Dramatize, Don’t Summarize
By Evan Braun

When working with a lot of relatively new authors, an editor tends to notice certain patterns begin to emerge over time. I’ve used this blog to talk about a lot of these common stumbling blocks over the years.

Over the past weeks, while working behind the scenes to evaluate this year’s entries for the Braun Book Awards, I took particular notice of one tendency which has slipped through the cracks for a long time. I’ve been wanting to draw attention to it for years.

To be clear, this isn’t a problem exclusive to new authors. Writers of all stripes and levels of experience can make this mistake.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about the instinct to summarize scenes instead of dramatizing them. This problem is most prevalent in fiction, and it can really get in the way of reader immersion, making it difficult to solidly engage with a story the way a writer hopes and intends.

Let’s examine a piece of writing and see if you can spot the issue. (Note that this isn’t from any actual book I’ve encountered recently. I’ve concocted the example for the purpose of illustration.)

Sofia turned to her friend Tracy and smiled. They had been close for many years. Almost twenty, in fact. It was hard to imagine what life would have been like if they’d never met.


As they sat around the campfire, Tracy told Sofia about what she and her husband prepared for the previous evening’s dinner party: stuffed chicken with grilled asparagus. In reply, Sofia complimented her on the excellent menu. Tracy added that she had been thinking about cooking the asparagus for weeks, since it had come from her own garden. Sofia brightened at the mention of her garden, since she too had started one the month previous, and then she began to describe the vegetables she’d chosen…


Do you see the problem here? In case you can’t—and absolutely no judgment if that’s the case—let me contrast this with a version of the same scene that avoids the issue.

Sofia turned to her friend Tracy and smiled. They had been close for many years. Almost twenty, in fact. It was hard to imagine what life would have been like if they’d never met.


“Tell me more about that dinner party you threw last night,” Sofia murmured as they warmed their hands around the campfire.


“Of course! I should have already old you all about it. We stuffed the chicken with herbs and cheese, pairing it with the most delectable asparagus. Really, you wouldn’t believe how well it turned out.”


“Excellent choice!”


“Honestly, I’d been thinking about that asparagus for weeks,” Tracy remarked. “It came from my own garden.”


Sofia’s whole face brightened. “For real? You know, I started a garden last month, too. I couldn’t decide exactly what to grow…”


Both versions of this scene tell the same story, give or take a detail or two. The sequence of events is identical. But the way in which they go about telling the story is worlds apart.

The first one feels more like an outline than a fully fleshed-out story. It reads to me like a rough draft. Someone is narrating the story to me, summarizing what happened. I’m not able to use my senses to experience it for myself. There’s nothing to see, hear, taste, touch, smell, etc. It reads somewhat like a dry recitation of facts. It’s two-dimensional.

The second one dramatizes the scene much more effectively. You can hear the conversation and get a sense of the characters’ respective personalities and chemistry. It’s three-dimensional.

It’s amazing to me how often scenes like the first example find their way into final drafts. I see it all the time. I can’t help but think to myself, did the author get tired when they wrote this? Did they just jot down some general ideas of what they wanted to happen, intending to come back later to finish it out, only they forgot?

Or maybe, sincerely, an author has never had the difference pointed out to them.

For what it’s worth, this is a classic utilization of the infamous “show, don’t tell” axiom that gets thrown around in writing circles all the time. The first version of the story tells; the second one shows.

Show, don’t tell. Dramatize, don’t summarize.

So the next time you’re reading through your latest manuscript, looking for ways to improve it and heighten its potential, remember to look for passages where you may have stopped short of dramatizing the story to its fullest potential.

About this Contributor:

Evan Braun

Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.

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