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After a couple iterations I came up with the "skeleton" or summary of my story.

I have read many places and guides saying "if it's not advancing the story and can be removed without affecting it, then it shouldn't be there".

The problem is that if I just go jumping from point A to B, it feels more like a summary rather than a story. For example, there are two characters who have 5 dates. I can probably write them in 5 pages one after the other, but since the next thing that happens is the death of one of those characters, it doesn't have any weight and to the reader it seems like all of them happened in a weekend.

Should I add filler for this part of the story?

  • Hi exe, welcome to writing.se! Take the tour and visit our help center for more information. This is a good first question, thanks for contributing. Good luck and happy writing! – linksassin Jun 21 at 3:39
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    When your professor dictates 2500 words and the actual story is only 2000. :-) – WGroleau Jun 21 at 18:32
  • It is probably NEVER fine to add filler to the story. However if this "filler" adds indepth character information or shows how a character has grown into the situation then it is a whole different story. – Totumus Maximus Jun 24 at 8:06
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There's a difference between filler and moments which aren't advancing the main plotline. What one might consider filler at first glance often holds important information about setting, character, and character relationships. I love using moments of 'downtime' from the plot to establish certain character traits, because it lets the reader focus on the character.

If you want to tell your readers that Ron Weasley is brave enough to get knocked unconscious by a huge stone chess piece for his friends, you don't do this just as the chess piece is raising it's weapon. That would seem out of character and surprising to the readers, and they might not even pay it very much attention, since they're a little more preoccupied with the whole 'how will Harry get through these tests and stop Voldemort' plot.

But if you establish Ron's bravery several chapters earlier, when he fights a troll for some girl he barely knows...

You're the author. You kind of get to decide if something is important to the plot or not. Use these five dates to show the characters interactions with each other, to reveal important information about them.

Even if the dates aren't important, writing them to space out your story IS important to your story. Passage of time is a hard thing to show, and if these dates are your tool of choice to illustrate the weeks/months/etc between points A and B then that's perfectly fine!

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    I agree with this answer completely, but it may be worth providing a summary of the key point: Filler should be avoided, but materials which advance side plots, develop characterization, provide foreshadowing, or provide relevant worldbuilding are not filler. – TimothyAWiseman Jun 21 at 21:06
  • @TimothyAWiseman yes, exactly! I should've added a TLDR – tryin Jun 22 at 6:12
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"if it's not advancing the story and can be removed without affecting it, then it shouldn't be there".

That has to be taken in a more general sense. Showing things about how a character thinks, feels and behaves is all "advancing the story", the story is about PEOPLE and showing them as people is advancing the story.

In the same way, showing the setting is advancing the story, by grounding the reader in the reality of the character's experiences. The class lessons in Harry Potter don't necessarily advance the plot at all, sometimes they are comic relief, or they are showing Hermione's consistent mastery of everything, proving (by showing) her intelligence and problem-solving capabilities. Those scenes are not there because the spells they learn are all that important to the plot, but Hermione's mastery is important, when she exercises it at critical points the "lesson" scenes make it seem realistic, instead of just a deus ex machina where she is suddenly extraordinary without any warning. And the class scenes also establish they are spending eight hours a day learning all kinds of spells, so it isn't surprising that they know spells we did not hear of before.

The job of the writer is to assist the imagination (with imagery) and build characters we care about, one way or another, all by showing them in various circumstances that prove who they really are.

The advice you are reading is to cut anything the story could do without. That is good advice, but realize the plot is not the only thing you need to worry about as a writer, you also want to immerse the reader in the setting and characters, so this all feels like a possible reality, like these are real people dealing with real problems facing them.

Anytime you find a passage that does not advance the plot, or the character, or detail the settings, you need to figure out why you wrote that in the first place. What made you feel something needed explaining? Perhaps you already explained it earlier, and just forgot, so this can be deleted. Or maybe you really did want to convey something new and important, and what you wrote failed to do that, so it needs a rewrite. ("Important" means it will affect behavior or feelings in the future for one or more characters, or it gives us a clue to who the character truly is, so later behavior doesn't seem like it came out of nowhere, it seems "characteristic".)

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Your not so much adding filler, as you are adding in the details. Its very easy to write a brief summary of the events and what happens.

I can describe a date as, we went to dinner together and then went home.

Or I can say what happened. We walked through the door, sat down, ordered our food. Ate it then went home.

You can in more details about what happened, such as:
We walked through the door and signaled at the waiter for a table of two. He grabbed two menus and directed us to a table in the corner of the room.

