1. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    Explain "if it does not advance the plot"

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by BFGuru, Jan 14, 2012.

    I see this written over and over again with admonitions of not to do xyz if it does not advance the plot.

    Yet, most books I read are full of side scenes (for lack of a better explanation) that don't advance anything other than toning down the intensity for a while. I personally appreciate the diversion in books that are full of climaxes as though they are in a non stop whirlwind of traumatic experiences. It helps me connect with the characters on a "normal" level.

    Getting up and using a chamber pot is in no way detrimental to the story, unless the character has dysentery and yet literature is full of the mundane tasks of characters and those tasks are repeated quite often.

    So explain what we are meaning when we use this phrase, since I'm at a loss at how something I write may not be appropriate for my text.
     
  2. CH878
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    CH878 Active Member

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    Advancing the plot doesn't necessarily mean moving the action forward, it could mean developing characters, or a setting, so even if you have a scene that has no relevance to the main story line but it gives a better picture of a character, it is still 'advancing the plot'. That's my opinion anyway.
     
  3. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    What CH878 said. Advancing the plot does not necessarily mean a massive battle sequence. Those quiet scenes advance the plot because they often set up the more dramatic parts and give both us and the characters a breather. Character development is also very important and these more calm sections can also be used to drop hints that might become useful later on.
     
  4. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    Thanks. This was really confusing me when I read it here.
     
  5. Ziggy Stardust
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    Ziggy Stardust Active Member

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    Well I think using a chamber pot is a good example of something that doesn't "advance the plot". Unless of course of the character does have dysentery or some other disease that is important. Otherwise that action can simply be assumed by the reader. You don't need to describe in detail every time your MC goes to the toilet. You don't need to describe every single mundane detail of a scene if it has nothing to do with the plot. Maybe your MC makes a cup of coffee. You don't necessarily need to explain every detail of the process that went into making that cup of coffee if it really has nothing to do with the plot or the character development.

    Side plots on the other hand, are completely fine.
     
  6. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    In the first draft, just write whatever scenes you're inspired to create. But in the editing process you need to exercise some judgement and be tough. For every scene, ask yourself 'does this have a purpose?' That purpose could be character development, laying foundations for a future scene, or just adding colour and texture to your world as a breather from the action. But if you have a scene in which nothing happens but a character using a chamber pot, therefore establishing that in that period, people used chamber pots, it can probably go.

    Establishing certain facts and circumstances that will be important to your plot later on is a valid reason for a seemingly uneventful scene. Establishing a fact that anyone could learn for themselves with a cursory google search is not.
     
  7. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    It's a bit like 'kill your darlings'. Some people are so enamored of their own writing they include scenes simply because they love the interaction, or spend a lot of time researching the issue, so the research has to be included, even if it bores the reader to tears. Some people confuse sexual tension with sex and have characters engage in torrid sex scenes every other chapters.

    But it's not a rule - if you want to include scenes that do not advance the plot, you can. There is a probability that someone will comment on it - an editor, a reviewer, a reader - but you must make a decision for yourself if you truly care about their judgments.
     
  8. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It's not a particularly useful phrase...it's one of those generic, often incorrect writery phrases that gets tossed about along with "show, don't tell" and his friends. Much better to simply change it to "if it doesn't improve the novel"...there are some things some writers will be able to do well that others won't, so just play to your own strengths and ignore generic advice like this. Know what you do well and do it.
     
  9. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    This is my impression of Victor Hugo. LOL
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Basically what the other's have said. If it helps to fleshen out the setting or the characters, it's fine. Especially if you sprinkle in some foreshadowing that'll keep the readers excited for what's to come.

    If it's just a quick scene where your guy watches a random bird taking off from a fence post, it may not be a good idea to include it. Others may disagree, though; saying it shows that the guy loves watching birds whenever he has the chance (although I would show that in a different manner than how I just wrote it.)
     
  11. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    If you can cut the scene or part of the scene and not have it leave a gaping hole in the story (or character development) then it doesn't advance the plot.

    Oh and you as the author aren't usually the best person to make that call. Find a friend who loves you enough to be honest with you and tell you when something sucks.
     
  12. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    Sometimes you need to have scenes that don't necessarily advance the plot but help build the character - later in the story you might have the character react in a certain way, but if we understand the character, his response will be justified and understandable
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is advice that seems to come from books and other materials on writing short stories, and which many writers have then applied to novels. The two are not the same. Everything you write in a novel does not have to advance the plot. The novel has rooms for asides, fleshing out the setting, taking some artistic license, and what have you. The short story, on the other hand, is a much more compact form, and the conventional wisdom (which I think is correct) is that everything should advance the plot.
     
  14. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    I think we decided further up that the terms need to be redefined.

    Or replace the 'advances' with 'enhances' and 'plot' with 'story' and voila. Anything that improves your novel is allowed. Anything that doesn't - save to your leftover files.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    "Improves" is subjective, however, which is one reason people like the "advance the plot" mantra. It is easy and at least a bit more objective. Kind of like "show don't tell," it is easy to regurgitate advice that is meaningless without the proper context.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, context almost always marks the difference between good and bad advice!
     

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