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What does it mean when someone says “nothing happened” in a scene or story?

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Old 10-28-2015, 01:12 PM
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Default What does it mean when someone says “nothing happened” in a scene or story?


I have been accused of writing stories and scenes where “nothing happens”. I have no idea what people mean by this. Characters interact with the world, there’s dialog and there is a definite beginning middle and end. I do not get what people mean by “nothing happens". Not every scene can involve a shootout or marriage. Sometimes a boring part is just required to move the story along. And, depends on the individual, the entire story may be one boring part. For me a Wrinkle in Time would be a clear example of that.
So can someone explain what it means what “nothing happened” means and how to correct it?

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Old 10-28-2015, 01:58 PM
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A negative critique of any kind means:- This piece did not work for me. That's a valuable piece of feedback and should earn your thanks.

Sometimes, people try to tell you exactly what's wrong with the piece and how to fix it. It's worth reading what they've got to say and seeing if it makes sense. In my experience, it often doesn't make much sense in context and can be disregarded. The take-away message should be:- This piece did not work for me.

"Nothing happened" does make sense to a certain extent: it suggests that the reader was bored. See if there's anything you can do to make the piece more engaging, which typically means:- (1) Making it shorter ---- try to find any needless words you can cut, any sentences you can shorten or simplify. (2) Adding a hook ---- pieces are engaging when they show us a character under pressure, i.e. someone with an obstacle to overcome, a difficult choice to make, a mystery to solve, a deadline, etc. (3) Raising the stakes ---- best done by something going wrong for the character, as we find people who have been unfortunate more sympathetic and engaging.

I hope this helps

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English is a strange language. It can be understood through tough thorough thought though.
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  #3  
Old 10-28-2015, 03:38 PM
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"Nothing happened" could also mean the reader is missing the point or he has a short attention span. It may not be your problem if the reader is bored.

It's not easy at first, but you have to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.
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Old 10-28-2015, 05:33 PM
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As you said, A Wrinkle in Time was boring -- for you. Others love it. So sometimes it is a matter of content and reader don't match. Some people may want a car chase, shoot out or sex in every scene. That can't be changed. You don't have to cater to them, though.
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Old 10-28-2015, 07:50 PM
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Post something that was labeled as 'nothing happened.' Let us take a look.
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Old 10-29-2015, 05:13 AM
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Howdy.

You said: ((I have been accused of writing stories and scenes where “nothing happens”.))

I never read the post you're speaking of so I don't know if it 'accused' you, but I doubt it. Odd choice of word on your part.

Your ideas about the need for boring parts to a story also seem odd. Why put boring parts in a story? It's true that readers need some hard information outside of experiencing a story. But with a little creativity you can make those moments exciting and easy to read. If you have long passages of hard info the readers will stop reading out of bordom.

When another writer says "nothing happens," to me, it means the story stopped flowing and got bogged down. I guess it could also mean the content has no point to it for that reader to experience.

I've never seen an accusatory feedback on WB. And even if there was one the solution is to thicken your Rhino Hide and say thank you.

Something to think about...

Have a nice writing day.
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Last edited by wrc; 10-29-2015 at 05:17 AM..
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  #7  
Old 10-29-2015, 06:28 AM
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He might not have gotten the feedback here.

And I'm guessing he doesn't mean literally "boring," but scenes that don't necessarily advance the story in an obvious way.

If you read the "how to" articles, books and blogs etc, you do see the idea that everything should advance the story, and I think some people do take that too literally.

And then there are people who have been weaned on fiction where something big is happening or about to happen in every scene.

I wouldn't be surprised if both factors lead to readers and writers who see back story and introspection and more poetic description or quieter transitions as "nothing happening." Add to that the influence of T.V., movies and video games.

Personally, I just love good writing. I recently read Bastard Out of Carolina; there were four or five pages about the narrator's extended family with detailed physical description, little anecdotes and bits of backstory and remembered dialog etc. Just amazing color and texture, none of which really "advanced the story." But it was a pleasure to read. It would be a shame if people think they can't write like that based on sketchy advice and prevailing reader tastes, but I can see it happening.

Last edited by Binx B; 10-29-2015 at 07:29 AM..
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  #8  
Old 10-29-2015, 01:55 PM
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Originally Posted by wrc View Post
Your ideas about the need for boring parts to a story also seem odd. Why put boring parts in a story?
In one of my chapters I have a segment where the MC and his date are walking to his car. the segment is basically meant to explain that he enjoys hunting, not just animals, and that it is a major part of what makes him "him". Outside the exposition aspects, the segment involves him and his date talking, waiting for the valet to get her an umbrella for the torrential rain and then the MC opening the door for her. I call this a boring, yet necessary, scene for a man who ends up killing people later.

[/QUOTE]When another writer says "nothing happens," to me, it means the story stopped flowing and got bogged down. I guess it could also mean the content has no point to it for that reader to experience.[/QUOTE]

Originally Posted by Binx B View Post
He might not have gotten the feedback here.
was a local writing group.

[/QUOTE]And then there are people who have been weaned on fiction where something big is happening or about to happen in every scene.[/QUOTE]

This is a problem I have come across. One of the models I am working off of is the SnorFlake Method. The creator states that scenes, to my understanding, should always ebb and flow with action. I have 3 scenes in a row that just dont do that.

However, if I disregard the method and look at the thrillers Ive read, I seem to be right on track, spark of excitement>subdued exploratory scenes>rising stakes accumulating into the big climax.

Originally Posted by Binx B View Post
"Nothing happened" could also mean the reader is missing the point or he has a short attention span. It may not be your problem if the reader is bored.

It's not easy at first, but you have to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Yeah, I am finding this to be a lot harder than I ever thought it would be.

