1. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody The Ole Frazzle-Dazzle Contributor

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    What are your thoughts on filler?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by J.T. Woody, Jun 8, 2020.

    So, my husband describes filler as not essential to the main plot, but important to the growth of the character(s).

    What do you think of filler in novels? How have you used it?
    when is it bad?

    I have a scene that is "filler" by the definition above; it is my MC and another important character bonding (this character becomes a big brother figure to her, and someone that she can trust). He accompanies her, reluctantly, on a few errands, and she gets to know his personality better, and he finds out why she is not adjusting to life in the village.

    I think I have other "fillers" where my characters are learning about each other. I'm worried that it may be too much....
     
  2. Steve Rivers

    Steve Rivers Contributor Contributor

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    I wrote a post just on this yesterday on lifeline's blog.

    The thing is, @J.T. Woody , I wouldn't call character growth "filler."
    When people buy fiction for entertainment, a lot of the time people want to read not just a story where "stuff happens" but want to see the character grow or learn something. Why? Because it brings an emotional connection to the book and the character.

    That's why we have character arcs in the first place. So as in my quote from my post in lifeline's blog, I would call character growth "mission critical" as long as it isn't overly indulgent.

    Filler , to me, is telling me about the house a character lives in when it doesn't inform me of anything about the character that i need, nor the greater story.
    (An example, the Hobbit begins with an ENTIRE info dump just about Bilbo's house, but the ENTIRE thing is telling me about the character of Hobbits and Bilbo)
    Filler, to me, is having a scene that doesn't actually do anything, but is there to continue showing a character for minor reasons, not mission critical reasons.

    Nothing wrong with them, at all,.. Telling me about the house can be great for creating atmosphere, so there are reasons to do it, even if it isn't "mission critical" but you cant do too much filler if it doesn't fall under things like that.
    its all about the trust you unknowingly try to build with the reader. Some will throw your book away if you're too over indulgent, others will stick with it and like it. It's what you feel happiest with after getting feedback really.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2020
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  3. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I assume that your character development is crucial to the story, so allowing the development to take place in non-stressful surroundings is fine.

    AS LONG as you're not simply indulging your own love of the characters, or some other aspect of your writing. :)

    You can get away with a tiny bit of that—but not much. I had to correct this tendency in my own writing, so I know where you're coming from. Have you already made the same point earlier, in a different scene? If the answer is yes, ask yourself which of the two scenes is better, or better placed in the plot. And either dump the other one, or tone it down and include other elements that do move the plot forward. If you're showing how the two characters clash over a particular point, for example, you only need to show that once ...until the clash comes to a head in some way.

    Just an example: You don't need to show one scene where the mother and daughter fight over the daughter's choice of hairstyle, then another scene that shows how they fight over her choice of makeup, and another scene where they fight about the clothing she's wearing, and another scene where mother tries to get daugher to get rid of her high-heeled shoes, etc. We get it. Mother doesn't approve of the way her daughter presents herself to the world. However, when mother actually forbids daughter to leave the house on an important date, because of the way she's dressed, hairstyle, makeup, etc ...then THAT fight becomes part of the ongoing plot, and the outcome will move the plot along. The daughter goes on the date anyway, and finds herself locked out of the house on her return, so she has to go home with the boyfriend. The daughter gives in to her mother, washes off the makeup, changes her clothes, and rejoins her boyfriend looking like Miss Priss—and loses his respect because she's such a doormat. Or the boyfriend realises she's being bullied and starts to intervene. All those are potentially crucial plot developments. But you don't usually need umpteen scenes beforehand showing the mother hectoring her daughter—despite the fact that these scenes might be fun to write (and even fun to read.)

    I always resort to my old trick. When in doubt, I ask myself : What do I want this scene to accomplish? If I find I'm attempting to accomplish the same thing I already accomplished in an earlier scene, then that's the warning bell I heed.
     
  4. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

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    Character growth isn't filler, it is essential to the story. Understanding the character is part of the story. Filler is anything that could be removed from the book entirely and nobody would miss it.
     
