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!

Writing everyday scenes without being boring (1 Viewer)

MelinaTheWriter

Senior Member
I'm not really sure if this question makes any sense, but I will try my luck anyway 🙂
One of the things I find hardest in writing is those scenes that aren't action scenes as such but rather fulfil the function of showing the characters more in depth and maybe let them interact with each other.
I realise you can't make up a novel just with action scenes or scenes that would be considered exciting, after all the characters experience must also consist of a few practical and mondane activities. And the book would probably be very short and fast paced if you did that. I want to find the right balance between plot-driven scenes and scenes that introduce the characters and describe atmosphere and setting in the moments when there is no immediate adventure going on. I don't just want a one-dimensional plot, I want subtlety in the characters, relationships and such. I just find it harder to write those everyday kind of scenes because I'm not quite sure how to keep them interesting. I know it has been done very skilfully by some authors in the past, I just feel like I'm not quite there yet. Maybe it's just up to me to find this out by myself but if anybody has advice on how they do it, I'd appreciate it.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Well, I can't profess to be successful at this, but I love writing non-action scenes. The scenes where characters interact during mundane activities as you say. I think about what goes on in their minds. Going out for lunch with a colleague. And struggling to be adequate during a meeting at work. This is life. These are the experiences we all have. And the conversations that occur during these interactions can be used to build the plot. I suggest putting yourself in the heads of the characters. What are they thinking? When there is no filter...what might they say to a best friend? Draw upon the people you know and the conversations you have had. Imagine places you have been. Like having a cappuccino at your favorite coffee bar or a hot dog at a city park. How does it smell? How does it taste? What do you hear? Just close your eyes and imagine real life...and then write.
 
Last edited:

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
Generally speaking...there are action scenes, non-action scenes, and filler. Only filler poses a problem.

At the risk of oversimplifying an idea I'd posit that the trick to writing effective non-action scenes is to have them saturated with the essence of the story. This is where verisimilitude becomes a double-edged sword; the quiet moments don't necessarily have to advance the plot - especially if they're fleshing out the world - but they do need to be pointing the same direction as the narrative was moving before the slowdown. Which isn't to say a scene has to fair seamlessly into the big picture, only that it can't cut hard athwart the story the reader believes themselves to be reading.

There's a school of thought that says everything extraneous must go. I don't subscribe, largely because a just-the-facts approach to my particular style would result in an epic trainwreck (as opposed to the standard trainwrecks I deal in now). I like the slow burn and the lazy sense of menace, and sometimes the threat of violence is just as effective as a no-holds-barred brawl. Sometimes moreso.

Or maybe I just like trying to stuff some kind of narrative weight into the commonplace and wind up with dragging, cumbersome garbage.

Jury's still out.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
We had a post a few months ago from a member who was confused they wrote a plot outline for a 100K word novel and wrote 20K words. They did not have the scenes Melina addresses, and JBF calls Filler. Filler is a common but unfortunate term for those scenes. I think I earlier referred to them as "establishing scenes". They reveal character, tell you about location, add color, inject humor, expose angst ... all kinds of things. The ability to write compelling establishing scenes is one of the divides between an effective writer and an aspiring writer. About once a week, I get to comment that a great writer can describe their character having breakfast and make it interesting.

One thing I try to do in "filler" scenes is to inject humor. If my reader is chuckling, they won't care if the main plot is advancing. In my last novel, my MC is recovering in a hospital bed after being revived from the dead, the result of being stabbed in the heart and undergoing surgery. It's first-person narrative, and he HAD to pass some time in the process of recovery. Reporting that it's days later and he's up and fit again cheats the importance of his injury. So I wrote some stuff complaining about details of his recovery that I hope is amusing. It takes up a few pages, develops his frustration at being out of action, and I'm putting emphasis on entertaining the reader.

Breakfast happens two or three times in the novel. On the last occasion, other characters are anxious to question my hero about something that just happened, and he's not that anxious to answer. He keeps his mouth stuffed to avoid having to answer, to the annoyance of everyone else.

