How to Cut the Filler and Tighten Your Book

This guest post is by Laura Carlson.

Have you ever read a book that was underwhelming, but you just couldn’t put your finger on what was wrong? The characters were okay, but the book just never went anywhere? That might be because the author had too much filler and not enough plot-driven scenes.

I was inspired to write this post after working with a series of clients who all had the same problem: too much filler in their books. The topic of filler, which I define below, is both difficult to identify and difficult to discuss, perhaps because we see it so much even in published books.

So today I want to discuss what filler is, where it’s often found, why it’s so corrosive to your story, and how to edit out the filler and tighten your book.

What Is Filler?

I define filler as the unnecessary information writers insert between two scenes. In order to understand filler, you must understand what a scene is. There’s a general formula for scenes, but for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to say that a scene pushes the plot forward in some way. Filler does the opposite. A book’s forward momentum comes to a halt when a
writer inserts filler.


Scene 1: Sarah interrogates Bob and learns the location of a stolen item.

Filler: Sarah gets into her car, hits a few stoplights, admires her grungy surroundings, and spends some time finding a place to park.

Scene 2: Sarah is ambushed once she arrives at the location.

Scenes 1 and 2 push the plot forward. They also increase the book’s momentum because they’re exciting. Meanwhile, the filler slows down the two otherwise fast-paced scenes by describing the ride from the interrogation room to the divulged location.

Where I Often See Filler

Early drafts and new authors are the usual victims of excessive amounts of filler.

As in the example above, transportation is often a common area where authors fall into the trap of inserting filler. The example demonstrates how easy it would be to talk about Sarah getting into the car, driving across town—perhaps getting lost—before finally making it to the next scene. A scene that takes place as your character is on the road, walking home, or in an airplane, may be important, but many times this is just the author filling in the time between two scenes.

Another example I see a lot is a character beginning the day at the moment they wake up. If something important occurs later in the day, don’t start the scene in the morning; start it when the conflict starts.

Why Do Authors Fall Into the Trap of Inserting Filler?

It’s so tantalizingly easy to connect one scene to the next, and the alternative—ending one scene and beginning another—can initially appear too abrupt. It’s not.

Filler is usually the result of having too few exciting scenes in the book. Often, if you add more exciting scenes, you’ll find yourself taking out the unimportant ones to make room for them.

Why Filler Is a Bad Thing

Having sections of text whose only purpose is to connect one exciting event to the next is not only a waste of time and space, it can halt the momentum of your book and lose reader attention. Worse, I’ve come across writers who have “scenes” of filler: whole days dedicated to doing nothing of importance.

How to Correct Filler

This is the easy part. Delete. This is the beautiful simplicity of removing filler. If it is unnecessary to the story, then it doesn’t need to be there. Now you might be worried that the transition is too choppy. This is where you insert a scene break or a concise sentence or two that transitions the character from one scene to the next.

The Caveat

I’m sure by now you’ve all thought of a few examples that disprove this general content edit—and you’d be correct. That’s because this is a content edit that is a matter of degree, rather than an absolute rule in writing. It is also untrue to say that a segment of text either is or is not filler; there is a gradient. Most things in writing are not black and white, and this discussion is no exception.

About the Author: Laura Carlson is founder and editor of American Editing Services, an editing business based out of Santa Barbara, California. She specializes in content editing for both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. She has also edited everything from articles in trade magazines to academic papers and dissertations. She is a professional member of ACES and regularly attends writers conferences.

Tell me your opinion: Can you identify any fillers in your WIP?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I’m afraid my current WIP has a ton of filler. I’ve always had difficulty with transitioning between scenes, and describing too much of the getting from here to there. I’ve been experimenting with plotting instead of pantsing, and hoping that will solve some of my problem, but I suspect I’ll still have filler to deal with in revisions. Just call me a writer-in-progress. 🙂

  2. Hi Gypsy,

    We’re all writers-in-progress, so don’t get discouraged! If you’re unsure whether what you’re writing is filler or not, try taking it (and pasting it into another document) and see whether it strengthens or weakens your book. Filler is an easy fix, and yes, it’s fine to deal with it in later revisions. Good luck with your MS!

  3. Can internal dialogue become filler?

  4. Hi Jenni,

    Thanks for the question! I angled this discussion of filler from a temporal angle—how time passes in a novel. However, internal dialogue can definitely be considered filler if it has nothing to do with character building or your plot. If your character is piecing together a mystery she is trying to solve, and she uses internal dialogue, that’s perfectly fine. So is using internal dialogue to illustrate a vital aspect of her character, such as split personalities. However, if has a less direct affect to your character or storyline, then it can probably be thinned out or removed.

  5. Thanks for the clarity in your response Laura.

  6. My WIP has too little fillers. I’ve been told the abrupt time gaps are a bit to jarring. During revisions I tried to lighten the blow by foreshadowing the time gaps.

    However, I did put in a filler scene in the novel on purpose. It has a bit of characterization, but the idea was to slow down the pace. The previous 3 chapters had several revelations that needed to be digested and the next 5 chapters answer a lot of questions very fast. Instead of slowing the whole thing, I thought I would give the reader a short break, but the scene itself is not required. If it will just get skimmed, I might do better taking it out. But I’m not sure yet.

  7. @Jenni: You’re welcome!

    @Patchi: Filler is definitely a measure of degree, and strange enough, you can have too little of it. You might also not have enough or not be spending enough time on sequels, which K.M. Weiland talked about a couple posts ago. I come across this fairly often with fast-paced writing. Hope this helps!

  8. I can identify filler. After finishing my first draft, I need to back away long enough to be objective during my initial edits. You make a great point. Writing tight is a good thing.

