Rules Regarding Filler in a Story

by Paige

Question: What is the right way to do filler material in a story?

Lots of the middle of my story would technically be classified as 'filler', being that most of the characters, settings and circumstances introduced during that time do not return to the story later in the plot, and some overall do not affect the story very much.

The important thing to note is that I feel I had reason in introducing these parts of the book- they were not added simply to make the book longer or to fill in gaps between points on the through-lines.

I feel that each of the 'filler' chapters helps to define and flesh out the world and illustrate things that have been mentioned in it. Even if the characters that are introduced are never seen or heard from again, many of them leave lasting effects on the main characters or affect how they develop as a character, as well as illustrating flaws or acting as foils. Does it matter that the characters never return or may not directly affect the plot at all?

I feel that I've adequately used the filler chapters for character, plot and world-building, so they shouldn't feel cheap to the reader. I was wondering, do you have a set of rules or guidelines pertaining to filler material in a story? I'm fairly confident that I have handled them well- but I'm very interested to hear your input.
And thank you! This is my go-to novel website.

Answer: Anything you can honestly call "filler" should be cut. That's the plain and simple truth. However, I'm not sure if all the material you are referring to is filler.

The definition of filler is material that is not integral to the reader's appreciation of the story's meaning. It is material that is not part of a story arc, whether that is the overall plot, the main character's growth, or the other throughlines.

You can also have events
that are essential to the story's thematic message, even if they are separate from the main plot.

And you can have subplots that explore other aspects of theme and character that fill in holes for the reader.

What you have to ask yourself is whether leaving any of this material out would weaken or strengthen the story. Often you will find that removing "filler" makes the story flow better and holds the reader's interest better. In other cases, cutting something may leave a hole in the story in which the reader no longer understands why something happens or feels the characters' actions are no longer justified (so that the characters seem more two-dimensional).

Most importantly, no part of your story should ever feel like filler. By the end, it should seem like every part is essential to the reader's complete appreciation of the story's meaning.

Another way you can assess the importance of a scene is to look at what arc or throughline it fits into. Each plot or character event should be a stepping stone in an arc, without which the arc would be discontinuous.

Theme events are a little different. A theme event should be like a stone placed on one side of a scale. You want to tip the scales in a way that delivers the message you want (e.g. X is better than Y) without being heavy-handed. If removing a theme-event will have no effect on the thematic message, then you should probably go ahead and remove it. On the other hand, if removing a theme event will alter the balance of the message the wrong way, then it should stay (or possibly be replaced with an event that does the same job but more efficiently).

Finally, with events that are designed to illustrate part of your story world but feel a bit like filler, you might see if the illustration can be incorporated into another scene that is more integral to the plot.

Comments for Rules Regarding Filler in a Story

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Not filler exactly ...
by: John Jenks

Okay, so I've been treating the main "how-to" pages like a series of exercises and they've been fantastic for letting me design something I actually want to write. I've managed to put together something that resembles an actual fleshed out outline without the muddled and aimless middle I would end up with doing it by the seat of my pants.

My question concerns chapters that aren't exactly filler, but also don't exactly match up with any of the key signposts for either the main plot or any of the subplots. Maybe they further character development, maybe they develop setting, maybe they are just there to serve as a description of long action sequence. I have used "filler" as shorthand in my outline description as a label since I'm trying to match it up in sequence with the index cards for all the actual signposts.

I know that when in doubt anything that is truly filler should be cut, but I haven't yet seen anything that discusses the treatment of this "other stuff" that fills in the "in-between" of all the signposts. The stuff that separates a sandwich cookie from one with chocolate chips.

by: Glen

Regarding what you're calling "filler"...

If you want a tight plot, a chapter should be about an event, a change. An action sequence should be a key event in your plot, just as a sex scene should be about a change in a relationship, otherwise they're just gratuitous.

