It is essential for the author to know a great deal about his story–the characters, the setting, the backstory–but the question we need to ask ourselves is, “How much of this does the reader need to know?” If we put in too much, it will slow the story down and bore the readers. If we include too little, the readers will get confused.
I’ve found that authors tend to lean towards giving the readers too much information rather than not enough. One way we do this is through episodic scenes. Although not talked about as much as backstory dumps as something you should avoid, they have the same negative effect on a story: they slow the pace. So, what are episodic scenes? They are action that just get characters from one place to another, the ho-hum stuff of daily life, the chit-chat of conversations that comes before the point of a discussion.
Getting from one scene to the next – The airplane trip on the way to an assignment
Ho-hum stuff of daily life – Eating meals, taking a nap, using the facilities, getting ready for bed
Episodic scenes are some of the “weeds” that keep readers from seeing the full effect of your story. While taking a walk the other day, I realized that our stories can be like a yard. We can mow the grass regularly and keep it from getting too high, but dandelions sprout up so fast, that if you don’t do something to keep them from growing in your yard, all people will see is the multitude of weeds.
Like weeds, episodic scenes keep readers from seeing a nicely crafted story. They steal the attention that belongs to the action, the plot, and the characterization. Readers might say things like, “It’s okay,” or “I liked it, but…” More perceptive reader might say that the story dragged a little. They all realize there’s good stuff in the story, but something they can’t quite put their finger on keeps it from being all it could be.
So make sure to apply “weed killer” to your story and “mow down” the episodic scenes. Ask yourself the purpose for each scene. You might even want to rate the importance of each scene to help you zero in on the ones that need to be mown down. Be relentless. Take out anything that the reader doesn’t absolutely need to know in order to understand the story. Taking out the episodic scenes will allow your story to flow at a better pace, and let your writing, your plot and your characters shine.