Filler Chapters

by Ana

Question: How do you fill in time between significant events? I have seen in this website that you should not use fillers to fill in time but without them I feel like I would be missing out a few weeks of my plot. Each day is essential to showing my characters progress as she gets over losing her mum but the significant events are further apart. How do I fill in the time?

Answer: Not every event in a novel must be part of the overall story arc, but every event in the novel should be part of a story arc.

You may have a number of different arcs or throughlines in a novel. Dramatica describes the four major throughlines as...

1. The Overall Throughline: concerning the pursuit of the story goal.

2. The Main Character Throughline: concerning the main character's inner conflict, how it develops and is resolved.

3. The Impact Character Throughline: concerning how the impact character influences the main character, pressuring him/her to change.

4. The Relationship Throughline: concerning how the relationship between the main and impact characters evolves.

If you have multiple point-of-view characters, each of them may also have his/her own arc. You may also have subplots that explore thematic issues through minor character relationships. These may have their own arcs as well.

So lots can happen between events in your overall plot, but what you don't want are sections in which nothing happens.

Calling a section "filler" implies it is a section in which nothing of any significance occurs. Filler is material that has no value, that adds nothing worthwhile to the story, and that is simply being used to fill up enough pages to make a story long enough to be considered a novel.

Such material should simply be cut because it will likely bore the readers, who will sense on some level that it is not important, and therefore not worth reading.

It could be that, in your story, the arc concerning how the main character resolves her grief over her mother's death is central to the story -- perhaps the way she resolves it determines how the overall throughline is resolved. If so, that is an important arc that should be retained because it will add an important dimension to the story.

However, only the significant events (turning points) within this arc need to be told as scenes, whether they occur daily or less frequently. Anything that happens in between that does not represent a significant change or development can be told through narrative summary. For instance, you would not waste pages narrating the hours a character spends sleeping -- unless something significant happens during one particular sleep, such as a dream that gives her a new realization that sends her in a new direction.

Of course, you have to use your judgement in deciding what events are part of each arc and should be included as scenes and what can be summarized. The important thing is that the story should have narrative drive. The reader should feel that each scene is a significant event that leaves them wanting to know what will happen next. (What will the character do? What decision will the character make? What will happen as a result of the event that just occurred?)

If you feel that each day includes an important stepping stone in your character's arc, then include those events. But a scene that feels like mere filler is a waste of paper.

Never worry about "filling in the time." If nothing important happens to your characters during a block of time (whether it is a few hours or a few years), simply jump ahead to the next significant event in the arc. Maybe put in a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs of summary to set the stage for the next event. But leave out all the insignificant nothings that happen in between.

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