Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The limits of summarisation

Ideas and words can only be summarised so far before they start losing their essence, in the same way that binary data can only be compressed so far before losing something. You can summarise stories down a long way to a description of the setting and main characters, but in doing so you miss out a lot of the nuances, and a lot of incidental settings and characters too. You can make them shorter to some degree, but eventually, to reach a certain word count, some scenes are going to have to disappear. If you have a story containing one hundred scenes, you can't possibly summarise it to fifty words, or else each single word would have to represent two entire scenes. If it contains twenty essential characters, summarising it in fifteen words won't even let you name them all, let alone describe them or their relationships or what they're doing.

My point is that we like to look for the sound bite version - the quick, easily-digested nugget at the core of some stories, lectures, ideas and subjects, but some things take a long time to say, and you can't say them any faster. It is not a failure of our language, nor of our intellect. Some things are just too rich to be summarised further.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to express ideas more succinctly, though.
PPS - It's a big help, but it is never as rich and deep as the original.

No comments: