1. muckzulo

    muckzulo Member

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    Necessary Scenes vs Unnecessary Scenes

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by muckzulo, Nov 16, 2016.

    I'm having a hard time figuring out what scenes to include and exclude from my story.

    I have scenes in the story that can be looked as "fun" or a "breather" to spend time with the characters more or explore/expand on the world.

    But its been said that any scenes that don't advance the plot forward should be taken out. I understand that concept but a part of me wants to include scenes in the story of the character engaging in various activities in my world, they don't move the story forward but it gives reader more time with the character.

    My reason for including the scenes is because the scenes are looked at as a "Breather" scene and because i want my characters to interact with this world "normally" and not be written as a "plot-robot"

    I got the idea of these "Breather" or "Fun" scenes from Harry Potter. I think in HBP there was a scene in which Harry Ron Neville and some other guys was in the common room eating candy and showing off the effects of each candy. I felt like that was a "Fun" kind of scene. Of course the scene wasn't very long cuz of time but It doesn't move the story forward but it was a "fun" or a "breather" type scene and we get to see the characters interact with each other in a different way and some world building (Special effect candy).

    Same thing for Quidditch. That doesn't move the story forward but its plenty of scenes focusing on that in HBP (Half Blood Prince)

    Now there are MANY of these types of scenes in the Harry Potter films and i believe scenes like those makes HP films so much better because we get to see the characters interact in this wold like normal witches and wizards and everything they do is not always connected to voldermont or some other story plot.

    Is it okay to have these "Breather" or "Fun" type of scenes to spend more time with the characters and/or world?
    Like I just want to show the characters spending time with family or going on dates or shopping or trying new hobbies like piano lessons or tennis lessons etc etc; lol

    Like i was watching a soap opera and saw characters having girls night out and families having thanksgiving together with a little drama (like every family) and it was like they was acting like normal people lmao those types of scenes makes me fall in love with the characters.
     
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  2. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    As long as you're keeping balance in mind, there's no problem. If you end up with a novel that's 200k long, then those unnecessary scenes should probably go. At the same time, if you end up at 30k, adding a ton of these scenes is just going to make the novel feel slow and bogged down.
    It also depends on the genre, and what the characters are doing. HP gets away with it more than many other series because it's a new and (arguably) exciting world. Showing your characters on a night out in a contemporary novel is not going to be as permissible if it does nothing for the plot, because your readers already know how that situation is likely to go down.

    It's no different to anything else in writing, really. Make it interesting, and you'll get away with murder. You might be in love with the scene where your MC plays tennis against his love interest or whatever, but why should someone else care? You need some other justification beyond "character development", ideally. Showcase your MC's anger issues, or his snide superiority complex, or the bubbling sexual tension. Anything beyond just describing a tennis match.
     
  3. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Nothing wrong with scenes that primarily show something about the characters and their milieu. But if you examine even the Bertie Botts beans and quidditch scenes in Harry Potter, they also contain interactions and info that advance the plot. Seems to me every scene should do double, if not triple, duty.
     
  4. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    No, you should not have fun, breather scenes.

    Of the classic literature I've read, not a once can I recall a writer having chapters in the book dedicated to inconsequential 'off-camera' story.
    I've also read all the Harry Potter books, and no, there are no fun-breather scenes in that story either. The fourth book in the series, The Goblet of Fire, which plotwise is Rowling's tightest, and in my opinion her best effort, has no wasted scenes.
     
  5. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Well, you do have Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, with its diversionary chapters on argot and the Battle of Waterloo, etc. But even those inform the plot and milieu of the story. Abridgements that leave them out annoy me.
     
  6. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    In outlining my current project, I decided that each scene/sequence had to have an explicit purpose, but that that purpose didn't necessarily have to be advancing the plot. Depending on your pacing and genre, scenes that prioritize character development and worldbuilding are also (imo) valid. But because my project is supposed to be relatively fast-paced, I made sure to always double up - there's a quiet 'breather' moment where two characters who haven't really gotten along with each other finally break down the wall and confide in each other (character development + tension release from the previous stressful event), but it's also the scene where a key magical substance is explained (worldbuilding + Chekov's gun to be fired later in the plot).

    I don't think that each scene has to advance the plot, but it does have to justify its own existence. A kids' fantasy series like HP can justify showing you something fantastical so that the world seems richer and realer because fantastical is part of what we're there for. If my novel that spans all of two weeks and focuses on the main character becoming more and more stressed and convinced she's losing her mind slowed down just to say "look, enchanting magical things!" (even though it's uf and there totally are enchanting magical things), it'd damage the pacing and tone. Even the 'breather' scene I mention is the characters kind of bonding over trauma; it's a lighter mood but it still needs to fit the overall tone.

    I'd ask myself: Does it advance the plot (eg 'character finds the maguffin')? Does it worldbuild (eg 'character learns about the history of the maguffin')? Does it build character (eg 'character realizes that they don't need the maguffin, the real strength was inside them the whole time')?

    So, I pretty much agree with Niall. You don't have to be advancing the plot per se, but scenes need to justify their existence in some way. If you're writing something that's a slow burn, a scene with only one purpose - as long as it's well-written and interesting - can probably stand. If you're writing something a bit tighter, maybe try to combine sequences or add in more layers to the existing scenes, because you have less room for superfluous things.
     
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  7. IsabellaS

    IsabellaS Member

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    You know that "fun" Harry Potter scene you mentioned is one that is quite hated by the fans. It's only exists in the movie, and it took up valuable screen time that could have been spent on one of the funny/touching scenes from the book instead.

    However, I think such scenes generally are a good thing, as long as they fit in the story and don't take up space that could have been spent on something that was glossed over or omitted.
     