  5. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    In my small mind I’ve always thought of filler as ‘I began to’, or ‘I decided’ and my favorite, ‘I found myself.’

    For some reason (IMSM) I see sticky or glue word different as in this sentence....

    He saw he had come to the end of the walkway, and there were no more streetlights.

    Which should probably be.....

    He reached the end of the walkway where the streetlights stopped. Six fewer words. Were they filler’s?
     
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  6. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    They were filters. An extra layer of obfuscation through which the action takes place—an extra remove. Something happening is immediate, seeing something happen is pretty passive.

    The 'saw', 'had come', and 'there were' are passive verbs. Streetlights stopping is more active. So in general the shorter version is better.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2020
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  7. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    A little fluff here and there is ok.
    It helps establish the character(s)/
    plot a little bit more.

    100-200+ pages of fluff, hell no!
    It just becomes a way of inflating a
    novel without really adding anything
    to much of character(s)/plot, and just
    makes it a slog to get back into the story. :)
     
  8. Kalisto

    Kalisto Senior Member

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    I think it's like any other writing tool: there's times when it can be done very well and create a lot of interest and depth into a character, and times when it's done not so well and actually distracts from the main point.

    Where you're using the filler is good because it explains one of the three legs of character development: the goal, the motive, and the conflict. In your case, it's using it to explain what potentially could be a motive or a conflict with this character, depending on her overall story arc.

    Where I find the filler excessive is when it become redundant. In other words, repeating information that was already established or is overtly trivial. Like for example, if you're writing an extended breakfast scene and taking time to describe each food item on a whole spread. Okay, but where are you going with that?
     
  9. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Senior Member

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    I would consider filler anything that could be removed from the story and nothing of substance would be lost. Character development and relationship building can be very important if it's integral for the plot/subplots to work.

    I guess it depends on how entertaining the filler is in its own right on whether its bad or not. Since sometimes it can be hard to tell what is important until you get to the end, a scene that you felt was filler could be necessary for the ending and likewise a scene that seemed to be building up to something, might turn out to never lead anywhere and ultimately have no point. Since at the time of reading we won't always know if it's filler or not, sometimes we have to judge it on its own merit.

    One can also have a situation where the scene/arc is important but it overstays its welcome to the point it feels like filler. I'm currently reading through The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson and while he's a undeniably a great writer, my primary takeaway from the first two books was how did he manage to make them so long when barely anything seemed to happen. It felt like the books could be half the length and still tell the same story with only a little polish being lost in the process (the third book is an exception since it feels like he crammed three separate books into that one).
     
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  10. Dogberry's Watch

    Dogberry's Watch Swaggin like a Baggins Contributor

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    One of my favorite scenes in my current project is where the main characters have just had an intense situation go down and they're in a diner having breakfast. No life altering decisions made, just a break from their mission as well as a break for the reader.

    I know as a reader I don't want to be ready to drive a motorcycle off a cliff to save the penguins falling from the exploded airplane transport on its way to the Caribbean. Let me breathe every now and then and I'll be more apt to finish the book.
     
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  11. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    I think some of my favourite reads are largely filler. As @Dogberry says, you can't be running all the time - it would get tiring.

    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about filler -- Filler, it says, is the bits in between. In the early days before the universe expanded, there was no filler and planets were all jumbled up on top of each other; consequently, like all good neighbours, terrible wars were fought over trivial things like a noisy hinge on a garden gate. Now that the universe is infinitely large and there are huge gaps between planets, they can wave from a distance and curse under their collective breaths about what colour the garage door should have been painted, thus preserving an uneasy intergalactic peace.

    (actually it doesn't, but the point is that authors like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, or even PG Wodehouse are all about the little asides that keep us interested. Plot points are important, but we should be enjoying the journey... (actually the sooner we realise that "as a species" and stop flying five thousand miles for a round of golf, the better off the planet will be!)*)



    *wow, that turned into an eco-rant pretty quickly... sorry.
     