I have two sequences in London, one on a Greek isle, one in Kolkata, and I spend three chapters in Manaus, Brazil, with a side trip to Rio. I discuss local color in each instance, some of the things I learned in research (but not everything I learned in research). I like the hotel I researched in Kolkata enough I'd like to go there one day. :) Same with Manaus. I need to become a successful enough seller that I can take these trips and write them off as research. LOL

Here's the thing to keep in mind: Your filler scenes may not advance the plot, but they serve a purpose. The details I gave about Manaus are important to the protagonists' plans there, but they also need to be colorful. The sequence in the hospital bed didn't advance the plot, but it was important to the character's personal story arc. The breakfast served to define the MCs relationship with others in the scene, even though it DELAYED plot advance.

Here's my last point on the subject. It's important to establish times to intentionally frustrate the reader to build tension or expectation. Think of a movie where a character is searching a dark house. Nothing is happening, but the longer it goes, the more the viewer is on the edge of their seat. The director is building tension. You do the same thing in writing. Or the reader is desperate to learn a tantalizing fact about the story. You stretch it out and don't give it to them for a long time. That builds expectation. Nothing can be happening in the story, but you've still got page-turner content. It's one of the top-tier skills to develop as a writer.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
We had a post a few months ago from a member who was confused they wrote a plot outline for a 100K word novel and wrote 20K words. They did not have the scenes Melina addresses, and JBF calls Filler. Filler is a common but unfortunate term for those scenes. I think I earlier referred to them as "establishing scenes". They reveal character, tell you about location, add color, inject humor, expose angst ... all kinds of things. The ability to write compelling establishing scenes is one of the divides between an effective writer and an aspiring writer. About once a week, I get to comment that a great writer can describe their character having breakfast and make it interesting.

Yes and no. By the included definition most of what I write would be considered filler (which it may be).

My cut of this is that a scene can do one of two things. It may either:
  • advance the plot, or
  • establish the world

Filler, by contrast, is something that happens when a writer realizes they aren't ready to move to the next major event and throw out anything up to the kitchen sink to stall without doing either of the above. By and large this seems to be a young writer/rookie mistake and probably shares an origin with the Hands* problem. This is what happens when a hero is on-scene at three in the afternoon and the villain isn't scheduled until five, so the protag reads a book while they wait on their laundry.

This plays back into the hazards of depicting daily life. We assume that a character washes their car, brushes their teeth, and occasionally runs a vacuum through the carpeted parts of the house. Unless this is absolutely critical to the story it's better left unsaid, lest it all bog down into an itinerary. We don't need to go with them on their shopping trip if having them dump a bag of groceries when the antagonist surprises them at home does the same thing as neatly. There's no reason to show the hero disassembling the clogged vacuum cleaner unless he's ambushed and uses it as an improvised weapon. Or, you know, he unclogs household cleaning appliances for a living. As long as it's somehow relevant it's fine.

*this occurs when a writer is unsure how to break up long blocks of dialogue or add naturally-occurring color to a scene and winds up flooding a piece with absentminded or irrelevant physical detail, usually centered on whatever a given character is doing with their hands
 
Last edited:

MelinaTheWriter

Senior Member
Well, I can't profess to be successful at this, but I love writing non-action scenes. The scenes where characters interact during mundane activities as you say. I think about what goes on in their minds. Going out for lunch with a colleague. And struggling to be adequate during a meeting at work. This is life. These are the experiences we all have. And the conversations that occur during these interactions can be used to build the plot. I suggest putting yourself in the heads of the characters. What are they thinking? When there is no filter...what might they say to a best friend? Draw upon the people you know and the conversations you have had. Imagine places you have been. Like having a cappuccino at your favorite coffee bar or a hot dog at a city park. How does it smell? How does it taste? What do you hear? Just close your eyes and imagine real life...and then write.
Yes, I can actually enjoy writing them too. I think what you are describing is not so much what I struggle with... I find it quite easy and fun to put myself into the characters' shoes and describe sensations and feelings they might perceive. My problem is not imagining what they feel like but rather how to execute it smoothly. I have written scenes like that already but I almost feel like I'm running out of everyday activities I haven't described yet. I feel like there is more to reveal about the characters but I'm trying not to be so repetitive by describing how the characters share a meal around the fire for the 10th time... I am writing a fantasy story that isn't set in the modern world so the main character's lives are really centred around the main problem. At this point in the book the main characters are fugitives that are hiding and haven't decided how to proceed further. Because of that I am a bit limited as to what actions I can make the characters do, while introducing them further. But maybe that is a sign that I already have enough of those scenes and need to proceed in the active plot?
 

