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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