Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

Necessary Filler (1 Viewer)

Status
Not open for further replies.

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
Hi All,
We all know that when we write, no matter the genre, there are times when action lessens. We have characters moving between scenes or just a general downtime from the main course of the book.

How do you fill those pages in a novel, for example? In my current WIP, my main character takes a break from worry and starts a knitting project. I go on to tell my readers briefly what she is knitting, when she expects to finish, yadda, yadda. Then I take it out because I think, why would my readers care?

It occurred to me that most characters, even in film, don't go to the bathroom (or at least its not reported :)), they rarely do dishes or make their bed. Sometimes they have a meal or get dressed. I guess my question is, how do you fill the times in between action, if it's not really relevant to the story you are creating?

I have sometimes used such moments to reinforce a characters' character by showing skills that make them more than one dimensional. Like a warrior who spends his days on the field, but at night paints portraits. At the same time, I have been accused of too much "back story," and I am certainly capable of that! LOL. For example, for reasons I don't understand, I feel compelled to explain things. It's not "show vs tell," it's more like providing reasons for behavior and that's what gets me in hot water.

Anyway, enough about me :). I would like to know if you have any general rules of thumb for transition times, down times, etc. in your longer work. If so, how do you know when you've crossed a line into the never-t0-be-seen-backstory arena?

Thanks.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
I'm going to argue that if it's alive in your imagination it's fine to write out. Maybe the knitting scene belongs in your draft or maybe it belongs in a side doc of material that you may or may not use. The worst that will happen if you include it in your draft is that you might remove it later. But you might not and here are a few reasons why that I can think of:

- I like seeing characters do something I don't know how to do, it's interesting. Knitting is on a different plane than bodily functions, we don't all know how to knit. I doubt a six-page knitting manifesto should remain in the finished manuscript but some salient points that show what she's doing and how well she does it can be very interesting.

- It's not inappropriate to give your characters a little peace in between the storms...and the peace is useful, too. Just as the reader starts to say, "Ah everything's okay" you can interrupt it and on to the next conflict.

- A moment like this is good for considering internal conflict. If knitting is something she does because it helps her to feel productive, if it's something she likes in order to feel peaceful, if she's trying to ignore her thoughts or give them room or combat worry...then marrying that with the knitting endeavor is potentially useful for showing her state of mind.

- you can create a McGuffin with this or at least something that characters attach importance to.

- if someone gets stabbed with a knitting needle later, it'll make sense
 

Steve_Rivers

Senior Member
Building on Foxee's post... for me, I think there's a case for having your cake and eating it. You can turn "filler" into something relevant that the reader will appreciate if you use it for characterization, a wink to the larger plot, or to bring in new information about the world and its surroundings.

I never like putting filler in myself. I do have ideas that are filler, but I prefer putting them to one side and then coming back to them later to see if I can use them for something important.

A good example that comes to mind is something i did myself.

I had a chapter whereby I wanted to achieve 2 goals
- Add in characterization to show the protagonist is a geek, as well as her unrelenting determination being her main failing.
- Have her first encounter with the bad guy. (an AI)

What I did was I split those two goals into 2 separate scenes but linked them by theme.

-The first scene was her being immersed in her favourite virtual-reality computer game. It showed her trying to stop a dragon that she had accidentally brought down upon her town, due to stealing a stone from the Dragon's lair.
The scene explains the reason she stole the magical gem was in order to make her sword the best it can be.
This ticked off the "geek" trait and the "unrelenting determination/ambition" characterization that I wanted to include.

-The second scene introduced the AI, the main bad guy, which doesn't need explanation here.

The first scene can seem like filler when first read, but includes characterization that the reader will think is new and welcome information about her. The deeper level is that the entire thing is an analogy of her future situation and her failing. The Dragon is a metaphor for the deadly AI. The sword is her career, and later in the story she pushes her crew into going after the AI to get the promotion (the magical gem for her sword) that she desperately needs. Later in the book, I refer to the AI as the Dragon swooping down in a brief, one off statement, to push the idea to the reader and tip them off. (The beta readers loved that.) When all seems lost, she looks at a replica of her sword and it helps her realize her failings. She's making the same mistakes in life as she does in the game. That also then subconsciously tips off the reader that they were never reading "filler" at all. Even though the idea came about from filler.

Trying to weave things like this into stuff you feel is filler can help remove thinking of it as filler. I make a rule never to put something in unless it serves a purpose. That way it makes the reader trust you as a writer that you're never wasting their time or meandering for your own benefit.
 