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  12. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Is this character growth going to contribute to the main plot's decisions though? If yes, how is that a filler? Because a filler by definition, no matter how your husband would like to see it, is something that is non-essential.

    If the character's growth is essential to the decision they will make later that completely impacts upon the main plot, in what way is that growth non-essential to the plot?

    There's no point worrying over something when you (or rather your husband has) have defined it incorrectly. Because then you're not judging the thing properly. Whether cake is essential entirely depends on whether it's for a birthday party or a regular Sunday night dinner. Everything should ultimately contribute to the story - so what's the story? Answer that, and you'll know which parts are fillers and which are not. Even seemingly important actions can be fillers if it doesn't impact the plot.
     
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  13. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, so... My issue here is that I disagree with your husband to a wildly pedantic degree as to his naming scheme. What he's calling "filler" is not filler. Character exploration, illumination, and growth is not filler. Filler is garbage you need to remove that's not doing anything. Filler is a word that immediately flips a number of switches for me that feel very negative, and it colors the way I engage the idea.

    Words shape thought as much as thought shapes words.

    That's my thought. If it serves a purpose, it's not filler. If you're looking at your strangely short chapter and you decide to flesh out some backstory that was mentioned earlier because this seems as good a spot as any to let it grow like kudzu, and it doesn't move the plot or progress the character, that's filler.
     
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  14. Beloved of Assur

    Beloved of Assur Active Member

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    To me filler is something that fills up the pages but isn't unnecessary. For example if I have two events which will drive the narrative but don't want them with 5 minutes between each other in the story then I could use some filler to let things develop a little.

    You know, let the affected characters swim around a little in the effects from the first event before the second events hits them and sends them going in a new direction or give space to let a character make a slower development rather than subjecting the character to shock therapy for instant 180 degree turn around on an issue.

    Sometimes, I think, a character or even reader needs to marinate in something between dramatic events. And to me that's filler. Its like the bread in a sandwich or burger. It probably don't taste very much and it isn't what you're probably focused on. But its kind of necessary for the experience.
     
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  15. SNJade96

    SNJade96 Senior Member

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    Well, I wouldn't say character growth is filler. I have a rule for myself when it comes to telling which is filler and what isn't; if something doesn't do anything to build the world, characters, relationships, or move the plot along, it's filler. Your chapter qualifies under the "relationships" part of that, and since all four of those are necessary, I think you're fine with what you describe.

    In my opinion, filler is something that's just plain boring and not doing anything, and if you're looking at the entire plot of the book from beginning to end, if you removed it, it would have absolutely no effect on anything in the future. Filler is garbage; the things you've described are necessary. Although, of course, as someone else mentioned above, there are things like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which has largely content that is filler, but it's still entertaining all the same. However, I think it has to be a very particular kind of book for that to work; like a series of ridiculous adventures. Your book doesn't sound like that kind of thing, so I don't really think that loophole applies.
     
  16. Room with a view

    Room with a view Senior Member

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    john le carré novels are 90% filler 5%tension and 5% plot

    And they're great.

    On a serious note, have filler act as a way to build the characters world some more or communicate a flaw or behaviour. But sometimes, its good to just pull over and have a bigmac n fries. Everyday things makes your character more relatable to a reader.

    It's why I love George Smiley. He's the posterboy of boring but that's what makes him human.
     
  17. GraceLikePain

    GraceLikePain Senior Member

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    I don't know if there's any such thing as "filler" in the optimally written book. "Filler" is when a story adds fluff to make it last longer, and for that reason alone. Any quiet moments that are for whatever reason necessary are just opportunities for the writer to make something perhaps mundane seem interesting to the reader.
     
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  18. JFB

    JFB New Member

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    A boy has a dog.

    Is this filler? Maybe, depending how this bears on the story.

    If his boyhood home included a dog because he lived in suburbia and everybody had dogs, it's filler.

    If the dog has a narrative weight used to tell us something about the boy (or the man he eventually becomes) and carries any kind of weight pertaining to his circumstances, childhood, character, or particular outlook towards the rest of the world, it's not.

