Endless conflicts. Endless misunderstandings. All life is that
Wells might have gone on to advise writers of both fiction and nonfiction that exposition and narrative summary are neither.
If you want to tell a compelling story you need to do it with dramatic scenes. If your scene is going to provide both intense action and high emotion the outcome of the situation your scene portrays must alter the plans, hopes or dreams of one of your major characters.
To create the kind of high intensity scenes that will draw your reader into the story you need to begin, as Wells suggests, with conflict. Your character must be pursuing some specific purpose and be confronted with challenges that present obstacles that may seem, at least in the short run, insurmountable.( Let’s face it, if your character achieved her goal in every scene, you wouldn’t have a very long, or interesting story.)
Think about a family history saga. The immigrant great-grandmother, a toddler on each hand, arrives at Ellis Island ready to meet her husband who had gone ahead of her to prepare for the new and better life they have dreamed on in America. When the she steps off the ferry to Manhattan she learns that her husband is dead. What will she do?
Failure, or at least temporary frustration, will lead to an emotional reaction on your character’s part. To be effective the scene must establish the emotional stakes for the character as she begins the action. By the scene’s conclusion the reader will need to see how the outcome has led to growth or change in the character. Does she descend deeper into despair or adopt an attitude of steely resolve to find a new strategy to achieve her goal. Think of a defiant Scarlett O’Hara standing in the field in Gone With the Wind and shouting, “…I’ll never be hungry again.”
Whichever your character’s response to events in the scene might be they will set up what happens in the next and future scenes.
What often lifts a scene from good to great is its emotional tone. While a lot of the scene’s emotion comes from your character’s struggle to overcome the challenges with which she’s confronted, setting can contribute significantly to achieving the appropriate tone. Things haven’t changes since Aristotle told us about the importance of the unity of time, place and action. Think of how the spectacularly opulent superficial anonymity of Gatsby’s party creates a context his first meeting with Daisy Buchanan.
Whether you are planning your book or revising a finished draft examine the elements of your story. Can they be dealt with in scenes? Some of the things you had planned to deal with in exposition and summary can be converted to scenes. If they can’t, maybe they should be cut. Leaving them in will reduce the excitement and tension which is part of well written scenes. That’s never good.