“Hi Lizard! In movies, they do that thing where period of time passes in less than a minute that basically encompasses everything that happened in the period of time. But I’m not quite sure how to translate that into writing. Basically, what I’m trying to ask is, how do I write a montage? Thanks!”
I get more than a few questions that come back to how to write prose that reads more like a film. I’m constantly baffled. Why does everyone want to write novels that act like movies? Novels are novels. Films are films. If you want to write a film, write a screenplay, not a novel. If you are writing something that is better suited for the screen, it may be more successful as a screenplay than as a novel.
Why is it a novel?
There are however, instances where a cross-genre blend of screenwriting and novel writing can be really cool. It definitely is a little on the experimental side, but there are instances where it works. One instance I thought was neat is The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero. This novel is told through diary entries, conversations written on a notepad, and camera perspectives among other things. But when the camera is “telling” the story, we get a perspective that reads more like a screenplay to fit the camera’s view. The other points of view this novel is told through are a bit more traditionally presented. With that said, you must be able to address the question: why is this a novel instead of a screenplay?
In the case of The Supernatural Enhancements, most of the novel reads naturally as prose. The camera’s perspective is a bit of an exception. The screenplay-esque writing used for that point of view feels natural for the perspective and acts as an unique vantage into a story that is for the most part without any direct access to the central characters. The Supernatural Enhancements is a novel despite having chapters that act more like a screenplay, because it is one consistent, limited perspective that follows this format. It is limited only to chapters with a camera’s point of view, which is separate and distinct from the rest of the book.
Writing a “montage”
From my understanding, montage is a film technique that is generally used to relay information that cannot naturally be relayed within a scene. In prose, scenes function a little differently. On screen, actions happen in real time, while in prose, scenes do not need to exist in real time. Montage takes a moment to take the viewer out of real-time to reminisce on a sequence of past events.
We can look at a novel like Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf where so much of the story does not happen in the day the story is set but in the many, many past events that have built up over the lives of the characters. Woolf’s writing allows us to jump from character to character and learn about not only their day, but their lives leading up to that day and their feelings towards everyone who crosses their minds. So much of this book does not happen in real time.
In fiction, a few months can be summed up in a few sentences. You can write sentences like, “Nothing important happened for the rest of the summer.” You may want a better sentence than that, but time can pass just that quickly. The reader will know summer is over and the next scene starts probably in the fall.
In this same way, past events can be summarized, eliminating the need for a “montage.”