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it states that every scene should (must) change something in your characters' lives. Otherwise, it's a "nonevent" and should be cut.

I got this advice in the past. One of the things I like to do is to introduce a new character by having them engage in small talk with one of the main characters. If I trim out the nonevents, though, there's no easy way to introduce new characters. How would you introduce new characters, especially minor characters, if you trim out the fat?

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  • That's dumb advice, at least if you take it as 100% the rule, rather than rough guidance. I suggest you pick a favorite book, and see how many scenes break the rule.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 24, 2023 at 17:11

2 Answers 2

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Don't introduce characters through meaningless smalltalk. Introduce them through events that either provide plot-critical information, set up story arcs or advance them. You can do that by making these characters part of these plot points and characterize them by showing how they contribute to the plot development through their actions, words or presence.

This also fulfills another important purpose. It tells your audience why they should care about this particular character. Because they are linked to a relevant story arc from the beginning.

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Every scene must change something in your character's life.

Take that advice in a more general sense. Small talk may be fine -- The fact that Alice meets Bob at all may change both of their lives. Bob may be the love of her life, and Alice may be the love of Bob's life. Or they may be friends, or colleagues, that do something together in this story. Or maybe Alice has just met and befriended the villain, that will drug her and rape her -- but for now, small talk.

Now you should not have Alice getting coffee and making small talk with Charlene if Charlene is just a walk-on that has no further role in the story. In that case, kill the scene, you are wasting screen time (or the reader's reading time) with a useless scene that has zero impact on the plot.

But Alice meets Bob, and Bob plays some crucial role in the plot later -- fine. Even if you are making small talk, you can foreshadow Bob's role in the small talk. Focus on whatever talent, characteristic or informational aspects of Bob might have some future impact on Alice.

Alice sighed, and decided to get a refill on her coffee. At the machine was young man in a suit, stirring creamer into his coffee.

"Hi," she said. "You're new here. I'm Alice."

The young man looked up, and smiled.

"Alice. Bob. Just a consultant, I should be out of your way in a month or two."

"I see. What are you consulting on?"

"Forensic accounting. It has been called one of the most thrilling forms of watching paint dry. And you?"

Alice, pouring her own coffee, grinned. "Whatever works for you, Bob. I'm Mister Cormack's executive assistant. The most pretentious alternative title for a secretary."

As Alice turns, Bob mimes a toast, and Alice responds, smiling.

Bob says, "Sometimes the only thing new and improved about a product is the label itself."

Alice huffed half a laugh. "I think there's good a joke in there, Bob, if we work on it."

Bob laughed. "We should!"

Nothing about this conversation has any immediate change for Alice, but we know Bob is a forensic accountant, and Alice now knows a forensic accountant, and she has some rapport with him.

If that is the last we ever see of Bob the Forensic Accounting Consultant, this scene should be cut. But Bob can play an important role in this story when Alice suspects her boss has been cooking the books for a decade.

Bob and Alice may just date a few times, and his job need not matter. The life-changing aspect for Alice is that when she is on the run later in the story and cannot go home, Bob is her refuge and takes her in. Alice may have just met her future husband.

Introducing new characters with small talk is not forbidden, the life-changing (or plot-changing) aspect is meeting a character that later plays a pivotal role in the story.

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    The importance can also be on a less direct layer. If Alice for the entire story is trying to figure out if maybe she wants to get back with her ex-lover David, who is a horrible drunkard and abusive, and in the end she decides to pursue Bob instead, Bob being a goal she can strive towards and show her growth by can also make him important.
    – lidar
    Jan 24, 2023 at 15:44

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