You can add in a description of the table, people, restaurant and food. The actions you take, the things other people do. Your characters internal monologue, etc. It was a small square table covered in a white cloth. Two plates lay on the table with a fork and knife on each side. Two slightly dusty wine glasses stood in the middle of the table.

You should provide enough information so that a reader can build an image of what is happening. Talk about the things you would hear, smell, see. The choices you are presented, internal dialogues, nervousness.

Things happen between A and B, and if you need more content, all you simply have to do is explain it in more detail.

For the date example, a date isn't just 5 dinners. Its the time spent arranging it, getting dressed, the anticipation, the trip to the restaurant, sitting down at a table, ordering food, small talk, eating food, paying, leaving the restaurant, getting dessert, walking home and that small bit where they try and see if there is a second date in line.

3

Welcome to the writing SE.

So. A story is more than plot.

Sure, a story is a sequence of pivotal events--'action' that more or less defines the plot. But a story is more than that.

It is the sequence of choices. The sequence of deliberative thought processes that lead to those choices. The sequence of changing relationships between characters. The sequence of emotions that a character experiences.

Examine any story that comes to mind--all of these above elements move within the story. A story is not just bare-bones plot.

The above are all things that typically move and change in the story, more or less in tempo with the plot. It is normal, for example, when the plot elements are most overwhelming to the main character, for the main character to feel despair, and to lean on their relationships, or perhaps destroy them. Those emotions and relational aspects are intriguing in their own right.

And, outside of these 'moving' sequences, all of which have a shape to them through the story, and all of which contribute to sculpt the final multi-threaded experience of reading the story, one also includes static items. Like description. Or other external context--the past, the future. One pays attention to pacing, and rhythm. One might choose to add words simply because it changes the music of the passage. One adds nuance through adjectives and adverbs.

You don't add filler--what you add is another moving thread. It might be examining the relationships of the characters and embellishing how those are deepened, or destroyed, or healed. It might be examining the emotional journey of the character, how they go from eager-beaver status to demoralized suicidal status to resolute determination. It might be contextualizing the story within the larger world.

Not filler, though. Imagine stuffing a roast chicken. You can use any recipe you like. If you just cram in more bread cubes, you'll have stuffing, but if instead you add the right blend of spices, some vegetables and nuts, some oil or other... you'll have a side dish people want instead of the chicken. That's what you want--the spices and complementing bits to make the story delicious. Not simply bread cubes.

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    +1 for the recipe analogy. That works really well for me. – IchabodE Jun 21 at 22:00
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I tend to write more long-windedly, but I also understand where those guides you referenced are coming from. It really depends how you think you convey information most effectively. Do you want to provide clues that one of these people is going to die? Perhaps consider adding some detail(s) to foreshadow the events to come. Maybe there's something very specific that the reader is supposed to get out of the interactions between the characters. In that case, perhaps less is more.

Two examples of books which accomplish this second point nicely are Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea and Camus' The Stranger. I read them consecutively last year, and in both, the omission of "fluff" really allowed me to hone in on what themes and details were really important.

In sum, consider what you want to get out of these "five dates," and see what option works better. Perhaps you could even consider writing the events in both styles, long and short. Good luck!

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Think of it as if you were writing about a true story. What details would you include and what would you leave out? Your readers probably don't want to read about what the characters had for breakfast, or how many times they went to the bathroom. Include events that someone looking back at the situation would think are significant to the characters, or to the story.

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Aside from the multiple answers that talk about side-plots, character development and other things that you can do while the main plot is paused, I'll take your question more literally.

The one reason why you would want to add a true filler, i.e. a part that adds nothing to the story except making it longer overall is pacing. When things are moving too fast and you need to slow down, to give the reader time to catch up or to accurately express the passage of time while really nothing is going on in either your main or any sub-plots, then you write filler material.

Several classical writers have used extensive descriptions of landscape and details to both bring down the pace and give readers a more vivid image in their heads, without said landscapes really being of any importance to the story.

A modern example is the slow-mo in action movies. There isn't any story reason for doing a slow-mo (with rare exceptions like the Matrix where really time is slowing down for the protagonist), and it's not just that they want to show off their cool CGI - it is also that if that particular move happened at real-time speed, half the audience would miss it or get lost in the chaos of the battle.

You can do the same in writing. By filling some space with mundane details of their lives inbetween dates you make it clear to the reader that time is passing and that they don't just jump from date to date, but also live their lives inbetween. Movies do this with short cuts to ordinary daily activities and with a careful consideration of time-of-day passage (e.g. dinner date, dark outside. goodbye. cut to morning commute with coffee in hand, cut to lunch at the office, cut to arriving at home after work, cut to phone call with lover, cut to movie date, again dark outside).

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