  9. Thanks Rich!

  10. Thanks for the excellent post Laura. This is a tricky question – how much is too much filler? I think first drafts are full of filler, as we just want to get the story down and the filler helps our thinking processes. I enjoy going through my ms and deleting all these earlier bits.

  11. Hi Denise,

    Thanks for the question! Unfortunately, I can’t give you a straight answer. It can depend upon the genre and tempo you set for your book, and how much important information you have incorporated into filler scenes. I’ve simplified this writing tip by discussing extreme cases where filler is almost completely unimportant, but lots of times I come across sections of writing where a few lines are relevant to the plot, but the rest of the section isn’t. In addition, these sections of filler can spill into scenes and sequels, so conversely you might have to remove a few lines of filler in a largely relevant section of text.

  12. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Laura!

  13. Thank you so much for hosting me!

  14. Thanks for your post, Laura! I´ll have that in mind whislt working on my WIP!


  15. You’re welcome Meryl! Good luck with your WIP!

  16. I think thats the big complaint I have. if an editor treated filler as more of a gradient, I would be more willing to adjust.

    Whenever I go back and edit old stories, I actually instead use a relevance to story from 0 to around 10.

    Scenes that have relevance of 0-1 are the first to go, while on the other end scenes 7-8 might be be conveyed through subtext.

    Example of a 7-8 scenes: We don’t have to know who the character broke up with, to know that break ups hurt. But it might be important to convey relationships details subtly by character motto’s or other personality changes. This is a technique I’m using in my Dark Contemporary short story.

  17. Question: Although I got to ask, would filler be as important when writing a characters memoir instead of a profile, and only you see the memoir? I used to have stacks of notebooks of character backstory, even before I began writing.

  18. One thing I just put on my blog post is, one thing an ethical editor is going to know, is the difference between a slow moving part that has nothing to do with the plot, and a slow moving parts thats only a slow moving part but has everything to do with the plot. I’ve had editors that can’t seem to tell the difference, a slow moving part is just a slow moving part to them that needs to be removed.

  19. Great advice, Laura! I’ve noticed this a lot in my older writing (I write a lot of flash fiction now, which has helped me kick the habit in my longer work). In my experience, filler tends to creep in when I don’t have a really good idea of where I’m going with the plot so it’s hard to figure out what information is “important” and what’s not. I think going into a story with a better understanding of where you want to take it is the best way to avoid it in the first place. Of course, that’s not always possible – some stories just don’t go the way you planned. In which case, taking a little time away from it and then mercilessly editing it down later is usually necessary. 🙂

  20. I agree – I think this is the sort of thing writers need to learn to do when they are rewriting. Always when I am working on one of my manuscripts I’m asking myself: What is this line for? What’s it’s purpose? If it isn’t paying it’s way it shouldn’t be there – cutting can be very satisfying. What can stop writers from rewriting effectively is having too much reverence for what they have on the page. But you are going to have to sell it to a publisher, then to readers – so it needs to be as good as it can be!

  21. My editor keeps asking me to put IN filler. Most annoying thing. ever.

  22. My current WIP is a long walk. I mean that literally. My three characters, my MC and my two supporting characters, are on a long walk across the country. It is so hard to not add filler when the next important plot point is that they have arrived at a place, and I want my audience to know how they got there, and what their hardships were. And what-not. It seems like there are times when what pushes my story along IS the filler, but if that’s the case is it really filler? I’m so conflicted.


  23. My early drafts always have a ton. I guess I need to WRITE IT to keep my timeline straight, but I am learning to cut it. Slowly…

  24. This is FANTASTIC FANTASTIC FANTASTIC. I’ve been struggling with JUST this issue. Thank you so much! Came over from Stina’s Cool Link Frodays 🙂

  25. Great post!

    I recently read through one of my works that I’d been editing off and on for the past couple years. I found myself laughing, both out loud and awkwardly, in some points simply because a) I run WAY too long or b) my dialogue is just repeating stuff over and over again, stuff either earlier in the dialogue or narrative simply so my narrator can discuss things with the rest of the “cast” who isn’t as clairvoyent of everything.

    I saw in a couple of my favorite series how they would just write “I explained everything to them” without worrying about excess dialogue.

    I plan to cover this in my next entry, but one good way to combat filler is to go through your work and make a note of the repetitions and whether or not a byte has any relevance to the plot or it’s progression. I guess it all originates from writers not wanting to “throw anything away” to making sure their vision is clear to their readers… i.e. overcompensating 😛

  26. Thank you, Laura! I’m writing my first rough draft and this is my first serious work, and I know I have a ton of fillers in my story. I will definitely be referring back to this post when the time comes for revisions and will be keeping this in mind as I finish my draft. 🙂

  27. I’m on the second draft of a novel and cut two full chapters because it was nothing but filler. Where I struggle most with this work, since it’s from first-person POV, is using internal dialogue to show my main character’s emotional and mental transitions. However, I don’t want her to repeat herself beyond what’s necessary. Have you any suggestions for avoiding that trap?

  28. It’s tough to stay on top of what’s repetitious and what’s not – since we quickly becoming both non-objective and habituated to our work. The best way is to enlist the help of a beta reader or two and ask them to mark any passage they feel is repetitious.

  29. Alex Gremory says

    So I’m writing a series right now, and I’m afraid the second book has too much filler, but it’s just because I wanted to develop some of the characters more, as well as develop the relationship between the two main characters. I also can’t cut it out and skip to the next book because the ending is important, so I’m not sure what to do. Any advice?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      In all honesty: cut it. If it’s filler and only filler, it has no place in the book. It either needs to be cut entirely or worked into the story in a more interesting way that matters to the plot.


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