Similarly, "character development" chapters are generally about changes that are part of the character arc. Generally, this means characters coming to a new decision or realization. It's the change that makes them interesting and drives the story forward. Even backstory should be about a change that happened in the past that explains what drives a character in the present.

As for developing the setting, try to incorporate this into some other event. In a fantasy, this may not be so easy, since the story world may need and deserve more time allocated to it. But try nonetheless.

Filler or Falter?
by: Anonymous

In the book I am currently writing, there are a few chapters where while I believe they could be important to the plot though I am afraid if and when someone were to read it, they would find the chapter boring, and somewhere they dont seem relavent to the plot (Such as a weapon being used to make one of the main characters insane and the other have to revert what happened) how do I tell for sure when a chapter is good for filler or is it, as I am calling, a falter and should be removed?

re: filler or falter
by: Glen

One test is to ask yourself if the story would still make sense if the "filler" chapters are removed. If "no" then perhaps you can make those chapters more interesting.

This helps a lot
by: Lykris

Recently I've been having somewhat of a struggle as far as writing goes. Not writer's block or anything, just trouble getting things down. The main plot has been completed, trashed, revised, trashed again, and rebuilt over the course of 5 years, but I still haven't a full book to show for it.

I just have trouble with the in-betweens. My main events are already fully finalized and established, or whatever, my main characters are fully put together, and this is the type of thing I used to just go with. This thread has been especially helpful in narrowing down my issue, thanks so much for the help!

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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.

Comments for Filler Chapters

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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?

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.

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?

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.

I need help figuring out what to do lmao.
by: Anonymous

So I'm writing this arranged marriage enemies to lovers book. What should the filler chapters be about? Should they be solely for character development or should they be fluff? Please help.

To: Anonymous
by: Glen

Did you read the article? There should be NO filler chapters. All chapters must be important to the story. Each should have at least one meaningful event -- a change that sends the story in a new direction.

Some of these will be related to the main plot, as characters make progress or hit obstacles to the goal (the arranged marriage). Some will be about your main character's inner conflict and how she is pressured to change and grow. Some will be about the romantic lead's journey. Some will be about the progress in their relationship.

Everything must build to the crisis, which is the biggest moment of change, after which the story marches toward your happy ending.

If any chapter feels like "filler," cut it. If it isn't important, it runs the risk of boring your reader.

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"Filler" Chapters and current length.

by JL

Hi Glen,

I'm currently writing a high fantasy book and I'm on the third chapter. So far, with a prologue and chapters 1 and 2 completed, I have about 16,000 words. Is this a good length so far? Is it too short? Too long? I read that by the end of an average book I should have about 80,000 words, but I have a hard time estimating if I'm on right track as I have never completed a book.

My other question is regarding filler chapters and speed of the plot. I feel like, with all the planning I have done (planning was an achievement because I am largely a pantser), the story isn't really getting a break. The story starts in media res, and the inciting event is not subtle, at least not on the plot level. What follows in chapter 2 I meant to be an exposition chapter, but again, things start to act up out of the ordinary by the end of it. Looking at my notes, chapters 3 and 4 are a "settle down, we gotta think things clearly for a moment" chapter, and an "Oh no" chapter respectively, even though the former has a "wtf" moment at the end too. Here's where I started to feel like I was moving a little fast, after chapter 5, which is an action-packed chapter as well, Act 1 is over and the interlude comes in, which is slower-paced, but it isn't a "resting" section either. Isn't Act 1 supposed to have more than 5 chapters?

Should I add filler chapters in? Maybe ones that world-build and flesh out the characters more to slow things down a bit? Obviously, I still have Acts 2 through 4 to do this, but I feel like Act 1, which is meant for exposition and preparation for the rising action (at least in my understanding), has a lot going on and the characters aren't getting time to breathe.

Answer: Your target of 80,000 words is reasonable for a first novel. High fantasy books can be a little longer than that on average because they have more description of the fantasy world. As long as that world is fascinating, the extra length is not a problem.

