Writing a great story isn’t just about having well-rounded characters and an amazing plot. Sometimes it’s just as important what you don’t put into your story. This goes for filler. So what is filler exactly? Filler is extraneous lines of passages in your story that don’t move the story forward or develop character. Even if you have a line you love, if it doesn’t add to your story, it’s filler and you need to cut it. Just like if you were painting a picture of a house, you wouldn’t draw the windows too big or paint one wall yellow when the rest are red. That would make the overall painting suffer. Filler is the same way.
So how can we cut filler to strengthen our stories? Let’s look at some tips.
- Cut adjectives and adverbs. These are often extra words that don’t add much and can lead to purple prose. Use concrete nouns and stronger verbs instead.
- Avoid clichés. Clichés are overused and don’t contribute to your writing. Instead they detract and take up space. And often times in descriptions they are vague and don’t really paint a good picture. Despite that cliché, it’s true. Craft stronger descriptions.
- Show, don’t tell. You hear this everywhere for a reason. But remember not to travel into the realm of purple prose. It’s all about balance. For every couple of showing statements, it’s ok to have a telling statement to keep from waxing on.
- Kill your darlings. Even if you love them. To make it easier, I keep a separate document called leftovers where I rehome anything I cut. It makes it easier to hit delete and sometimes I can rework lines into another WiP.
If you’re unsure whether something is filler or necessary, ask yourself whether it checks any of these boxes.
- Character development. Does it add or build to your characters? And is this addition really adding to your development or just backstory? Remember it should serve the story at all times.
- Does it develop the relationships between characters? Once again, make sure this moves the story forward and contributes to understanding.
- Moves the plot forward. Does it create conflict and build up to the climax? If so, keep it.
- We want to stay away from info dumps and adding too much backstory, but we also need to ground the story in a time and place. We also want our characters to interact with the world around them.
- Is this a strong transition or just filler? Does the reader need this transition to go from one scene to the next? Quickly show passage of time or a change of location, but don’t go on too long for transitions, otherwise they become filler. Avoid paragraphs or whole scenes where nothing really happens. For example, driving to a location in a car or going through the character’s entire morning routine before a big event.
So those are some tips for cutting filler and deciding what is filler in the first place. What are your tips for cutting filler? Share below and happy writing!