Originally Posted by Non Serviam View Post
(2) Adding a hook ---- pieces are engaging when they show us a character under pressure, i.e. someone with an obstacle to overcome, a difficult choice to make, a mystery to solve, a deadline, etc.
With one of my scenes I can see this being a major issue. Basically I skipped over the dinner conversation where the MC ad his date are sparring off over him being a hunting guide and he not approving of hunting.
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Old 10-29-2015, 08:51 PM
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I don't read 'nothing happens' as referring to content (unless it is obviously filler material to get the word count up), as the section referred to could be filled with action and extremely interesting.

I take it as an indication that the section may not be required in terms of the story. A good way to test this is to remove it and see if the story loses anything by it not being there. I like to think that everything in my writing is essential in terms of either advancing the story, building characters, adding colour or providing information the reader needs. (Note the 'I like to think!')

However, having said that, a section in which 'nothing happens' can be useful if you need to give the reader a breather while they absorb something important. No wonder writing is so tricky
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  #10  
Old 10-30-2015, 10:26 AM
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Originally Posted by mcv1986 View Post
Basically I skipped over the dinner conversation where the MC ad his date are sparring off over him being a hunting guide and he not approving of hunting.
That's loaded. Lots of potential for inner conflict and conflict between the characters; and potential for humor and irony also.

Of course, without reading it, there's no way to know. Maybe take brianpatrick's cue and post something. We could talk about this until the cows come home, but without reading something, it's impossible to see whether or not it comes off as "nothing happening."
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Old 10-30-2015, 10:25 PM
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He/she posted something that got minimal feedback. Probably that's why this thread was started.
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Old 10-31-2015, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by poirot View Post
He/she posted something that got minimal feedback. Probably that's why this thread was started.

Don't think it was minimal feedback, or at least, I wouldn't assume that. The OP said it was specific feedback that 'nothing happened.' I don't know if you are getting lazy, or miffed that someone thought A Wrinlkle in Time was slighted.
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Old 10-31-2015, 02:58 PM
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In post #8, he said he got the "nothing happened" feedback from a local writing group.
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Old 10-31-2015, 04:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Binx B View Post
In post #8, he said he got the "nothing happened" feedback from a local writing group.

Yes, .... actual details are irrelevant.

Last edited by Mohican; 11-03-2015 at 04:49 AM.. Reason: Removing a personal attack
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Old 10-31-2015, 09:56 PM
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Yes, I saw that that the "nothing happened" feedback was from a real life writing group.

It is my conjecture that the weak feedback of "nothing happened" prompted said individual to join (fact) and post a story here (fact), which got minimal feedback (opinion).

It is my further conjecture that the OP, wanting to get to the heart of the problem, then posted this thread, asking the question about "nothing happened" as feedback.

Last edited by poirot; 11-01-2015 at 12:01 AM.. Reason: clarification
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Old 11-01-2015, 06:42 AM
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He joined the forum 1 year and 8 months ago (fact) and has made a number of posts in the meantime that had nothing to do with any feedback related to "nothing happened." (Fact.)

So it seems unlikely the "nothing happened" feedback from his writing group prompted him to join, unless he's allowed the issue to fester for over 1 year and 8 months and he's just now getting around to asking about it. (Opinion.)

Most importantly, the OP said he posted this question because of feedback he got from his local writing group. (Fact.) So there's really no good reason that you or I or anyone shouldn't take his word for it or try to second-guess or add to his motivation for doing so; meaning, our conjecture on the matter is irrelevant. (Opinion.)

Last edited by Binx B; 11-01-2015 at 08:22 AM..
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Old 11-01-2015, 07:08 AM
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Originally Posted by brianpatrick View Post
Yes... actual details are irrelevant.
Along those lines, a few schools have tried to ban A Wrinkle in Time because it promotes witchcraft and "new age" religion; that it puts Jesus on a level with Gandhi and Einstein etc.

Probably a good idea. And they should ban that evil Harry Potter series while they're at it.

Last edited by Mohican; 11-03-2015 at 04:49 AM.. Reason: removing personal attack from quote
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Old 11-01-2015, 08:30 AM
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Coming off sabbatical on an extremely temporary basis the term "nothing happened" is very interpretable. In a Wrinkle In Time as the OP mentioned I personally think didn't have a single page where "nothing" happened. So keep in mind that writing is subjective. Is it your target audience telling you "nothing happened"? If so you have a problem. If not your writing nitch may be becoming a literary Seinfeld where only your target audience knows why it's interesting. If it's posted here I'll see if I can find it while I have the time.
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Old 11-01-2015, 08:40 AM
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Now I remember! The hacker! Yes. You got some feedback there. Including mine. I think if people told you that "nothing happened" in the hacker introduction it means that the introduction is too forced not flowing enough and leads to a larger story. If you don't have the rest of the story... then nothing happened in my opinion. The hacker came back from the hospital, threw a fit, destroying a top of the line computer in the process, then did her job. If it can be summarized that drolly then nothing happened. If even the dry synopsis written by a realist who has no creativity is compelling because he's summarizing a compelling plot... then you've got a story where something happens. Opening a story with filler (the boring stuff) is I think the mistake you made. Hope this helps.
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Old 11-01-2015, 11:51 AM
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Originally Posted by mcv1986 View Post
One of the models I am working off of is the SnorFlake Method.
And if you want to keep people interested, you might not want to use the SnorFlake Method.

Last edited by Binx B; 11-01-2015 at 05:22 PM..
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Old 11-06-2015, 05:54 AM
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In my writing experience, if an editor states 'nothing happened' it means there was a problem with the plot or there was not enough of subplot.

Remember to make a good story you need to have both 'the thing' and the 'other thing' going along to move the story.

Good luck!
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