Last edited:

Matchu

Senior Member
I can't perceive 'necessary filler.' If the lines do not stimulate you in the crafting of..well...perhaps you are referring to a 'higher process' but I'm still jerk who works every word, or thinks he does, do.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I hate the word 'filler'. In fact, if what I'm adding feels like 'filler' I get very angry and hate myself for a week. To a degree I think some of this is subjective. What some people consider filler, others would consider colour. For me (whether it works or not) I 'try' to make everything not directly related to the main story/plot/characterisation interesting in some way so it at least adds to the tone, or even serves the purpose of slowing the pace down for the next peek moment. The nut I'm trying to crack is to make the writing itself interesting, so even the dullest moment is a satisfactory read. I aint anywhere near that yet, but that's my goal. I wouldn't think 'filler', I'd think 'how can I make this interesting?'
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Weeell, I think the top of thread was more about the quiet scene in the kitchen the night after the axe attack. And then a couple more scenes until his release after six years.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
We all know that when we write, no matter the genre, there are times when action lessens. We have characters moving between scenes or just a general downtime from the main course of the book.

How do you fill those pages in a novel, for example? In my current WIP, my main character takes a break from worry and starts a knitting project. I go on to tell my readers briefly what she is knitting, when she expects to finish, yadda, yadda. Then I take it out because I think, why would my readers care?

It's not inappropriate to give your characters a little peace in between the storms...and the peace is useful, too. Just as the reader starts to say, "Ah everything's okay" you can interrupt it and on to the next conflict.

- A moment like this is good for considering internal conflict. If knitting is something she does because it helps her to feel productive, if it's something she likes in order to feel peaceful, if she's trying to ignore her thoughts or give them room or combat worry...then marrying that with the knitting endeavor is potentially useful for showing her state of mind.

I touched on this just yesterday here with the subject of tension breaks (re: Foxee).

And I had a post that touched on the subject in November. That's a thread started by a member lamenting mapping out a 100K word novel, writing it from the outline, and winding up with only 20K. Yes, "filler" is in every novel written. Our challenge as writers is to make it just as entertaining as the primary action. One trick is to make it sum up the previous action and feed into the next action. Sue, you're reading mine now, it's got filler everywhere. LOL EVERYTHING from the beach in Manaus up to the confrontation in the warehouse is filler, for example. None of that was in my synopsis. That's like ... what? ... almost two chapters. The scene with Cay and Agares waking up at Hekate's villa ... filler.

Another purpose for filler is to define characters. Add slice of life (as discussed above). Discover minor action that feeds into the main plot. Characters can reveal detailed plans that then don't work out as expected. Readers are going to expect the plan to go wrong, so you get to keep them guessing when and how.

My personal cue for when to write filler comes from my word quota for a chapter. I know in general what my "story advance" chapter content will be, and I'm going to write approximately 5K words per chapter. That gives me an idea of how much material I need to create around the action to get the quota.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I touched on this just yesterday here with the subject of tension breaks (re: Foxee).

And I had a post that touched on the subject in November. That's a thread started by a member lamenting mapping out a 100K word novel, writing it from the outline, and winding up with only 20K. Yes, "filler" is in every novel written. Our challenge as writers is to make it just as entertaining as the primary action. One trick is to make it sum up the previous action and feed into the next action. Sue, you're reading mine now, it's got filler everywhere. LOL EVERYTHING from the beach in Manaus up to the confrontation in the warehouse is filler, for example. None of that was in my synopsis. That's like ... what? ... almost two chapters. The scene with Cay and Agares waking up at Hekate's villa ... filler.

Another purpose for filler is to define characters. Add slice of life (as discussed above). Discover minor action that feeds into the main plot. Characters can reveal detailed plans that then don't work out as expected. Readers are going to expect the plan to go wrong, so you get to keep them guessing when and how.

My personal cue for when to write filler comes from my word quota for a chapter. I know in general what my "story advance" chapter content will be, and I'm going to write approximately 5K words per chapter. That gives me an idea of how much material I need to create around the action to get the quota.

This is what scares me the most about finally 'finishing' a novel. 'Quotas!' I don't like the sound of that at all but it's the reality of writing. 'But dear chap, I'm an artiste.' No you're not, you're a technician. Get over yourself, Az!
 
You beat me to the gun AZ!

