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I have a similar question as the one asked in 'How to write montages in prose? (fantasy novel)' however, there has been no answer in this and it is far too general.

The question I wish to ask is; Are there any specific techniques that you can use to write a montage, or a short sequence of events that take place over a period of time, in a novel?

For example, how would you write a piece of fiction that skims over a period of time but has scattered pieces of important information that is necessary for the future of the plot, may it be in the form of a work montage, training montage, or just an acceleration in time that would be too tedious to explain in detail due to repetition, but still have significant events that occur that are out of place?

Edit: To elaborate more on my specific issue; one of my characters is residing in a village to raise funds - and during this period, he sees injustices performed on villagers such as unfair extortion of taxes, bullying by more powerful beings, etc. How would I be able to string these in, as I don't want to include tedious events such as him going around helping out with farming, learning how to hunt, etc.? I've been considering including short chapters only a few paragraphs long in a sort of diary format, however I don't feel as if this would fit the third person style of writing I'm going for.

  • You see, 'montage' is more of a film technique. I'd just skip everything in between and then show (not tell) the reader how things have been going for the character – Daniel Cann Feb 4 '17 at 15:49
  • What if it's more like experiences they see, for example a character is working and helping out a farmer, and notices unfair treatment of them by tax collectors, others, etc? Sorry, I'm a film student and I've been trying to get away from the habit of thinking of stories in terms of film! – Kyle Li Feb 4 '17 at 16:00
  • Montage in film means editing: how sequences or shots are strung together. Montage is stories (novels or short stories) is called plot or story telling. – Lambie Feb 4 '17 at 17:56
  • Yeah, I think that a lot of people have that. A novel is often much different from a film, and part of being a great writer (in my opinion) is being able to make the differentiation between what can be done on a screen, and what can be done on a page. @KyleLi – Daniel Cann Feb 4 '17 at 20:36
  • I'll give the same answer, essentially, as I gave to the question you reference. Montages are how movies do narration. In prose, you do narration. Far to many people are writing novels who would really rather by writing screenplays, but think they have a better chance of getting a novel published. But the truth is, you have a better chance of getting a novel published if you use novel techniques rather than trying to borrow techniques from other media. – Mark Baker Apr 28 '17 at 15:41
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I really think people are much too obsessed with not telling. Many of the novels I enjoy most, tell. Lots.

If you have, for example, a group of characters recovering from a fight, just friggin' say so:

For the next three weeks we stayed in camp and recovered from our wounds.

Really, please don't show me three weeks of recovering! I don't want to know what they ate and whether they brushed their teeth. Make it one sentence and be done with it. Thank you.


Re: Your edit

If something happens during the three weeks, you summarize ("tell") the week until that something happens, then narrate what happens as expansively as you do the rest of your novel ("show") and then summarize the remainder again.

Think of it this way: You constantly summarize uninteresting periods of time, but you probably don't notice it yourself. For example, when your characters are sleeping you don't "show" that but simply leave it out: The next morning.... But if a character wakes up during the night you continue your narrative in the middle of the night in stead of the next morning: I woke up around midnight....

Your problem, as I see it, is that you think of that long period in your novel as a whole that you want to summarize, but have some things happening during this "summary" that you want to show in more detail, but don't know how. The solution is to stop thinking of the whole period.

Your think:

--------------long period of time------------------
    event A                           event B

You should think:

---period A---event A---period B---event B---period C---

What you have is not one long period that you summarize and have to break out of, but a normal narrative with three unimportant periods (like nights) that you summarize.

Like this:

For the next three weeks we stayed in camp and recovered from our wounds. In the second week, one morning John was torn from his lazy revery by... The next week all was quiet again, until finally everyone was healed and itching to fight.

If your characters do not act (that is, do not break their inactivity) but only observe certain things, then you don't need to break your summary ("telling") and can simply tell what they saw:

For the next three weeks we stayed in camp and recovered from our wounds. During that time we saw the villagers raise unfair taxes and many other injustices, and they all served to steel our resolve to overcome Lord Dark. So when we were finally healed and ready to fight again, we...

Of course this is just a quick example, and you can go into much more detail in such a summary. There is nothing wrong with a few paragraphs of it. That's no different than taking some time to describe the setting or to provide a character's backstory.

  • Perfect answer. Perfect solution. – Daniel Cann Feb 4 '17 at 20:29
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    I think 'show don't tell' is definitely valuable, but as you say what, some people seem to overreact to it. Showing is powerful. Telling is practical. If you need the reader to really feel those three weeks, show it. If you just need to say they spent three weeks, say so. +1 – Thomas Myron Feb 4 '17 at 20:32
  • The issue I have is that I want to introduce a character, or an event mid-way during this period. Let's take your example of recovering, what if there is some specific event that occurs at some period during recovery that is specific to this? How would you go around writing this? I've edited my question to be a bit more specific towards my main issue. – Kyle Li Feb 4 '17 at 20:46
  • @what Yes. Exactly. I think the trouble with 'Show, don't tell' is that it's kinda useless (and possibly even counterproductive) advice if taken too literally. All writing is telling. "Showing" is just telling it so well that the reader feels immersed. I suspect most of the time when people say 'Show, don't tell,' what they really mean is 'Tell it better.' Sometimes immersing the reader in the detail isn't the best way to immerse them in the story, and this is a good example of that. – TheTermiteSociety Feb 4 '17 at 21:16
  • @what per your last paragraph: I agree there's nothing wrong with a few paragraphs of telling. I would just advise the OP not to spend too much time there. The 'rule' does exist for a reason, after all. Tell within reason (ie, don't spend a chapter describing a house or something). – Thomas Myron Feb 5 '17 at 18:02
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If you are drawing a house, and you want to convey a sense of the texture and detail of the building material used, you can draw three bricks in the middle of an expanse of wall. You don't have to draw all the bricks in the whole wall.

Pick out the bricks you want to draw; talk about them. You can situate them in time rather vaguely. You don't have to spread the events or incidents out uniformly. In other words, you don't have to put one incident in the first week, the second in the second, etc. Some possible adverbs are: During this time, as time wore on, one day, one morning.

A totally different possible approach is to have separators between vignettes. The separator could be a chunk of blank space, or a little squiggle or other symbol. I've seen whole books written this way.

Even if you don't want to use this approach in your final version, you could at least use it for your first draft. Once you've written the vignettes as separate sections, it may be easier to connect them.

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I'm currently re-writing a story that was originally a screen play as prose. Two parts of the screen play are montages, each depicting the development of a stage in the relationship between two of the characters.

After giving it due consideration, I decided to rewrite each montage into a continuous narrative.

Now that I think about it, I suspect that montages are the live action equivalent of "telling" in prose, a way of saying, "this sort of thing happens here."

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In The Internet President: None of the Above, I create the equivalent of montage as a series of short chapters to cover campaigning for president. I enter each scene as late as possible and leave as early as possible. Leave a taste and let the reader's imagination fill in the rest. This worked for me because my book was written in a terse cinematic writing style. If your pacing is slower, this technique may not work as well.

I use one chapter per scene, even if it's a one-page transition. If you're using multiple scenes in a chapter with separators, then put a number of short vignettes in a chapter. Summarize what you can. Beowulf reflected fifty years in a single sentence.

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My usual approach is a change of format to a periodical:

  • journal entries
  • newspaper headlines
  • computer logs
  • teacher's notes
  • emails with progress reports

Sometimes, I may go with multiple 1-2 short paragraphs * * * section breaks, especially humorous. Often using "blind dialogue" (no speaker tags, who says what, letting the reader guess the speakers from the context - recognizing them by their failures.)

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