Filler Chapters

by Ana
(England)

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.

Comments for Filler Chapters

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Mar 22, 2018
Okay, but...
by: Maddog

What if you are writing a story and in between the important, plot-advancing main events you want to write scenes to build character or character relationships, but the events in those chapters do not leave the readers on the edges of their seats, waiting for more? My story is a love story, almost like a fanfiction on my own life and is told from four different perspectives. Any advice?

Mar 22, 2018
Re: character scenes
by: Glen

Your character scenes are not filler! Or at least, they shouldn't feel like filler. They should be integral to the story and just as important as the external plot.

For example, a POV character's story and the arc of their major relationship should show how their inner conflict arises and develops in a way that, when the crisis in the external plot arises, that character makes a crucial choice because of how they resolved their inner conflict. And that choice will determine how the external plot is resolved.

All your character scenes should be stepping stones in either their inner conflict or a relationship arc, so that the reader wants to keep reading to see how this relationship will develop/resolve or how the inner conflict will be resolved.

That kind of structure makes each scene an important part of the story.

The only time a character scene becomes filler is if it is not part of an arc, not necessary to a character's growth, and does not develop a thematic message. In that case, it should be deleted.

A good story tells the important events and leaves out everything else, so that the meaning can shine through. Character growth should be as meaningful as external plot, and the two should influence each other.

Jul 15, 2020
What about...
by: Anonymous

Im not technically writing a book, but a script. In this "Thing" I am writing, the main character has one school year to fall in love with one of the other characters. I have come up with plenty of essenial scenes for the story to progress, but I need the other days to have at least a little meaning. My dear friend is helping me, but even with her powerful mind, there is much to be desired. So how could I fill those spaces?

Jul 20, 2020
to Anonymous
by: Glen

So you're writing a romance?

Same advice as above: no scene should be filler. Days when nothing important happens should just be left out. Cut from one important event to the next.

Now, that doesn't meant the relationship arc is the entire story.

In most romances there is still an overall story -- even if it's not the main focus. Sometimes it's just there to force the two lovers to interact and therefore have the opportunity to form a relationship. That's okay having that overall arc will add to the story/ So what problem can they tackle together? What's going to put them into a shared situation? How will it get resolved.

Then of course there is the main character's internal dilemma. What is she wrestling with in herself? Could the love interest offer her a different way to tackle her personal problem? Will she follow his advice/example or not? And will that turn out to be the right choice? Will she end up happier?

Then there's the other party in the relationship. What is his personal challenge? Could he learn from her as she learns from him? How will he end up?

If you still have space to fill, look at the themes you are exploring. Could a subplot involving their friends or relatives explore the same theme from a different angle and so enrich the story? If so, make sure that subplot also has an arc.

Best of luck.


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