Filling the Needs of the Story

Almost all novels tell the same basic story: a character wants something and someone or something prevents that character from achieving his goal. While telling the story, many authors throw in incident after incident to fill out the book. After a while, these incidents seem incidental, as if they are simply filling space and not filling the needs of the story.

Writing instructors and how-to-get-published books remind authors to hook readers with a great beginning. The hook should be captivating, but that’s not the end of it; the rest of the book needs to be rewarding, too. If the author fills the book with insignificant incidents, readers feel as if they are wasting their time.

I am concerned that my current work in progress is becoming a series of incidents that go nowhere. My hero keeps reacting to the world changing around him, but he isn’t proactive. He wants to be left alone, to be free, but that is a passive goal. I keep thinking he should be acting, planning, taking charge, but what can he do when each day, each hour the world is different?

Eventually, of course, he will take charge of his destiny when he escapes the human zoo, but first I have to get him there. His world needs to become so threatening that he will give up freedom for safety, but it hasn’t reached that point yet. And the only way I know to reach that point is for him to continue reacting to the changes around him. And to do that, I need to keep adding incidents. Round and round it goes.

These incidents serve the needs of the theme, they serve the needs of the story, and they serve my needs as a writer by allowing me to stretch my imagination, but I don’t know if they are significant enough to offset the hero’s lack of resolve to do something. I would hate to have future readers finish the book simply because they don’t want to waste the time they invested.

In the end, I suppose, I need to concentrate on the flow. If the story flows smoothly, then everything else will fall into place, seeming as right and as inexorable as the sun rising in the east. And if by chance an incident disrupts the flow, I can edit it out later. Or perhaps I can have the sun rising in the west. Hmm. Could be interesting. I wonder how my hero would react to that?

5 Responses to “Filling the Needs of the Story”

  1. vijayendra Says:


    Been reading your blog for some time now. Love it.
    This post struck a chord. Been there done that.

    Heroes never listen, do they? 🙂

  2. lynn doiron Says:

    I set my current read down to explore a few of my favorite blogs and found this from you. My current good read is the new Kate Atkinson book One Good Turn and in the first short chapter she intro’d 4 characters and one major incident; in the next chapter she intro’d 6 more characters, plus two novel “characters” one of her real characters writes about, plus re-intros 2 of the characters from chapter one. Chapter 3 has four completely new characters, plus slight intros to their sets of parents! Chapter 4 contains [you guessed it!] two more completely new charcters and re-intro of three previously intro’d. Within each chapter, new events are taking place as well as a slight re-visit to the initial event. And why, you might ask, am I rambling on about all of this on your Filling the Needs blog? Because what you say near the end is precisely right – – – concentrate on the flow, then everything else will fall into place. Atkinson’s newest novel [so far] “flows”. I find myself intrigued by each new person or set of people or quartet or whatever she throws my way and I think this is due entirely to the flow of characters and events being right on . . . so, Pat, my friend, write on!

    As usual, a joy to read your mind working out details of writing. Thanks.

  3. Bertram Says:

    Thank you vijayendra and Lynn. It’s nice to know that people read my blog and even nicer to know that sometimes my musings hit a chord.

  4. sonjanitschke Says:

    I hear you about incidents becoming incidential “fillers”.

    It bothered me a lot when I was writing. I don’t know your story, obviously, but nowadays I look at my protaganist’s Conflict (whether it be a person or thing or whatever) and figure out its story as well. I ask myself what are its motives, its end goals, what makes it tick. Once I do that it’s easier to keep the events in my story from becoming filler.

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble.

  5. Bertram Says:

    I appreciate the ramble. In fact, I’ve been thinking about the same thing. The hero’s conflict in this part of the story is with the changing world. Something is making the changes, so I have to think about why it is making the changes. As long as the incidents of the story are tied into those motives, they should not seem like filler.

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