventually..."

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