MelinaTheWriter

Senior Member
We had a post a few months ago from a member who was confused they wrote a plot outline for a 100K word novel and wrote 20K words. They did not have the scenes Melina addresses, and JBF calls Filler. Filler is a common but unfortunate term for those scenes. I think I earlier referred to them as "establishing scenes". They reveal character, tell you about location, add color, inject humor, expose angst ... all kinds of things. The ability to write compelling establishing scenes is one of the divides between an effective writer and an aspiring writer. About once a week, I get to comment that a great writer can describe their character having breakfast and make it interesting.

One thing I try to do in "filler" scenes is to inject humor. If my reader is chuckling, they won't care if the main plot is advancing. In my last novel, my MC is recovering in a hospital bed after being revived from the dead, the result of being stabbed in the heart and undergoing surgery. It's first-person narrative, and he HAD to pass some time in the process of recovery. Reporting that it's days later and he's up and fit again cheats the importance of his injury. So I wrote some stuff complaining about details of his recovery that I hope is amusing. It takes up a few pages, develops his frustration at being out of action, and I'm putting emphasis on entertaining the reader.

Breakfast happens two or three times in the novel. On the last occasion, other characters are anxious to question my hero about something that just happened, and he's not that anxious to answer. He keeps his mouth stuffed to avoid having to answer, to the annoyance of everyone else.

I have two sequences in London, one on a Greek isle, one in Kolkata, and I spend three chapters in Manaus, Brazil, with a side trip to Rio. I discuss local color in each instance, some of the things I learned in research (but not everything I learned in research). I like the hotel I researched in Kolkata enough I'd like to go there one day. :) Same with Manaus. I need to become a successful enough seller that I can take these trips and write them off as research. LOL

Here's the thing to keep in mind: Your filler scenes may not advance the plot, but they serve a purpose. The details I gave about Manaus are important to the protagonists' plans there, but they also need to be colorful. The sequence in the hospital bed didn't advance the plot, but it was important to the character's personal story arc. The breakfast served to define the MCs relationship with others in the scene, even though it DELAYED plot advance.

Here's my last point on the subject. It's important to establish times to intentionally frustrate the reader to build tension or expectation. Think of a movie where a character is searching a dark house. Nothing is happening, but the longer it goes, the more the viewer is on the edge of their seat. The director is building tension. You do the same thing in writing. Or the reader is desperate to learn a tantalizing fact about the story. You stretch it out and don't give it to them for a long time. That builds expectation. Nothing can be happening in the story, but you've still got page-turner content. It's one of the top-tier skills to develop as a writer.
Yes, this definitely makes sense. I have seen it done very successfully in books. So successfully, in fact, that you don't actively notice it while reading. And when the book is finished you wonder how the hell the author created such a smooth blend of scenes, that just flows. At least thats how I often feel :)
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Unless this is absolutely critical to the story it's better left unsaid,
For me, this is the key point, and has been one of the most difficult, nebulous, and intangible lessons to learn. The problem lies in determining what 'critical to the story' means, not that there's anything wrong with putting it that way, it just took ages for me to get my head around what it means :). What is the story, and what qualifies as critical?

To me, it is about disturbance from equilibrium. Disturbance from equilibrium initiates the story - kicks off the noteworthy event. Whether things get more disturbed or less is secondary, but that imbalance must exist. Something should be a certain way, but it isn't. The things that are critical are things that either exacerbate that imbalance or rectify it. Those things must also exist otherwise you have no arc, no change.