I hate the word filler, it implies you have nothing better to do than waste meaningless words on the story just to jump to the next scene. Like Steve, Foxee and very much the ranger, describing a scene, slowing the pace down, I don’t think, is not a ‘filler’ I really hate this word, it is painting a picture to a reader, to add value to a story … whether they end up past the second draft is a totally different matter but as a writer, the creator I think it gives you so much to a further develop a character, whether this is the MC, a secondary or tertiary figure.

In painting the picture when I write, I ask myself this very simple question: Does it add anything to a story? Like Steve pointed out, a hint here to a reveal later is very rewarding, that scrolling back of pages to, ‘hang on, when did I remember the person say that before?’ That moment when a story is piecing together nicely is created by adding a bit of colour to a character, I would never delete it in the first draft, if it really adds nothing to the story as a whole then it should go, but as character development, for the mind, for the creator, I think it is vital that mannerisms, ticks, their simple pleasures are in a writer’s mind so further down the line, these traits are embedded in the mind that a meaningless comment half way through your book ‘Oh I wish I could just go home, sit by the open fire, in my little cabin, nothing but a hot cup of tea next to be and my yarn …’ (Sorry very poor attempt), I think it shows off a real understandable trait in a character.

I never delete back story like this, this may not be the right term and you can always delete later, but you will only gain so much more to character development and their style, and in that way a character becomes very real and relatable.
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
Hi All,

How do you fill those pages in a novel, for example? In my current WIP, my main character takes a break from worry and starts a knitting project. I go on to tell my readers briefly what she is knitting, when she expects to finish, yadda, yadda. Then I take it out because I think, why would my readers care?
I think it can be argued that, at points, there's a certain value in expanding the story versus advancing the story so long as one is linked to the other. Besides, the lulls are when you get to learn stuff about the character that might not come out otherwise.

It occurred to me that most characters, even in film, don't go to the bathroom (or at least its not reported :)), they rarely do dishes or make their bed. Sometimes they have a meal or get dressed. I guess my question is, how do you fill the times in between action, if it's not really relevant to the story you are creating?

A lot of those are the kind of details that can reveal character (if not plot) and might not warrant a scene on their own, but otherwise add color and texture. That the protag's lunch entails eating cold beans straight out of the can might suggest that they don't have much time for a break, but it could also mark them as somebody who doesn't care how other approach mealtimes. Same for one making a hand-stitched repair to a torn article of clothing - could be they're on a budget, could be they don't care to be seen as a slob. The character cleaning a gun may be fixing to do some wet work - or maybe they just pride themselves on taking care of their property.

These aren't really the broad strokes that define characters, but they do allow for shading and nuance that makes the difference between a fully realized personality and a near-cliche.

I have sometimes used such moments to reinforce a characters' character by showing skills that make them more than one dimensional. Like a warrior who spends his days on the field, but at night paints portraits. At the same time, I have been accused of too much "back story," and I am certainly capable of that! LOL. For example, for reasons I don't understand, I feel compelled to explain things. It's not "show vs tell," it's more like providing reasons for behavior and that's what gets me in hot water.

Mine goes home in the evenings and reads back issues of Field & Stream to the neighbor's horse. I think there's a certain comedic value in that (or at least a kind of novelty) and while it's not the sum total of his personality, it illustrates aspects of who he is. He was a quiet, odd kid who's turned into something of of an uncertain young adult who'd rather talk to critters than people.

Incidentally, that sets up and ties in with other incidents on the timeline - but again, it's not something that I think would carry even a short story on its own.

Anyway, enough about me :). I would like to know if you have any general rules of thumb for transition times, down times, etc. in your longer work. If so, how do you know when you've crossed a line into the never-t0-be-seen-backstory arena?

It's my story. I do what I want. :p

But seriously, prolonged down time is something probably best used sparingly. It also has to be earned; the Saturday night that follows an eighty-hour week means more than the last Saturday of spring break. A regiment moving off the line due to scheduling will carry less narrative weight than one which has lost half its manpower in a grueling, bloody slugging match in the rain.

In some cases it's a great opportunity to live a little between the obligations. If not, better to gloss over it briefly at the start of the next action or reference it in passing later on.

I mean, there's filler and then there's filler.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
This is what scares me the most about finally 'finishing' a novel. 'Quotas!' I don't like the sound of that at all but it's the reality of writing. 'But dear chap, I'm an artiste.' No you're not, you're a technician. Get over yourself, Az!

Think of it this way. You watch a movie, and then you're going to tell a friend about it. You can tell them all the important action in five minutes, if they'll listen to you rehash a movie for that long. Most people will try to change the subject after the first minute. But that's beside the point. The main action in the movie is a minor part of the story. Everything else is filler that defines characters, provides clever dialogue, builds up to action (suspense), or provides a break from the action.

