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I have some scenes in my novel that have nothing to do with the main plot, it's just to show the character development and the development of the relationship between two characters. Is this okay since the development of the romantic relationship is a sub plot of the novel?

For example, in my one scene the two characters just hang out and watch a movie. This is significant because before this point they never just hung out together without it being for a reason for the main plot. However, "behind the scene" is one character realizing he has feelings for the other character and the other character realizes that something has changed between them.

  • As long as it develops the character and deepens our understanding but doesn't detract too much from the main arc, then give it a go. – weakdna says reinstate monica Dec 9 '19 at 22:32
  • It's a good principle to try and make every scene do more than one thing. If it's not advancing the main plot but it is strengthening the relationship between the characters, try and make the scene do double duty. Perhaps use it as a downbeat to punctuate moments of intense action. Perhaps use it to introduce a character that later becomes important. Perhaps use it to do all three. The key is to use diversions sparingly and with purpose. – Stephen Dec 10 '19 at 1:19
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Yes, absolutely. Every scene should advance something, but that includes the main plot,sub plot, characterizations, explanations of setting, etc.

Sometimes these are inter-linked, and a single scene can do work on multiple things at once. But it is okay if it doesn't.

For example, I generally have sex scenes in my stories. I don't write erotica, but I do think sex is a part of life, and my adult characters experience it. Especially if I have a love story subplot, which is often the case.

I almost never write a sex scene to do anything else except be a sex scene; whether that is consummation of a building relationship, a reconnection, or just having sex for the fun of it.

I am not trying to advance the main plot at all.

Write your "date night", or hanging out, advance the characterization of the two characters involved (for good or ill), and strengthen or weaken their bond with each other. That's enough to accomplish, and the state of their emotional connections is typically very important to the reader, they are living this story vicariously through your characters.

The only scene you shouldn't write is one in which absolutely nothing new is revealed, or nothing changes; a scene you could delete without the reader being confused at all. Unless it is just there for comic relief, I'd delete it.

  • Sex scenes that do not twist the plot or reveal anything new about characters can be seen as gratuitous. They're the easiest type of scene to abuse. So take care with this approach. – Stephen Dec 10 '19 at 1:24
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    @Stephen C'mon, read the question I am answering, and read the first sentence of my answer! The sex scene doesn't have to advance the main plot, but it should advance something, in particular it can advance characterization, which includes personal relationships. That is what sex does. And my last paragraph says, don't write any scene in which nothing new is revealed. Plot twists fall into the category of something new. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Dec 10 '19 at 11:13
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    Absolutely. If a scene isn't revealing or advancing something about a character then it's wasted. My point was to add to yours, not detract from it. Sex scenes in particular are often thrown in unnecessarily. My point was to be careful to ensure it's actually doing something meaningful that can't be done better more simply. – Stephen Dec 10 '19 at 23:24
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The answer is of course, yes. The comprehensive answer provided by Amadeus is sound but I would go further. The general advice offered on this and many other boards is appropriate for simple story writing but more substantial works do not work that way.

Within a story all scenes are relevant. The art of the craft is the author's control of when the scene becomes relevant, and what it is it relevant to.

In "The Blues Brothers" Carrie Fisher spends a good deal of the story trying to kill John Belushi using increasingly violent methods. Nobody knows who this woman is or why she is trying to kill him. It is arguable that the character or her motivations have anything to do with the plot.

In "Sixth Sense" Bruce Willis is portrayed in difficult scenes with his wife. None of these scenes are relevant in real time, however, they are understood by the audience retrospectively.

Indeed, in one of my own stories, in the opening scene, a woman is dancing naked in her apartment with the curtains open - apparently irrelevant. (In the denouement we discover the scene's relevance).

In most good thrillers all the apparently irrelevant scenes come into focus in the finale.

The key is confidence. The reader needs to trust the author. "I wouldn't be shown this unless it contains information I need to know."

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