My understanding is that that can be at a macro or micro scale. Macro would be wider, blurb-level story - do the couple end up together, does such-and-such live or die and so on. It's the micro ones that can make the difference between kitchen sink filler and kitchen sink drama. While tracking down some fugitive, a cop might stop into a 50s style diner for a coffee. Then disaster strikes - his coffee is too cold! Then ensues a fracas between the cop and the server in the diner. All somewhat immaterial to the fundamental catching of the fugitive but we a. get some cool 50s stylings and b. get a bit of cop rage character development, which is kind of exciting. That coffee and how they deal with it is "the story" for that scene. Without it, the 50s diner would be just filler. And in a way the coffee does stand in the way of the cop catching the bad guy, by wasting his time, during which the baddie could get further away/do more bad stuff etc.

To me the best stories are ones where stuff that seems like cool filler actually turns out later to be instrumental to the plot.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
For me, this is the key point, and has been one of the most difficult, nebulous, and intangible lessons to learn. The problem lies in determining what 'critical to the story' means, not that there's anything wrong with putting it that way, it just took ages for me to get my head around what it means :). What is the story, and what qualifies as critical?
So far as I can tell....it's one of those things so heavily dependent on style and voice that I'm not sure a workable rule is even a possibility.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
I just find it harder to write those everyday kind of scenes because I'm not quite sure how to keep them interesting.

I'd like to share something in the flow here. Because I think the conversation is missing an element.

I need to explain a bit, build a bit. Bear with me, please? It might be worth it.

My point will be: Even mundane everyday scenes needn't be boring. They can be fraught with delicious effect.

So.

I've just finished reading Don Winslow's Broken, a collection of nearly-perfect and surely fabulous novellas, some "decorated" with characters from his crime novels, some not, being whole cloth something new. One can imagine the author taking a break and sketching a new subject just to see what's possible.

In there is a novella, "Crime 101," and in there is a character, the detective after the jewelry-thief. Yeah yeah, all the tropes, but bear with me, this guy, the author, Winslow, is a wizard. Worth my study, anyway. (I have his stuff pinned to the pan, scalpel and retractors and magnifying glass ready.)

Being a crime story it's basically a game of wits and shifting allegiances and all that. Being a novella, there's easy room for shifting POV and some substantial sub-stories. One such sub-story is that the detective and his wife are breaking up. Again, a common theme in crime stories, the job takes its personal toll and all that, so the reader is comfortable with the notion.

So the detective is moving out while they divorce. None of this has anything to do with the main story, and the author inserts these slim slices of the divorce tale -- the everyday kind of scenes -- in between figuring out the jewel thief and his next move.

All along the reader is close to the thief. Knows his modus, his motivation, his point of view, his plans. And he's an attractive guy with expensive tastes and, actually, likeable. (Not one of his victims is harmed in any way. Even the jewel courier's cell phone isn't damaged, just temporarily disabled.) A nice guy, if sociopath.

The reader is intimate with the thief. So when the detective moves from the marital home and rents some temporary condo space near the beach while he figures out his oncoming bachelor life, the reader notices when the detective pulls into the condo underground parking lot and parks right next to the thief's immaculate black 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT-8. (Yeah yeah, cops notice hot cars in specific detail. Trope)

The reader gets a jolt from this mundane everyday moment.like you wouldn't believe.

Turn the page!

The story in play at the moment, the text, is just some ho-hum middle-aged cop facing a new life in unfamiliar spaces, his thoughts miles from the plot. The reader, however, is on DEFCON-1 holy-crapola level alert. "He's moved into the same building as the thief!"

Turn the page!

None of this makes any difference to the main story. The two of them do not know each other but the author places them together in these mundane everyday scenes -- the halls, the nearby restaurants, etc.

Turn the page!

The reader is frothing, expecting... well, anything. But the text just trundles along, reading the paper, sipping coffee, people watching, enjoying the unexpected loveliness of a -- who'd've thunk it -- breakfast burrito, checking out that awesome babe talking to that handsome dude (a moment the reader already knows is the corrupt insurance broker handing the jewel thief his next job), wondering about starting over with life.

Turn the page!

My point is: Even mundane everyday scenes needn't be boring. They can be fraught with delicious effect.

And the cause of the effect is not in the scene's text.

It's in the reader.

It's in what the reader knows and the characters don't.

