What’s one difference between film narrative and written narrative?
You know what I’m talking about when I say montage, right?
Montages are some of the most cliche, the most parodied scenes of all cinema—the “falling in love” montage; the “getting ready for battle” montage; the “getting ready to put a plan into action” montage.
The reason for montage is interesting when you think about it.
Film always has to show particular people doing particular things at a particular time. That’s the nature of film. Thus, whenever a filmmaker needs to convey the sense of something happening—“growing up” or “building something cool”—they have to use a few conventional tricks to make the illusion happen.
Montages are often accompanied by music. They usually lack dialogue but can be accompanied by narration from the main character. Viewers know montages are a special cinematic space. They know they’re different from the way the majority of the movie typically works.
I could write a book about this, but someone probably already has.
My point is, the very thing that can seem like a weakness of film is actually a great strength of fiction writing—the ability to present life in summary, to pass over great swaths of time or describe the sense of an emotion without actually having to rely on scene.
Many inexperienced writers sometimes forget about summary.
Their stories feature one scene after another, rarely pulling back to take advantage of the full range of tools available to fiction writers.
I’m no exception. As someone who grew up in our highly visual culture, I sometimes have to remind myself that I have the power of summary at my disposal.
In fact, as I mention in a prior post, stories are composed of switching back and forth between scene and summary. By not using summary, writers are depriving themselves of a major narrative tool!