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When is it OK to have a Scene that Doesn't Advance the Plot?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Vaporo, Nov 29, 2019.

  1. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

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    I think it's mostly plotters who like the idea that every scene must advance the plot. Discovery writers are more focused on the journey, not the destination.
    Anyways, to me, this advice just seems unnecessary mechanical and rigid. It's replacing deeper understanding with a shallow bullet-point list. The strong aversion I feel towards this advice is best illustrated in the Understanding Poetry Scene from Dead Poets Society.

    Advice like this is also limiting your thinking. Like, here's a thing I have noticed whilst reading fiction: Often, the Very Cool Scene was NOT added because the plot demanded it. Rather, the plot was twisted about so that the Very Cool Scene fitted in. Dirty trick, but it works. But it requires that you think outside the paradigm that it is the scene that has to fit the plot. Also, the scene doesn't necessarily need to actually have any significance to the plot. The reader just has to have the feeling it does, that the story feels progressive, alive, at the moment he read through it.

    In this video on Writing Productive Filler it's preached that the very act of writing filler can help you move forward in your story, even if it might get cut later.
    The video gives the usual advice:
    "Anything that doesn't contribute substantively to characterization or the plot should be cut"
    But also declares that:
    "I think there's a danger to the idea of every single word and every single scene and moment being super precious."
     
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  2. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    For me, a scene can do one of three things advance the plot, develop character, and expand the world. Great scenes tend to do all three things. Good scenes tend to only do two. Meh scenes only do one, and are usually candidates to be cut, with the work they're doing distributed into another scene.

    So yeah, you can have a scene that doesn't advance the plot, but generally speaking, if it's not advancing plot, it should develop character and expand the world. If not, in my books, I'd look to either add the two other elements or find a way to distribute the work of the scene into someplace else, strengthening that scene.
     
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  3. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    For me, plot, character and world are just different sides of a three-sided coin. Or, er...

    I mean it's the story.

    Each of those three can't be fully appreciated or understood (or as appreciated or understood) without the others.

    At least this is the ideal. I recently started reading a novel, and the first few chapters were developing an interesting world and somewhat interesting characters, but without much plot. I got bored and stopped reading. So developing those doesn't necessarily develop the story. Still, the best writing will advance the story whenever a scene advances only character, only world, or some combo of these two. Plot may not be advancing in that scene in the sense of mechanical movements between X and Y through space or time; but my attachment, as reader, to the plot should be advancing. If that makes sense.
     
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  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I am definitely not a plotter, but if I’m exploring, something better damned well be happening, LOL.

     
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  5. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

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    Wow epic one! Reminds me of two others maltreated metaphors:
    "Using hooks as stepping stones"
    "Flat character arc"

    And what is it about "High concept"? How is "high" supposed to make any sense? "High concept" is typically low-brow, the lowest common denominator, and certainly not high taste.
     
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Depends on how you define high concept. In H'Wood one could almost define it as big ideas that go clunk 95% of the time they try to put it on the screen... or 99% of the time just trying to complete the script, heh heh.

     
  7. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    I wouldn't worry about the question at all until the editing process. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser you won't properly understand your own story until you get to the end of the first draft. That's when you can reappraise every scene to see out what works and what needs to be changed.
     
  8. Caroline J Thibeaux

    Caroline J Thibeaux New Member

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    Not knowing your story/plot, I would say that sometimes a scene can be used as a break. This could prolong the wait for a resolution.

    The dialogue may not advance the plot but you could add to it in some way. For example, the scene could give a bird's eye view of the story world so that the reader becomes invested in it and in doing so gets a... sort of subliminal understanding of what is going on. I enjoy re-reading a book and picking up on these clues that elude me the first time, it makes the 2nd read much more enjoyable.

    I would keep the scene until you complete your draft and edit then see if you could tailor the scene to suit you.

    I never delete my extra scenes, you never know when they might come in handy. Anyway, my 5cents. :)

    Good luck on your writing.
     
  9. S J Lee

    S J Lee Inkling

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    I am agonizing about a "villain's flashback" I want to put in.... my beta readers think he is cool, and it would spice up an exposition part of the book...BUT it is not ESSENTIAL... if readers do not like the character, then that is TWO "boring" parts they have to wade through...
     
  10. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Never. No exceptions.
     
  11. S J Lee

    S J Lee Inkling

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    I'd say that it's not necessary for every scene to advance the PLOT.... BUT every scene MUST advance the STORY. Look at it another way - could a reader skip this chunk and just continue without it, and still understand the full story? If so, then you should probably delete it.
     
  12. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    The story and plot are the same thing though.
     
  13. S J Lee

    S J Lee Inkling

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    Yes... and no....

    eg
    The Difference Between Plot and Story

    The Difference Between Plot and Story
    When looking at some sites about plot and story, I ran across this quote (or misquote?) a few times:

    The king died and then the queen died. The king died and then the queen died of grief.
    The first sentence is a story, while the second is a plot. Apparently this example comes from E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. According to this review, the book is 175 pages of must-read material!

    The Difference Between Plot and Story
    =========================================
    So, a page about exactly how sad the queen feels is not one, but is arguably the other...

    But if we don't agree, then go with my second definition... could a reader skip this and still comprehend the full flavour of the whole book?

    Perhaps I should have used one word first and the other one second... you mean what I know! ;-)
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2020
  14. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    Here's my opinion as a reader and a writer:

    For me every scene must have a job to do. If it's not moving the plot then it needs to be strengthening characterization, setting and theme. It needs to be adding something to the story and if it doesn't then it's not worth having, or if it's not doing enough heavy lifting.
     
  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Thinking of this more, I think I'm going to come down against any hard and fast prohibitions and leave one fundamental rule:

    Entertain/interest the reader.

    If the scene is something the reader enjoys, then it's OK to include it irrespective of whether it is advancing the plot. I've read novels with scenes I really liked that little or no bearing on the plot per se. As long as I'm enjoying what I am reading, I'll keep reading. Entertain and/or interest me. That's the key. If you're doing that, you don't have to be bound by any other hard and fast rules.
     
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