Chapter lengths vary. What matters is that each chapter contains an event and leaves the reader hungry for more. (So it sounds like you are on the right track.) As with short stories, a chapter should probably be under 7,500 words, and possibly half that.

Nothing in your novel should feel like "filler." Every chapter should be important to the story. However, that doesn't mean that every chapter should be focused exclusively on the main plot (or overall throughlines). You may have several throughlines and subplots in the story. There should be arcs for the main character's inner conflict, the impact character, and their relationship. Other relationships or themes may be developed in subplots. You may have more than one point-of-view character. You may provide a key piece of backstory in a flashback, etc.

The trick is how you braid these various throughlines into one story, and that may mean having a chapter concerning one throughline followed by a chapter concerning another, etc. But none of them should feel like filler. They should all be part of one of your dramatic arcs, so that the reader wants to find out what will happen next.

One benefit is that the reader gets an emotional break from one throughline while they explore a different type of emotion in another.

A more important benefit is that a little time spent exploring characters and their relationships gives you a chance to develop the emotional depth of the story. Just make sure this exploration has a structured arc that will keep the reader wanting more.

Best of luck.

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Plot and Filler

by charlie

Question: I'm writing a fantasy novel, and I feel like every chapter is "boom, plot development" or "boom, here's a new important character" and I want to figure out how to write 'breathe' chapters to let the reader get overwhelmed.

I also have about 80,000 words written, though most of it is future scenes so I have a specific goal and don't take the plot one chapter at a time (which get us terrible results as everyone saw with the Maximum Ride series) but i just need a way to give the reader a chance to just read a very chill chapter without constantly being bombarded by new characters and lingo every ten seconds.


Well, obviously I haven't seen the manuscript, but here's something to consider...

It sounds like your story so far is largely concerned with the overall or external plot.

I don't particularly like the term "filler" scenes. Every scene should be important. However, not every scene should be about the overall plot. What some people call "filler" scenes are actually scenes that are about the main character's inner arc -- which can be quite important to the emotional impact of the story.

In a good story, the main character should have their typical approach to problems challenged. Maybe they need to try a new way of doing/seeing things in order to achieve success in the overall story. Their inner journey will be the story of how they are forced to doubt and question themselves, to reconsider their approach and perhaps consider taking a leap of faith and trying something different. Their personal crisis will be the moment when they choose whether to take that leap of faith or double down on their established approach, which could be a mistake or it could be the exactly what they need to do.

One valuable way to get the main character to doubt themselves is to introduce an impact character -- someone with a totally different way of doing/seeing things, so that the main character has to wonder if this other person's approach is better.

So some of those filler scenes will show the progress of your main character's inner conflict, which typically progresses through four stages..

Setup: Show the main character following their usual approach (handling a problem different from the overall plot).
Complication: Show how he is pressured, tempted, etc. to try something different.
Crisis: Show him making the decision whether to change to the new approach or not.
Resolution: Show whether he is happier, better off, or not in the end -- whether he made the right choice.

In other words, a good story is not just about whether the main character wins or succeeds, but whether he grows as a person and how that determines whether he will succeed in the end.

A similar arc happens with the impact character...

Setup: Let the main character see the impact character taking a different approach that might be better.
Complication: let the impact character's influence grow.
Crisis: Give the impact character a personal crisis that may profoundly affect the main character.
Resolution: Show how things work out for the impact character. Were they right or wrong?

Another throughline that runs through stories is the arc of the relationship between the main and impact characters...

Setup: How do they meet? How is their relationship established?
Complication: How does their relationship deepen?
Crisis: At some point, their relationship should either be severed or reach a zenith. Either way, it's a big turning point.
Resolution: Show how they are either together in the end, as friends, lovers, partners, etc, or not.

That gives you at least 12 additional scenes/events to intercut with the overall plot.

Of course, you can also develop subplots to illustrate different aspects of a theme or the progress of a different relationship. But always try to give these subplots and throughlines an arc, so that each event is important to the story and not just "filler."

Best of luck

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