S210 Second-Year Spanish Composition F. Jehle

El pretérito vs. el imperfecto: Summary

Assignment: Write a 200-word summary of a movie, play, TV episode, or book trying to employ both the pretertit and imperfect tenses.
     You are to assume that the reader of your summary is not familiar with the story; thus, you should take care to present your summary as clearly as possible.
     Use past tenses in your narration (“The clock struck midnight as she opened the creaky cemetery gate”).

Possibilities: You can of course, just “play it straight” and give a straightforward summary of the plot of a work; or you might go beyond this and assume the role of a literary/film critic and point out the good and bad features of the work (or what you liked and didn't like and why). For example, you might:

  1. Emphasize the absurdity of the plot, lack of imagination and creativity on the part of the writer(s), the use of sex and coincidence as a substitute for good writing and plausible story-telling, etc., or
  2. Show how the structure/intricacy/ingeniousness of the plot help make this a masterpiece (or, for example, a classic detective story).

In your summary/analysis, you might mention or consider such things as.

  1. Setting (ambiente: where and when the work takes place): Is it significant, symbolic, unusual, interesting (and why)?
  2. Characters (personajes): Are they believable, well developed, flat/multidimensional, original or stock, individuals with whom one can identify?
  3. Plot (argumento): Is it plausible, cohesive, suspenseful, well-developed, attention-holding?
  4. Themes (temas): What the main theme of the work? Sub-themes or motifs?
  5. Ending (desenlace): Is it happy, sad, tragic, open-ended?
  6. Other: Humor, symbols, aesthetic, philosophical or psychological aspects, artistic unity...

Other points to consider:

  1. Chronology (time) and the order of events. You may use various approaches, for example:
    1. Listing the events in strict chronological order: what happened first is given first. This is the approach most students take; however, most also make one frequent blunder: repeatedly switching back and forth between the past (preterit and imperfect) and the present as they tell the story.
    2. Listing the events in the order in which a character becomes aware of them. For example, the detective learns about a crime —which happened earlier— then finds clues which reveal what has happened previously, but not necessarily in the order that the events actually happened.
    3. “Author's prerogative” (a mixture of the above). For example, we see the crime, then as the detective investigates the crime, we see the what the other characters are doing, and some of the events which led up to the committing of the crime. “Flashbacks” may also be included.
      [Caution: Approaches B and C above can cause confusion to someone reading your work, if you don't handle things carefully and make the time transitions clear!]
  2. Confusion vs. redundancy. How are you going to make it perfectly clear who is doing what without boring repetition of the same words and phrases? At the start of a paragraph, it is best to specifically include the subject; in subsequent sentences, you can generally omit the subject, up to the point where a change in subject is involved. Rather than repeat nouns or whole noun phrases, often it is better to use pronouns (él, ellas, etc.). You can also try to come up with alternative noun expressions: thus, Juan Gómez might be nuestro héroe, el protagonista (“the main character”), el hombre, el del sombrero verde (“the one in the green hat”), el otro, su marido / padre / hermano / amigo / compañero, etc.

    Reminder: The demonstrative pronoun éste can be used for “latter” and ése or aquél for “former” (Note that in English the order is usually “the former ... the latter”, whereas in Spanish it is usually the other way around: ésta... ésa...).

    Juanita y Marta son amigas, pero Juanita and Martha are friends,
    son muy distintas; a ésta le gusta but they are very different;
    leer, mientras que ésa prefiere the former prefers to watch TV,
    ver la tele. while the latter likes to read.
    (Note that the order in which the two girls are subsequently described is reversed in the two versions.)

Fred Jehle jehle@ipfw.edu
Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne
Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499, USA
URL: http://users.ipfw.edu/jehle/courses/s210/pretimp3.htm
Home page http://users.ipfw.edu/jehle/