1. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    How to create interesting filler sections?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nicholas C., Aug 10, 2011.

    I'm aspiring to complete my first novel; I've been a shorty-story writer up until this point. My question is -- what do you do when you have scenes that come up a bit short? I'm sure most people will say to just tell the story and not worry about it. But if you have a goal of say 80,000 words, you obviously have to figure out something as far as adding more scenes or beefing up the scenes you already have.

    I'm thinking filler sections could be used to develop my MC a little more, but I'm unsure of how to do it without really slowing the pace down.
     
  2. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    What about throwing in another sub-plot?
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Do not "throw in" another sub-plot. Strengthen the scenes you have and keep the focus on the story you're telling. Go deeper, not wider.

    What I mean is, don't add more events to your plot; you probably don't need them. Just describe each event in greater detail. Make your scenes more vivid, with strengthened characterizations, more compelling descriptions, more intensity.

    Take a simple scene: Your MC is being fired by his boss. Some writers would deal with this rather important event in two or three paragraphs, but others could easily turn it into five pages or more without the reader ever feeling like the scene is dragging. It depends on the depth of your imagination. In the first instance, the boss says "I'm sorry, Bob. I have to let you go. Budget cutbacks, and you're the least productive member of the department." And that's about it.

    In the second instance, the writer might set the scene by having Bob suspecting that he's about to be fired when the boss calls him into his office. He may already be antagonistic. The boss might start by talking about the good years of Bob's service to the company, thanking him for the good work he's done. But then he might say that since Bob's divorce, Bob's performance has suffered, and with the economy and all, there are budget cutbacks coming, and so on and so forth, and as much as the boss doesn't want to, he has to let Bob go. Bob may fume inside, thinking about ways he could get back at the boss, or at the accountants who cut the budget. He might start thinking about what he might be able to steal from the office, not because he's a thief, but because he wants to stick it to the people who are sticking it to him. He might plead for his job, promising to do better and recognizing that his performance has suffered. Or he might try to blame his poor performance on other employees who are trying to get him out of the way so that they can get promotions. Etc. etc. etc.

    There's tons of available material in a scene like that. How much of it you use determines how long the scene will be. How long your scenes are will determine the length of your novel ...

    ... WITHOUT adding unnecessary sub-plots!
     
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Minstrel said pretty much everything I would... :D

    "Filler" content is frustrating and usually looks like it's intended to be filler. There should be a point behind every word you write, even if it's for minor characterisation or filling out some backstory. Never have characters just sitting around shooting the breeze unless the conversation will end up revealing something or there's some other reason for it. Avoid off-topic conversations that are obviously padding, and don't start making your characters over-react in order to get more words out of them. Having them fail to act just to drag out a crisis is just as annoying, and can undermine the strength of a character more than having them run out like an idiot. However, if you can justify their actions, there's more writing to be had in building up to why they do what they do, and the extra words after that are all free. You see what I mean? *I hope so. It's 3am and I don't*
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree, Sorry, minstrel.

    You can add plots as complications. Just make sure they integrate well with the plost you already have in place.

    Plots can be oppositions for plots comprising the principal storylibe, or they can be challenges that develop one or two characters.

    But you don't make filler interesting, an d you don't puff it up with more description and detail.

    You slice filler out of the story, and add meat instead. Filler is the corn starch added to make a thin gravy thicker, not more flavorful. Filler is powdered cellulose (bleached sawdust) added to Wonder Bread in place of some of the flour. Filler is thick and bland.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Cogito, I wasn't talking about adding filler. I was talking about adding meat. I was talking about adding flavor. Instead of including extraneous material, like having Bob's next-door-neighbor diagnosed with cancer and suddenly needing Bob to take care of her cat, which probably has nothing to do with the main story but can be padded out to fill some pages. That's the kind of sub-plot I object to.

    Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" really made me mad, because I remember how good the original short story was in Analog magazine. But when he expanded it to a novel, he included a huge subplot about Ender's brother (a ten-year-old genius psychopath) trying to take over the world using what passed for the Internet in Card's story. It made no sense, but sure did pad the novel out.
     
  7. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    In my own writing I always look for ways to go deeper into a character's mind. Oftentimes what happens is I stumble onto a subplot, or make a connection that I didn't think could be made, or uncover a theme.

    As a way of filling out your novel, consider that just as there are major and minor characters, there are major and minor scenes, and some of those minor scenes could have no purpose beyond characterization. Depending on how it is written and the power of the insight, it could be just as riveting as any major scene. Always keep balance in mind, though. The most important thing is to keep the story moving forward.
     
  8. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Add in good filler by making it not filler. It's certainly fine to have more laid-back and/or sidetracked scenes, but they still have to be doing something rather than just purposefully attempt to extend the story.

    I think the easiest way "filler" can be useful is to further explain a character's personality or to even show some character development. For instance, instead of just having a character eat dinner with their best friend, show how various small details in that scene - the way the characters face each other, what they're talking about, their body movements while all this is happening - reveal changes in their friendship since the beginning of the story. Perhaps even hint at old conflicts between them to add a twinge of tension or something. Long story short, with all this, you can have a more relaxed scene, but also reveal aspects of the character(s), thus allowing for the story to actually do something.

    In stories where characterization is more important than plot, these kinds of scenes might very well actually be almost as important as the big turning point scenes - and even when you don't need them as much, they still can really be useful if it's harder to show characterization in other scenes.
     
  9. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I had the same problem. I did the following:

    - extended and re-wrote some of the sub-plots.
    - re-wrote dialogue throughout and took out 'boring' narrative.
    - expanded the ending, twice, tying everything together much more cohesively.

    Not sure if that helps you at all. I'd avoid adding 'filler' for the sake of it.
     
  10. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    Exactly. What you definitely don't want is your reader screaming, "Get on with it!" whilst they plough through your "filler".

    Everything that you write should advance the story. You might not need to develop your MC any further at that point in the story, but that doesn't mean that other characters can't develop, or you could lay the foundations for the build-up to the next dilemma or sub-plot, for example.

    Finally, there's nothing wrong with short scenes. If a detective only has to pop his head round the door of his local shop, ask a few questions and then turn the answers over in his head for half a page before deciding on the next course of action, then that's as long as the scene has to be. We don't need a long conversation with the shopkeeper about the weather, or for him to be thinking about his food shopping before he speaks to her.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's still a useful purpose, though, which is why most people do put corn starch in gravy. I can't say the same for filler in fiction, though.
     
  12. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    The piece I'm working on is mostly a character piece. Except for a couple of spots the plot does not have much intense action. I've written several scenes for purposes of developing my characters. Some of them work, but many of them come across as boring filler. In fact they bore me while I'm writing them. That's never a good sign!

    My skills at character development are meager at the moment but I'm getting practice. In any case I can see that including scenes that only explore the characters and their relationship is valuable even if those scenes don't move the plot very much. Making such scenes interesting and useful can be tricky, though. At least for me.
     
  13. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    Thanks for this reply... the more I think about it, the more I feel that this may be the way to go.

    I have a scene in particular that is plot driven; however, I think it can be extended with my MC and a supporting character developing their relationship a little.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Commercial gravies thickened with cornstarch have a distinctive flavor and consistency that most people don't find all that pleasant.
     
  15. Pea
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    Pea super pea!

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    You guys are really making me hungry for some stew.


    I'd recommend going through the story and trying to locate any weak points in the characterisation or plot, then fill them in. Only add a new subplot if it's actually an interesting idea and not just filling space.

    Do a dream sequence. (*runs* :redface: )
     
  16. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use cornstarch when I make gravy. This has got off topic, but I'm not sure where to take recipe requests and I'd be interested to know a better way of thickening gravy.
     
  17. flipflop
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    flipflop Senior Member

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    agreed. especially when cold

    I also agree with your earlier comment - ask your self this is the book finished. If it seems its missing something then add it but dont just add stuff for the sake of it. Extra subplots are ok as long as they have purpose. If you cant think what to add that would improve the story then maybe it is finished.
     
  18. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    So there we are: filler in fiction is like lumpy cold gravy. Sounds about right. :D
     
  19. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    And most people write the filler when the gravy is still hot, so it seems a good idea at the time... until it cools down and you see what you're left with. ;)
     
  20. Jessica_312
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    Jessica_312 Contributing Member

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    My high school literature teacher compared "filler" in writing to "filler" on an album. Ever been listening to an album that seems very cohesive... until you hear a song or two that doesn't fit the flow at all and feels hapharzdly thrown together. That's when it becomes blatantly obvious that the song(s) in question was just manufactured solely for the purpose of getting the album to the necessary 11 or 12 (or whatever) song count. This is exactly what we don't want to happen in fiction - "filler" should never seem like filler, it should be something that, once written, feels like it had been a part of the story all along.

    Write the story first, exactly how you want to write it. On the first go-around, pay no attention to word count, in fact. Proceed to "trim the fat" wherever necessary. Once you've done all this, take a step back, and look at your word count. Now, if you're only at 50K words and you're unhappy with that result, it's time to do a LOT of thinking. Get into the head of your characters. WWMCD (What Would My Character Do?) Take a look at existing scenes you've written and think about what can be done to enhance said scene, to add to it without making it obvious that anything has been added? What can you do to add more depth to your characters, more interaction? Are there any other sub-plots that can be added that make sense with the current plot and add a new level to the plot, rather than detracting from it? Anything you want to see your character do? (Tell his/her spouse to get lost, tell his/her boss to cram it, etc etc)? Any stories you can tell about your characters that help the reader get in their heads a bit more? Maybe descriptions of scenery can be fleshed out, or more imagery can be added. Maybe you find your character has a tendency to think random, strange thoughts, and adding this adds depth to your character?

    I don't know if I'm being helpful at all, but... just my (rambling) two cents.
     
  21. Leah
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    Leah Member

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    Time to throw in my 2cents -- I am working on a story where part of my "filler" during one section of my book actually delves somewhat into a character that my readers are just meeting. She actually plays no part in the remainder of the book, but I have devoted a few pages to her, her thoughts and a mini-plot. The reason? For my story, doing this will have HUGE ramifications to the remainder of the story later on.

    So, I do agree in not adding filler just for the sake of having "filler"....if you have an opportunity to expand the story in a way you may not have originally thought, this would be a good place to do it.

    May not be everyone's style, but it works for me when both reading and writing.

    Good luck! :)
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Seems to me if one can identify any part of one's story as mere "filler," it should be immediately removed from the work.
     
  23. proserpine
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    proserpine Member

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    I agree with Steerpike. If you think there are holes, you are not done with your story.
     
  24. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    That was very helpful, in fact. :)

    I tend to be a little OCD when it comes to how my story is progressing length-wise. I like your suggestion of paying no mind to word count till the second draft, but not sure if I have the discipline for it lol.
     
  25. Lmc71775
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    Lmc71775 Active Member

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    Pumping Up Your Word Count

    I subbed one of my YA novels (which is 35K) and I've been getting "sounds really interesting, but the word count is on the low side". I have an agent for my first YA Novel which is around the same length that we're in the middle of a deal on, so I know it can be done.

    But I want to pump this one up more, for many reasons. 1. to challenge myself. and 2) if I do, I already have an agent wanting to read the full if I do, since she really likes the concept. and 3.) I found a good fit with a certain publisher that is encouraging me to expand and add on more words. My goal would be between 55 and 60K. That's like double the book. I already started working it up, but it's really difficult, so any suggestions on how to expand without ruining the story itself?

    Note: The reason I am looking for rep. elsewhere is because my first agent is electing not to take on more work.
     
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