Is this Chapter Important to the Story? (And Another Issue)

by A Writer
(The Place Where Writers Dwell)

Question: I wrote a chapter in which nothing particularly interesting happens. One of the characters (let's call her Anna) hasn't told the two main characters (let's call them Julie and Jon) about a life-threatening problem yet, and in this chapter she tells them about it. They all also discover that someone is looking for them, and Jon does something that will later pose a serious problem for him, too.*

But overall, it mostly consists of Julie and Jon arguing (which they do throughout the book, because they're brother and sister and that's what brothers and sisters do).

In the next chapter, I address all these issues much more deeply. And yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that something is very wrong. As a writer, I learned to trust my instincts. But I can't seem to put my finger on it.

It feels like a filler chapter, but at the same time it doesn't. So I'm not sure what I should do - wait until I do the second draft to edit it? Remove it? Remove some parts? Do nothing at all?

*That's another issue. Julie, Jon, and Anna are all awfully hungry, so he gathers some food and eats some of it. That, however, is out of character, because Jon is usually so terribly careful it hurts. But do the facts that (1) he's a teenager, and (2) he's really hungry, excuse this OOC behaviour?


Response: On the one hand, it sounds like there are things that happen in this chapter that could be significant, in that they affect the story going forwards, yes?

1. Anna tells Jon and Julie about a threat.
2. They all learn they are being sought by someone.
3. Jon does something that will create a problem later.

Yet you say nothing particularly interesting happens in this chapter. Is it because these revelations can be handled in just a few sentences?

The general rule in writing is that you show the important events of the story and leave out whatever doesn't matter. If you want something to have impact, develop it. Make it an important stage or turning point within a
dramatic arc so the story would feel incomplete without it.

So I think you have a couple of choices.

You could decide these revelations
or events are not very important to the story and either omit them entirely or perhaps incorporate them into another more significant scene in the next chapter (where you say you delve into the issues more deeply). That's the argument for cutting the chapter.

The other possibility is that these revelations or events should be important, but they are not being presented in a way that showcases their importance as stepping stones within a larger dramatic arc.

If you want to keep this chapter but make it more effective, you might ask questions like... Does the tension rise in the chapter? Is there enough conflict, either internal or external? What is the crisis in this chapter, the big turning point? Why does Anna reveal the truth now? Is there a surprise--something unexpected that happens to force a crisis in the chapter? What effect do these revelations have on everyone? Are the characters or their relationships sent in a new direction? In other words, make sure something interesting happens in this chapter. Make it a necessary setup for what will happen next.

Incidentally, why does John do something out of character? Even if we don't find out why until later, this action should have some significance. People generally don't deviate from their habits without a reason. Does it causes Anna to make a decision (just a thought)?

Try not to have arguments just because "that's what brothers and sisters do." People argue for reasons that feel important to them. Once you've established that their relationship involves arguing, it's more interesting to give that relationship its own arc--let it grow, change, etc.-- rather than just have them repeat the arguing. Also, does the argument really need to take most of the chapter, if it has little significance? An insignificant argument could be summarized in a sentence or two, no?

However, if this is a first draft, it's usually best not to get bogged down with addressing these issues. Finish the draft and then ask yourself these questions. By then, you will have a better sense of the story you are writing and how important the events of this chapter are to the whole. Certainly, don't delete the chapter for now, just in case you realize later that it is more important than it seems.

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