Must every scene advance the plot?


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Thread: Must every scene advance the plot?

  1. #1

    Must every scene advance the plot?

    So a book I'm reading, How to Tell a Story by Rubie and Provost, which has its various strengths and weaknesses, says, "Don't fool yourself into thinking that if nothing plotwise happens in a scene, but it nevertheless shows character development, that's enough. It isn't. Scenes need to show both character development and plot development to be effective."

    Thoughts? Especially in fantasy/sci-fi where I do a lot of world building? Obviously no rule in writing really applies 100% of the time, but do you generally agree with this? I have my own thoughts, but would appreciate hearing from others. (I also know how a lot of people feel about books about writing.)
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  2. #2
    So what happens in character-driven stories, then, according to the book?

    I tend to put low faith in people/books who tell me that something definitely has to be done in writing. It's a huge red flag, for me at least.
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  3. #3
    I think yes. Character development is plot, often enough, at least for me. I do a heap of worldbuilding as well, but that mostly informs the text rather than takes center stage. Mostly, I say. Sometimes the world is the thing, as in my tales about an intelligent and malevolent planet.
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  4. #4
    My rule of thumb is that every scene should do two or three of the following:- (a) advance the plot; (b) build tension; (c) show character; (d) elaborate on one of the novel's themes; (e) establish a plot voucher or Chekhov's gun; or (f) provide counterpoint (e.g. a laugh-out-loud passage in a horror novel; a dark, serious scene in a comedy; a tranquil moment in a war story; you get the idea).
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Sam View Post
    So what happens in character-driven stories, then, according to the book?
    Well, that's fine, right? Character SHOULD drive the plot. You should have character building happening as the plot is advanced. That makes sense to me.

    And I know -- no rule in writing seems to be definitive. But I have found that reading (and debating) aspects of these books drives me to contemplate and grow my own writing style more, whether I follow the rules I read or not. I think of these as tools and shapes, rather than limits and rules.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Non Serviam View Post
    My rule of thumb is that every scene should do two or three of the following:- (a) advance the plot; (b) build tension; (c) show character; (d) elaborate on one of the novel's themes; (e) establish a plot voucher or Chekhov's gun; or (f) provide counterpoint (e.g. a laugh-out-loud passage in a horror novel; a dark, serious scene in a comedy; a tranquil moment in a war story; you get the idea).
    I like this. Probably with world-building included, for the sorts of stories I write.
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  7. #7
    Member RhythmOvPain's Avatar
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    If a scene doesn't advance the plot, it should have other redeeming qualities such as humor IMO.

    Filler is not always a bad thing, especially if your word count is too low.

    As long as it's not too mundane or taking away from anything. It's your story, have fun with it.
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  8. #8
    Member RhythmOvPain's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Non Serviam View Post
    My rule of thumb is that every scene should do two or three of the following:- (a) advance the plot; (b) build tension; (c) show character; (d) elaborate on one of the novel's themes; (e) establish a plot voucher or Chekhov's gun; or (f) provide counterpoint (e.g. a laugh-out-loud passage in a horror novel; a dark, serious scene in a comedy; a tranquil moment in a war story; you get the idea).
    Sorry for the DP, but I've never heard the reference to Chekhov's Gun before, so thanks for teaching me something new.
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  9. #9
    Member walker's Avatar
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    It's probably good advice, but I would take it with a grain of salt.

    Imagine a guide to writing a hit song. I imagine such a guide might say, "You have to keep it to 3 or 4 minutes, instrument it in such and such a way, two verses, a bridge, a third verse, etc. etc. etc."

    Probably good advice, but we all know people who have broken the rules, right?

    Bob Dylan wrote a lot of hit songs, as did the Grateful Dead, Karen Carpenter, Bee Gees, Metallica, Lady Gaga, etc. Lots of different approaches that work in different ways.

    I wouldn't ignore the advice, but don't let it tie you to your chair so that you can't escape.
    Last edited by walker; February 17th, 2017 at 10:46 PM.
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  10. #10
    I've learned not to pay attention to any rules. If the story entertains me then that's all that matters. If a story I wrote entertains you, then I'm calling it a win.

    "Life is a risk; so is writing. You have to love it." ~ Richard Matheson

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