Look at Jaws (the novel, not the movie). You could take all the "shark eats people" and "people hunt shark" action and present it in four chapters. The novel itself is pretty long. EVERYTHING else is filler. Hooper and Quint sharing scars and shark stories ... filler.

But really, "filler" probably isn't the best term for the content we're talking about. "Establishing scenes" is probably a better description, but who wants to type "establishing scenes" over and over again? "Filler".
 

Matchu

Senior Member
No. We need chapter, a knitting chapter, then chapter, a chapter about strange relatives chapter, to chapter, the people in my village chapter, chapter, chapter excitement, Harry potter plus J Bond chapter, end.

OR scratch & sniff novel aroma cards, essence of novel. 'Tell me that doesn't smell like sisters confined in a house antebellum, mmmm.'
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
Every scene needs to advance the story's plot, develop character, establish setting, or give the reader information they will need to know later on. This doesn't need to be done with great drama, or high action. It can done as softly as a whisper, but if it is true "filler" with no purpose then it isn't adding any value for the reader, which could be a pretty good dictionary definition for, 'boring'.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Thinking about this more, I feel considering it 'filler' is in fact the main sticking point. I don't think there should be one single line of filler in any form of writing, from flash fiction to epic fantasy. Even if you fail, the intention should be to broaden, deepen or contribute to the story, plot or characterisations. So, 'filler' for me, is misleading. If you intentionally add it, delete it! This is one instance I would agree to cut, cut, cut without compromise, unless you can transform that filler into a legitimate contribution to the story.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Although I want to encourage the writers who perceive, or feel under-confident about penning their depictions of some ordinary life - words they might describe as filler - which are-is exactly the kind of stories I enjoy reading - set against/counterposed to the mining on Mars mysteries, the whole gamut of dot to dot written stuff which is entirely tedious.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I usually skip from interesting scene to interesting scene, so I don't have that problem.

When I skipped a month once, I had the character tell what happened interspersed with some dinner conversation.

And in the Scarlet Letter, which I rewrote, there is roughly a 4 YEAR INTERLUDE while Pearl grows old enough to join the story. Talk about a writing problem! I ended up with a chapter cleverly called "Interlude" containing a miscellany of scenes.
 
I find this interesting, contrasting viewpoints on this word 'filler.' I have researched many articles about the need to cut everything down, dialogue for impact, cutting unnecessary words ... get to the ACTION! Yet i always felt this never fitted well with me. Filler is a poor word, filler is the stuff you put in the cracks on walls, it is imperative so we don't see that hole in the wall you made because you drilled it in the wrong place (!) but since i cannot think of a more appropriate word for it, a filler is just that, it covers up holes ... it covers up holes in a story.

Maybe i read too little, but 'adding colour,' creating backstory is actually filling in that hole with filler!

Why did that protagonist kill that guy? A slow chapter can reveal an unknown side of the character, fills a hole or maybe the hole is deliberately left for a reader to figure out later on in the book? Maybe the writer doesn't want a reader to know, it is the hook that keeps them guessing for series 2 ... 3 ... 4?

I guess thinking too much into it doesn't work! Go with the flow, if it feels right, please keep it ... you can always delete after, it is so hard to remember what you have deleted ... that's my theory anyway!
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
It occurred to me that most characters, even in film, don't go to the bathroom (or at least its not reported :)), they
rarely do dishes or make their bed. Sometimes they have a meal or get dressed. I guess my question is, how do you fill the times in between
action, if it's not really relevant to the story you are creating?

In my 'Darksword' series of stories (medieval fantasy, parallel universe), I started to have issues with needing a short filler here and there,
and I came up with my protagonist either chopping wood (he lives in a simple cabin and needs it for cooking over the fire, or just to have
a bonfire from time to time), or walking through the forest to clear his thoughts.

The wood chopping idea came about by accident in one of the earlier installments of the series, before I started to use it a little more often
to transition before another scene in a subsequent story. It works better than I would have thought.

In my sci-fi series 'Birds of Prey', one of the Starfury pilots (main cast) likes to occasionally have a cup of tea while reading tech manuals in
his down time, especially if he's got a lot on his mind and needs to relax. I use this as filler to describe what's he doing when not on duty, as
every member of the squadron has a little quirk that I can exploit for a few extra paragraphs here and there.

-JJB
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top