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The Panoramic Method

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Article title plate: The Panoramic Method, Point of View & Perspective,

The Panoramic Method is a narrative technique of summarizing through exposition rather than diving deep into specific scenes. Basically, it’s the manifestation of “Tell, don’t show.”

This method allows the story to gloss over less important conversations and events without giving a blow-by-blow account. This in turn propels the Plot forward to more important happenings instead of bogging it down with minutia.

Quote from The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I was obliged, as I was saying, to spend some uncomfortable minutes standing in the drawing room yesterday afternoon while Mr Farraday went about his bantering. I responded as usual by smiling slightly—sufficient at least to indicate that I was participating in some way with the good-humoredness with which he was carrying on—and waited to see if my employer’s permission regarding the trip would be forthcoming. As I had anticipated, he gave his kind permission after not too great a delay, and furthermore, Mr Farraday was good enough to remember and reiterate his generous offer to ‘foot the bill for the gas’.

The Scenic Route

In theory, every scene is supposed to mark a change, whether positive or negative, in the characters’ outlook and/or understanding. If they start in equilibrium, they end in chaos, or vice versa. Or, they might begin in chaos and descend deeper as the Plot thickens. If a scene enacts no change—or worse, rehashes ground already covered—it can cause the story to stagnate.

Thus, the Panoramic Method becomes useful when a character’s outlook or understanding remains static through events that are necessary to their tale. When, for example, they travel from one setting to another, or when they recount an earlier experience to someone who wasn’t present.

Quote from Cecilia by Frances Burney
They continued abroad some months, and the health of Mrs. Delvile was tolerably re-established. They were then summoned home by the death of Lord Delvile, who bequeathed to his nephew Mortimer his town house, and whatever of his estate was not annexed to his title, which necessarily devolved to his brother.

Some Panoramic Caveats

Because the Panoramic Method relies on exposition, it runs the risk of turning into an information dump. Authors looking to harness this technique should be careful of including irrelevant details or long-winded explanations, unless such inclusions support the story’s intended Tone and/or Style.

Also, be aware that some Readers want all the gory details—a confrontation, a refutation, a moment of vindication—and this technique can deprive them. It serves well to sew up loose ends as a story closes. However, it can also rob the Reader of an expected payoff.

Panoramic vs. Scenic

Panoramic Method excerpt from “The Goose Girl” by the Brothers Grimm:
The king of a great land died, and left his queen to take care of their only child. This child was a daughter, who was very beautiful; and her mother loved her dearly, and was very kind to her. And there was a good fairy too, who was fond of the princess, and helped her mother to watch over her. When she grew up, she was betrothed to a prince who lived a great way off; and as the time drew near for her to be married, she got ready to set off on her journey to his country. Then the queen her mother, packed up a great many costly things; jewels, and gold, and silver; trinkets, fine dresses, and in short everything that became a royal bride. And she gave her a waiting-maid to ride with her, and give her into the bridegroom’s hands; and each had a horse for the journey. Now the princess’s horse was the fairy’s gift, and it was called Falada, and could speak.

We find easy examples of the Panoramic Method in fairy tale collections, where the stories tend to be brief and include plenty of exposition to convey their Plot.

Juxtapose these with their respective adaptations. A story told in only a few pages through the Panoramic Method can become a full-length novel when expanded scene by scene. For example, the Grimm fairy tale “The Goose Girl” is roughly 2K words long. It has inspired much longer works, such as

  • GOOSE CHASE by Patrice Kindl, 51K words
  • THE GOOSE GIRL by Shannon Hale, 91K words
  • THORN by Intisar Khanani, ~130K words

While these adaptations each embellish on the original tale, their Plot clearly parallels it. Ironically, the shortest of the three diverts the most from its source material.

The Panoramic Method, then, can supply a foundation upon which to build. For pre-writing and early drafts, it’s a mechanism for the Author to tell themself the story. In final drafts, though, it’s best in small doses, to bridge narrative gaps while keeping the overall focus of a piece tight.

  • In what stories or passages have you noticed the Panoramic Method?
  • What do you like or dislike about this technique?

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