    From doings and dealings elsewhere, I suspect this has more to do with the reader than the written word. Some people like getting to know characters before they have the adventure. Some want just enough of a thumbnail to visualize the hero before the explosions and the gunfire start. One will likely not be satisfied with a style directed at the other.
     
  19. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    Well I don't class character growth as filler but essential to the story. Filler is usually information that makes no difference to the story what so ever. It doesn't add anything to the characters or more the plot along and I usually find this scenes very pointless and don't use them. What you probably have is what I would call a "quiet scene" and the are fine.

    Lots of people feel they need to add in a subplot to make these slower moments more interesting. This is never a good idea. You want to deepen what you have not make it wider. Make the scene more vivid, go deeper into characterization. I would also recommend reading some scenes similar to yours by pro's who have done it very well and see what they do to make those slower, character building scenes work. These scenes show your true skills as a writer because you can't dazzle the audience with action to keep them hooked, you have to do it with your talents alone.
     
  20. Antaus

    Antaus Active Member

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    As everyone above mentioned, it's all about how you handle the filler. The last thing you want is a useless info drop that stalls the story. That can hurt your writing. If handled well it's not a problem. However allow me to present a different take on this. I write a LOT of filler for my stories as I learn more about both character and world (I write almost exclusively fiction and usually on worlds other than Earth). For that reason I've taken to turning my filler into short stories and posting it between the main stories. I also post a small forward explaining most of what happens in these short stories isn't bang, pow, boom style action. It's mostly stuff that's more character and world exploration. That way the reader can choose to dive in or skip over it if they prefer.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2020
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  21. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    I would say any material that is not relevant to the story you're telling should be avoided as much as possible. It is wasting your reader's time. To me, this is what "filler" means - padding that serves no purpose other than to artificially inflate your word count and stall the narrative progression.

    I have read stories with interesting premises and excellent writing in a stylistic and technical sense but far too much irrelevant text that prevented the narrative from arriving at the parts that actually interested me in anything resembling a reasonable pace, all because the author simply did not know how to get to the point. This can render otherwise promising stories practically unreadable to me, as I don't have the patience for it. I have to be able to feel that whatever I'm reading is actually going somewhere.

    Looking at it from the other direction, if it serves a valid purpose then it's not really filler. Character development, notably, does serve a purpose. Even exposition, despite having a bad reputation, serves a useful purpose in storytelling. And the actions and interactions of characters, while not necessarily serving to move the plot forward, can often be relevant in terms of foreshadowing and establishing precedents, etc. Never the less, you should still try make it as well-paced and streamlined as possible. The tighter and more focused you can make it, and the more narrative purposes your writing can serve at once, the better.

    Ultimately I think it's a matter of telling your story as efficiently as you can: Don't waste time on unimportant information, say as much as possible with as few words as possible, and always try to get to the point.
     
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  22. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Got it. ;)
    (Note to self:
    skip page 132-431, since that will all be a waste of time
    and may or may not have some rando important thing
    on the exact middle of that 3-5hr waste of time reading.) :rofl:

    Also chapter 2 may or may not be optional. :p
     
  23. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think there's a difference between what people feel is filler (preference) and when something is actually behaving like filler. I just finished reading Geek Love and there was a character which I didn't much care for and realized if his chapter was gone I wouldn't have noticed. He didn't add much except to round out the idea of this carnival as a hellzone complete with a lord of the fly-guy. But it wasn't filler. It wasn't behaving as filler. He was part of the story and it was only my preference. But another book I read - a friend's self-pub novel - I noticed there were several scenes in which the mc was just hanging out, rehashing information he already knew and the only reason for the scenes was to delay the novel's solution.
    And for me that's filler - not just the scenes themselves but their transparency of their uselessness. Part of this is the dilemma of a genre producing a journey that doesn't leave much room for inactivity. My novel's entire middle section and the enormous twist came when I realized I needed to delay my story's solution. It actually solved the thrust of the whole novel and I moved a characters appearance to work it. That's my way of eliminating filler - throw in a twist.
     

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