It's Hitchcock's bomb. Suspense. Interest. Engagement

Turn the page!

Bring on the mundane scenes.

[2021-07-08 1030]
 

Matchu

Senior Member
I find this THE most frustrating of threads, or sometimes it is THE theme, the journey. FILLER? It came up before last month.

Our world divided between people who like writing for a hobby, with your poem used in a Xmas commercial 60 years later on, & after your death, nobody remembers you at all....and people who want to 'write' a book somehow using the tools available through Amazon as a hobby and stuff it into the bosses face, and into the in-laws & the ex-wife's face. DOnt you call me stupid, my book! Eat my book!.
 

MelinaTheWriter

Senior Member
I find this THE most frustrating of threads, or sometimes it is THE theme, the journey. FILLER? It came up before last month.

Our world divided between people who like writing for a hobby, with your poem used in a Xmas commercial 60 years later on, & after your death, nobody remembers you at all....and people who want to 'write' a book somehow using the tools available through Amazon as a hobby and stuff it into the bosses face, and into the in-laws & the ex-wife's face. DOnt you call me stupid, my book! Eat my book!.
If the topic has come up before I wasn't aware of it.
I'm not sure what your point about the division is. What does it have to do with this topic?
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Things like writing in a meter, using assonance and consonance, rhyming words, rhythms of long and short words can all make something a more attractive read so long as you don't overdo it and make it smackyouoverthehead with it obvious. That doesn't make it impossible, but it makes it obvious, so it has to be spot on perfect.
 

Megan Pearson

Senior Member
... I think the conversation is missing an element. ...Even mundane everyday scenes needn't be boring. They can be fraught with delicious effect.
This brings to mind a poet I had to read for an English class. It was so long ago I've forgotten the name, but not his effect. What was striking about his poetry was not how mundane they were, but how deeply moving they were. In just a few, short lines he captured such emotional depth that even as I kept reading the poems over and over again, they did not grow old. If anything, I gained a deeper, almost visceral understanding of his subject matter, as if there was less of me and more of what he wrote, so much so that it gradually overcame my own perspective.

I am going to politely disagree here that "filler" has any place in fiction. Shouldn't a story say only what it needs to say, and no more? (Besides, paper & publishing are expensive!) A well-placed description, however, need not be filler--just as others here have mentioned--and should serve to influence tone & voice & so-on. In fact, those everyday details, described in concrete nouns or demonstrative actions, might just be what a piece needs to connect its readers to the more abstract elements involved in storytelling. It seems to me that the more a piece connects with a reader, and the more common ground the reader finds in what they're reading, then the easier it ought to be for the reader to follow the author into the abstract realm of imagination. This is what those well-crafted poems I still cherish did for me, they brought to me a depth of meaning and understanding that I don't think would have been possible without their celebration of the mundane.

I think learning how to write a well-contributing everyday scene that serves plot or character development must come first from developing our ear as a reader. By the way, if you're looking for an example of well-executed 'mundane everyday scenes', then check out Cathay by Ezra Pound or other, ancient Chinese poetry. I actually do not, in general, like poetry, yet I have grown quite fond of these because of their emotional depth that comes from a strong portrayal of everyday life.
 

Tyrannohotep

Senior Member
I have the same problem as the OP. I don't like writing those little slice-of-life scenes that go in between the big events either. If I were to recommend any strategy for getting past those, it's to have something that's nonetheless important to the plot or theme happen in those otherwise mundane scenes. Like, if you're writing a mystery and you have to write a scene wherein one character is doing the dishes, have them accidentally discover a clue while absorbed in the chore. Make the scene important even if it's not flashy.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Like, if you're writing a mystery and you have to write a scene wherein one character is doing the dishes, have them accidentally discover a clue while absorbed in the chore. Make the scene important even if it's not flashy.
Also a great way to flesh out internal dialogue. Rather than the character standing in the middle of the room doing nothing but thinking, they need to be doing something while they're thinking. The key is to make both things interesting. Can you make washing dishes interesting? If you can, you're a real writer. If you can't, there is something to figure out how to do. :) If you want examples, go read some of JBF's stuff.

 
Last edited:
Top