1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Scenes that come to nothing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Aug 1, 2016.

    First off, as I've said elsewhere, I'm not big on plot, from both reader and writer perspective. My greatest inpsirtion and influence for my WiP is HST Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I know many consider this to be a record of Gonzo journalism, but for me it's a work of fiction.

    All that said, I still stop myself when writing a scene - chiefly because of all the damn 'rules' we new writers get thrust down our throat - when I suspect a scene will fizzle out and come to nothing.

    Would reading such a scene make you stop and ask 'What was the point of that?' or would you accept it as being part of the book's make-up and style?

    Or, is the mere prospect it's going somewhere enough to justify it? For instance taking the reader into a scene with the potential to lead to a significant event.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2016
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  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I wouldn't judge a scene as useless until I'd read everything, to see if it ever did go somewhere or mean anything. But yes, if once I finished a book, I realized a scene had amounted to nothing, it would annoy me if that's the question? As a writer rather than a reader, in editing my own stuff, I try to make sure every scene has a purpose, and I collapse as many scenes together as possible just because my style isn't particularly fluffy, but I wouldn't expect other writers to adhere to that so strictly.

    A book I love (it's not a great one, just one I love) has a short scene where the gang is sitting in a diner, and right before they have a plot-important discussion, we get their breakfast orders word-for-word. It's always bothered me. I guess I was supposed to glean something about their personalities by what food they like, but for me it was wasted words. It was only like four lines, but it's stuck out to me since I first read that book something like ten years ago, so a longer deviation would definitely bother me.

    But it's a taste thing. I favor very tight, minimalist writing and judge what doesn't follow my personal preferences overly harshly. That's because I'm an asshole.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I definitely don't think that a scene needs a resolution, or that I as a reader need to know exactly why it's there. If it seems to be plot-irrelevant, there should be some apparent purpose for it--it builds character, it addresses some other point, maybe it's just funny.

    I also don't fear writing scenes that will get thrown away. So if I were you, I'd just write them and kill some of them later.

    Oh! It occurs to me that this may tie into the "chapter" discussion. I do tend to feel that a chapter should have some sort of purpose. And you indicated, I think, that each of your scenes is also a chapter. This may suggest that the scene/chapter equivalence isn't serving you well.
     
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  4. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I'm also certain my chapters will eventually be combined in some way, to make ones that perhaps incorporate at least two scenes.

    So we have one for unresolved scenes, and one firmly against. I suspect this will very much be a style choice.

    Maybe I should give the scene in question as an example, to help folk get a better grasp on whether my concerns are justified.

    Two character driving a stolen car get followed by police. Police eventually pull them over, but it's only to tell them they have a bald tire or something else unrelated to the car's theft.

    I know that sounds overwhelmingly dull, but it's done for the build up of tension. I think it's a trait I've seen used in films.
     
  5. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    with my draft all the scenes fit into a big picture so there aren't any filler scenes. Sure not every scene is filled with drama and quote worthy dialogue but they aren't pointless either.

    I read one book where i literally skipped pages because I could tell they were fillers and had nothing to do with the overall story-line.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In your example, I feel that the plot summary doesn't tell me enough. What else does the scene give us? Does it let us see how those two characters interact with each other? How they deal with stress? Which one is the loose cannon and which one is the diplomat? Does it slip in facts about relationships or skills or something else? Is the scene exciting? Is the letdown of tension funny or interesting or some emotional payoff?

    I'm not saying that you need to answer any of these questions, I'm just suggesting what would make me feel that the scene is worthwhile. Now, the parts of the scene that you need to tuck in there for later payoff aren't going to feel worthwhile to the reader in the moment, so you also need to give them something in that moment, such as the emotional payoff or interesting absorption in the characters.
     
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I quite like little meanderings in novels as a reader. I prefer a slow pace over an action packed story.

    As a writer I don't get to indulge in them too much because of word count issues, but in novel #2 I free-wrote an entire chapter that was just fun. It didn't forward the plot or add characterisation (was about 40k in) but I just LIKED it. It made me smile. I thought I'd probably have to take it out but actually I sent it to beta readers and they all liked it. Turns out "because it didn't bore readers" is a perfectly valid reason to keep something in the book.

    FWIW I did change it a little to reflect a small change in the MC's relationship, thereby making it drive the plot... but I still could have taken it out and had a complete story.
     
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  8. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say yes to most of the above. It's certainly a scene that... (which??) showcases the different personalities and how their relationship handles the situation. It may be amusing, I might just make it tense, but above all I want to make it enjoyable to read.

    In my head (for what that's worth) Fear and Loathing is full of scenes like this. I'm sure some HST aficionado would beat me black and blue for saying that, but most of the scenes in that book are just events (usually drug and alcohol-fuelled) that happen between locations.

    It's hard for me to justify things to myself, even when they come from the gut. And I am a 'from the gut' writer, but if these two characters are on a journey, literally speaking, then things have to happen during that journey, yes? And if those things make for interesting/tense/humorous reading, does it matter whether they add to the plot?
    Is the right answer!

    Seriously, I have taken everyone's comments on board. Thanks.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nope. Well, actually, I'll rephrase: It's good if they add to the plot as well, but it's not mandatory.
     
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  10. sahlmi
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    sahlmi Active Member

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    I completely in line with AASmith. Either a scene servers a purpose, or it's filler.
    Whether that filler entertains or not is up to you...but it's still filler. Something I personally avoid at all cost. I don't see it much, but if/when I do, I skim.
     
  11. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let me ask you a question. What kind of novels do you read? Not trying to catch you out, just trying to ascertain something.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But what do you define as "purpose"? What are the legitimate purposes, in your eyes?
     
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  13. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    From experience of being pulled over with a bald tyre, the police will go the whole nine yards:

    "Is this your car, sir?"

    "Do you have the insurance certificate?"

    "Can I see your driving licence?"

    "Would you just blow into this bag?"

    "You do know it's illegal to have the bald tyre that I've just discovered by checking the car while you were stationary, and I'm going to have to charge you."

    They won't just tell you your tyre is bald; how will they know without inspecting it whilst stationary? And they'll have radioed the registration number in right at the start, so that when you tell them it's your car, and your driving licence doesn't match, they've got you. And no documents means an even tougher grilling.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm. I was pulled over once for a broken tail light, and while the discussion didn't go beyond that tail light, they did, yep, spend that interminable period of time in the car looking up both me and the car.

    @OurJud, I realize that you may have just been giving us a simplified example for the sake of the "come to nothing" discussion, but if that is a situation in the book, it may need tweaking.
     
  15. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, it was a simplified example, but as you suggest Shadowfax's point is pertinent. Maybe the police car turns off just when the pair are getting ready to do a runner. Dunno, I'll have to give it some thought. Maybe it is a pointless scene after all.
     
  16. sahlmi
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    sahlmi Active Member

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    Anything except YA and Romance. Mystery, Westerns, Horror, you name it. But of that variety, I suppose I like adventurous type fantasy or anything "weird"--even experimental--the most. The out of the ordinary.
     
  17. sahlmi
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    sahlmi Active Member

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    To serve the plot or character, but in a unified--not disconnected--way. To hear it's fine to just throw things in that don't advance in a pertinent way, "astounded" me.
    And believe me, that's not just "in my eyes."
     
  18. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well this surprises me. I'm not trying to justify filler scenes, but with your liking for experimental / weird / out of the ordinary, I'd have expected you to be far more tolerant of this kind of thing.
     
  19. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you read Fear and loathing in Las Vegas?
     
  20. sahlmi
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    sahlmi Active Member

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    No I haven't, but I'll be the first and loudest to say, "there's always exceptions." If it happened to work for that particular novel, then that author make it work. But I don't feel it's a universal "ok" thing.

    Just because I like experimental doesn't mean "anything goes." It still has to have those underlying qualities that engage me in a story. Specifically, cleverness. If it's engagingly clever, do it! I'm behind you all the way. Fuck a "rule." If it's random, uh-uh. You sure your mind's not already made up?
     
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  21. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes I'm sure... I think.
     
  22. sahlmi
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    sahlmi Active Member

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    lol! :D
     
  23. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Here is a an example of a horrible filler.

    The last book I read was pretty good. I enjoyed the book however the main character loved the Beatles so whenever they would release a new record the author spent way too much time discussing the meaning of songs from the album. Then the Beatles release the white album...pages devoted to the white album and it had absolutely nothing to do with the story. The main characters love of the Beatles was important but every single song did not need to be discussed. I have a feeling this was used for word count because the story was only 160 pages long. I had to skip pages for that.
     
  24. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That sounds like something that could be non-filler (if it was necessary to show the MC's obsessive nature, overthinking nature, or humorous take on life) but would be awful if done badly... and since you skipped it, it was probably done badly!
     
  25. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    I think it was important to make pick 2 songs that the character really like and have it relate back to his feelings but good lord..every song practically and many of the songs had the same meanings so it was repeat. it was done badly lol.
     
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