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    But your characters can interact with the world normally, in scenes that move the plot. I'm thinking that you may be defining "move the plot" more strictly than it's intended. Depicting a developing relationship, or a character's priorities, or an aspect of the world, all sorts of things, can qualify as being plot-relevant.
     
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  9. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Don't make the mistake of thinking your reader might be as interested in your characters as you are. I have no doubt that, if written well, your readers are certainly interested in the characters - but only so long as the story about them is interesting. Some little detail about the characters going about their day is a nice addition that does help round out the character - however, they may not be long enough to be called "scenes". More like paragraphs or a few sentences.

    But then it depends on what kind of book you're writing. If it's supposed to be an action-packed thriller - no, don't include these breather scenes. If it's more like a literary genre where such details are appreciated, even required, then it's ok to slow things down a little. But what you do show of the character should nonetheless be somehow related to the larger story as a whole.

    Your Potter examples are flawed - magical candy and Quidditch are unusual and exciting. Your character possibly cooking eggs for himself for breakfast is not. So I guess it all depends on what it is you're actually showing. If you show it, just make sure it's interesting or insightful, or, better yet, both.

    Say, Henning Mankell often shows his MC Wallander alone in his flat eating take out pizza - but it's done within the space of 1-2 sentences at the end of a larger, more interesting scene, and in this case even though the action itself is mundane, it serves to show Wallander's loneliness, which is a key feature of the character throughout the series. It rounds him out as a human being because he's supposed to be this smart, top-notch detective leading the case, and then behind closed doors, he succumbs to something so basic despite knowing his doctor's advice on his diabetes. But note: this is both insightful and short. Mankell does this in a few sentences, not entire scenes. Therein lies the difference.
     
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  10. ddavidv

    ddavidv Senior Member

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    In two of my three novels I wrote a chapter in each that did nothing to advance the plot(s). Both were written on a whim with little thought and were not a part of my outline/timeline. What these chapters do is develop the relationship between two characters and show them in a moment of mostly inactivity. It is really just the two of them talking to each other but it brings the reader (hopefully) to have a better understanding of their backgrounds and motivations. The one example is definitely a 'breather' as it fills a void between two other chapters that I had no idea how to fill. I actually wound up being quite delighted with my 'filler' chapters and consider them some of my better work. None of my readers have complained about them; apparently they do fit into the overall story acceptably.

    Not everything has to be about action or the plot directly. Such chapters can be essential to deepening your characters. Having characters of substance is key to writing any good story.
     
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  11. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think it's best to have scenes do more than one thing - I wouldn't want to read a scene that just world built or just advanced the plot or just enriched characterization - I want my scenes to do at least two, preferably three of those things. (In a contemporary setting there's only so much world-building that needs to be done, so I'd leave that out rather than either of the other two).

    I'm not saying there aren't occasional scenes in otherwise effective novels that only do one thing. But I think they're generally a weakness of the novel, not a strength.
     
  12. U.G. Ridley

    U.G. Ridley I'm a wizard, Hagrid

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    There are ways to balance these things. You can make a scene that seems like it does nothing, but actually does, and achieve both your wish of giving the reader more time with the characters that doesn't seem plot related, while still moving the plot. Like other's have said, just because you enjoy these scenes, doesn't mean your readers will, and most of the time: they won't. That is a common mistake new writers make, including myself for sure. We don't want to let go of those scenes that we personally enjoy, but being the writer and being the reader are two very different experiences. A writer must be able to adjust their writing to accommodate for the reader. I recently read a visual novel that was filled with these pointless "breather" scenes, and it drove me nuts. It made a novel that shouldn't have taken more than 10 hours to read take nearly 30. Famous franchises often think they can get away with that kind of stuff because a lot of fans will enjoy it regardless of how pointless it is, because a lot of extreme fans do genuinely enjoy being given an answer to questions like: "What would it be like if Spiderman went to Home Depot?!", but people like myself who can't stand pointless fanservice will still hate it, even if we also love the character in question.
     
  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Try to ask yourself this question, before you start writing each scene: What do I want this scene to accomplish?

    This might be a plot-related goal, a character-development related goal. It might be a scene that enlightens the reader about the setting—something they need to know for the story to make sense. Just make sure YOU know what the purpose is, and try to articulate it to yourself before you start to write. That way, you'll avoid writing fluff that's fun to write, but doesn't add much to the story.
     
  14. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    This thread reminds me of a scene in a disappointing novel I read a year or two ago.

    To set the thing up, the book begins with a pair of live-in lovers in bed at night. He's snoring away complacently; she's awake and dissatisfied with him, their relationship, and her life in general. The thrill is gone. Right away, I predicted that before the story was over she'd dump this guy and find somebody new. Well, she does; not somebody new, exactly, but an old boyfriend who's now divorced and is sexier than ever. Now we have some romantic chemistry, yay! But then, right in the middle of a passionate scene with him, the author has the FMC out of the blue decide to stop the old/new boyfriend train on its tracks and go back to her old lover. No reason, she just does.

    So here's the filler scene: The lover shows up, the FMC tells him about the arbitrary decision she made, he approves, and they make love under a waterfall. Oh really? There was still zero chemistry between them. There was no real reason why they should get back together. The scene had no purpose except to try to convince me, the reader, that these two really belonged together after all. I was expecting that when they were under the falls they'd discover the hiding place of some lost papers relevant to the book's mystery plot, but no. It was just them frolicking, and I didn't believe a word of it.

    My point? If you write a scene with only one purpose, make sure it's believable and actually does the job you intend. If it comes off as inserted just to gratify the author, the reader will know and feel cheated.
     
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