Nov 1, 2022 • 32M

Day 29: The 7am Novelist: Scene vs Summary

What is Scene? What is Summary?

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It might seem a simple question, but it has enormous repercussions on your writing approach and success: What is the difference between scene and summary? We talk about the continuum between these two ideas with Susan Bernhard and Rosie Sultan as well as how writers determine what material needs to be written in scene and what can be more compressed or regulated to summary.

Susan Donovan Bernhard is a Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship recipient, a graduate of the GrubStreet Novel Incubator program, a 2019 Tennessee Williams Scholar to the Sewanee Writers Conference, and a pantser. Her debut novel Winter Loon was an Amazon bestseller and won the Boston Authors Club Julia Ward Howe Prize for Fiction. Susan was born and raised in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, is a graduate of the University of Maryland, and lives near Boston where she is currently at work revising her next novel, More Scouts Than Strangers

Rosie Sultan’s novel Helen Keller In Love (Viking) was praised by The Washington Post, Booklist, and The Library Journal and was an American Library Association book club pick. Rosie won the PEN Discovery Award for Fiction and a Virginia Center of the Creative Arts fellowship. Her marvelous agent is shopping around her children’s book, What Color Is Think. Her new novel, The Best Way to Disappear, is nearing completion. Rosie has taught writing to first-generation students, story-curious adults, and everyone in between at Suffolk University, Boston University, Grub Street, The Muse and the Marketplace and venues across the country. She’s a manuscript consultant and helps novelists get their stories into the world. As a literary activist, Rosie raises awareness and money for racial and reproductive rights with Writers For—a stellar group of women writers who use their voices to make our world a better place for all.


For the definition of a Scene and the difference between Scene and Summary, I love Anna Keesey’s essay “Making a Scene” in The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House. (Find this and more of my faves on our Bookshop page: