"Slice of Life" in Stories

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"Slice of Life" in Stories

Postby Doodle Dee. Snickers » Fri May 20, 2016 1:02 am

A topic I have often struggled with.

For those who may not know, "Slice of Life" refers to the addition of a mundane day-to-day element to otherwise fantastical or unrelated stories, most often seen in romance subplots. Many people have come to roll their eyes at the Slice of Life in writing, and I can somewhat understand, as it saturates nearly every medium. However, as someone who cannot write a story without romance or other factors of life involved, this is a topic that interests me a great deal.

Obviously, in drama or romance, it's not as big a deal. Both often revolve around the difficulties of the mundane or romance, so it's to be expected when these pop up. However, the frustration usually comes when an action movie of very limited scope or a story about a scientific expedition suddenly has a love interest out of nowhere or in a place where it's inappropriate.

I often wonder if there is something of a sliding scale. If a story is tight, has a very focused plot and a romance is otherwise extraneous, why keep it? However, if it's a loose story, taking place over years (stories like Harry Potter of SOIAF come to mind), I find the addition of Slice of Life more passable. Still, I do find it disappointing if that facet of the story takes over the entirety of either character, or if a character is written in for that purpose and that purpose only.

I often write fantastical stories (sci-fi/fantasy are my favorites), and I am pathologically unable to write a story without sticking romance subplots and other facets of the mundane day-to-day, though I don't dwell on them. Since all of my stories take place over long periods of times (one will take place over a decade) and are very broad in scope, I find it more or less acceptable, and I make sure that they don't affect the thrust of the story in any other way than to simply be another aspect of a character or two. Another reason I think it justifiable is that real world people(even people whose lives are very busy) typically find the time to make friends, establish relationships, work towards personal goals, etc over the course of years. Unless, of course, you're me, but that's why nobody writes stories about me.

Anyways, like I said, it's a topic that interests me. Thoughts?
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Re: "Slice of Life" in Stories

Postby KleinerKiller » Fri May 20, 2016 2:16 am

Having "slice of life" elements in a story where they're implemented naturally is a basic way to humanize characters. From something as simple as having them shower or sit down for a meal to something ongoing like a romance subplot, it helps both the writer and the reader connect with the character/s on a fundamental personal level. With romance subplots in particular, it's also a quick and easy source of instant dramatic conflict when a situation isn't stressful enough. This stuff isn't always the most efficient source of development or drama, and there are indeed a great many stories that would benefit from excising a lot of it, but it can be used well.

On the other hand:

Doodle Dee. Snickers wrote:If a story is tight, has a very focused plot and a romance is otherwise extraneous, why keep it?


There's a pretty clear reason in my eyes why every fucking story has a romantic subplot. It's the misguided belief that female readers / audiences / players are only drawn to romantic elements and by and large won't appreciate the root of the story. This is especially true in film, obviously, and this motivation is less common in books by nature of the medium (unless the romance is advertised up front), but I've still seen the trend in virtually every medium.

And the problem with this extraneousness is that it can lead to the introduction of satellite characters who can be cleanly lifted out of the story with no impact whatsoever; in particularly bad cases, it can even make the main character feel more like a distraction than he / she / it should be. Such is the case with Parasyte, a slow-burning "Body Snatchers"-type tale where both the otherwise sharp pacing and the characterization of the main character take a hit due to the omnipresent under-developed romance. It's also the case with my perennial literary nemesis, the Sirantha Jax Saga, in which the hilariously poor and mildly disturbing romance gradually bloats from nothingness until it swallows all other potentially interesting conflicts, its resolution replaces the climax of the main conflict altogether, and the initially independently-driven main character is rendered a lovesick emo with a dick fixation.

In short, if it isn't absolutely necessary or doesn't flow with the main crux of the story you're really trying to tell... LEAVE IT.
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Re: "Slice of Life" in Stories

Postby Malfeasinator » Tue Nov 08, 2016 3:40 am

Alright, let me put my two cents in.

Just wing it. Write what you want to write. The 50 Shades series was Twilight fan fiction and it's chock full of typos and grammar errors.

Become a shittier writer. Write absolute garbage. Imagine a parody of a bad writer, and then write the stuff that imaginary character would write. Gross out your audience. Include fart jokes. Make one of your heroes get painful diarrhea in the heat of battle.

Remember me when you're on the bestseller list.
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Re: "Slice of Life" in Stories

Postby DashaBlade » Fri Nov 18, 2016 1:30 am

IMO, putting everyday nonsense into a fantastical or terrifying story can serve to show just how far off from normal things are. The absolute master of this, again IMO, is Stephen King - and not just in his novels. He's got a short story where this happily married New Yorker is hanging out in his apartment, drinking beer with his wife, and when he gets up to take a piss, sees a finger sticking out of his bathroom sink. And then it starts moving and coming after him. Meanwhile, the wife is unaware and just keeps on living life, going to work, etc. while the protagonist is driven insane by this thing.

Also, to be honest, I find that stories without at least a little "slice of life" stuff in it to be incredibly hard to get into. Unless the story is about non-humans, they're going to do everyday human stuff. They're going to get hungry while on their long quest, they're going to need sleep. They're going to make friends and enemies, they're going to have crises of conscience. Now, if the story was all about salmon returning to their spawning ground, it might be different, but I'm not sure I'd really want to read that, since I could just watch a special on Animal Planet or something instead.
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Re: "Slice of Life" in Stories

Postby clownpiece » Sun Oct 08, 2017 1:29 am

I'm 100% OK with the plot taking a break to explore characters -- EXCEPT for romance sub-plots in novels that aren't categorized as romance. For some reason, I just can't tolerate that. It makes me angry. Maybe it's because pointless romance sub-plots and the idea that the main character MUST find love along the way is the status quo, or that my favorite books are either mystery novels (Where the focus is on the clues laid out and over-arching mystery) or fast-paced thrillers but whenever romance starts getting in the way I get extremely bored very quickly. There are exceptions, of course. Those exceptions move the character's relationship with each other along with the plot instead of stopping the plot so they can bang or whatever.

For example, a few years ago I read a book about a big mean ol' dragon and a princess who become bffs. There's some decent action peppered in there as a prince wants both the dragon and the princess as a trophy. The dragon gets turned into a human. Then it turns into a stupid romance novel, where nothing actually happens but a human man and a human woman kissing a lot. I wanted to learn about the dragon, or I wanted them to fight the evil prince, or move the plot forward in any other way -- basically, anything but this. The relationship was cute, I guess, but it was bland and uninteresting compared to the fact that the main character could be a dragon right now!!! ...Needless to say, I didn't finish the novel.
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Re: "Slice of Life" in Stories

Postby Windy » Sun Oct 08, 2017 6:57 am

in anime we just call those filler episodes
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Re: "Slice of Life" in Stories

Postby Marcuse » Sun Oct 08, 2017 10:54 am

I have no problem with, in fact I tend to like, slice of life elements in stories. There's nothing wrong with describing how the army marching through foreign lands is getting their forage, or when someone sits down to rest, what they like to do. It's what makes stories feel rounded, rather than being a collection of vignettes detailing action or drama with nothing to indicate that the people in them are the same.

I'm more iffy on slice of life subplots, because they tend to be a distraction. By their definition, SoL stuff is a distraction from the main plot, it's the stuff that fills in the gaps between the high tension stuff so there's some pull as well as push in the story. To make a plotline entirely out of filler seems excessive.

Regarding romance subplots, I tend to agree with KK that the reason they exist is that people think girls like romance. That then contributes to them being bad romance subplots. There's nothing specifically in romance that's uninteresting, and a well done connection between two characters can enhance the tension and drama of the other scenes, if you know there's something between these two, threatening them means more suspense. But often there's one female character who's thrown at the lead despite them having nothing to indicate they would even like each other, just to fulfil the "requirement" to add romance. That's a backwards way of going about it, and I can see why it's most common to have bad romance that puts people off it entirely. I don't think it's necessarily bad, but almost always is.
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Re: "Slice of Life" in Stories

Postby Doodle Dee. Snickers » Sun Oct 08, 2017 4:30 pm

I've kinda come up with my own criteria for romantic subplots after thinking about it for a while and looking at the way I write them. So the options are:

1. It aids in a plot thread: The easiest comparison to make for my stories is a couple where political marriages take place, but there's also one where one of my characters is forced into working for someone she doesn't want to under threat of her LIs (who you don't physically see for most the series) being killed, another where it ties together an alliance, and one where because the way it shakes out, they're able to channel information out from unfriendly territory. That kind of thing.
2. It's a cultural norm: This goes with either: (a) an older couple or (b) in a culture where it's arranged (so kinda like 1), where you'd kinda expect a character to have someone. I think in all of these romances I have, these kinds are already longtime couples by the start.
3. Compatibility and growth: I have too have both to make it work, but both characters have chemistry, have time enough in the plot that it's not shoehorned in (but nor does it take up too much time, see below), and it helps both characters continue to grow.

Unacceptable:
1. Creating a character just for a LI: This is absolutely the worst. I don't mind necessarily if the LI is primarily involved in the subplot and little else, but they'd better have some arc of their own or some kind of characteristics other than "I'm just here for the sex". If that's the case, why not just have your character hooking up all over the place? It'd accomplish the same thing and be exactly as uninteresting.
2. Spending too much time with it: I hate this, as well, when a romantic sub-plot just takes over the story. I don't mind part of a chapter being dedicated to it every once in a while, I think the ratio I'll allow is about 1/3 of a character's story(if that makes sense), but there are so many stories I've read where halfway through, it became all about the romance and the story fades into the background.
3. When it ruins a character: We've all seen it. You've got a good character going, then they're forced into a romantic sub-plot that makes one (or both) characters a worse character for it. This is similar to 2, where the subplot takes over the character.

As for regular slice of life, I try not to spend too long with it but include just enough to make a character just that extra bit more relatable.
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Re: "Slice of Life" in Stories

Postby LegionofShrooms » Sun Oct 08, 2017 9:04 pm

Here's the thing about romantic subplots that less adept writers tend to forget in my opinion.

1) You should not throw together two characters to form a romance for the sake of a romance. If a romance is to happen, it needs to be a natural conclusion resulting from the interactions of these two as characters. So many romantic subplots seem to come about as a result of a line of thinking I can sum up thus: "Hey, these characters have compatible genitals/sexual orientations. We should have them get together for the sake of cheap romantic drama!"

2) There needs to be genuine chemistry. It's possible to take two characters that are interesting and engaging on their own that are just... just awful as a couple. Sometimes characters just aren't compatible, and it shows. Audiences aren't stupid. You need to be able to look at two people and say, "Yeah; I can see how that works. They definitely make sense together". If you have to perform mental gymnastics and force characters into contrived situations to get/keep them together, they'll see through that bullshit every time.

3) You need to spend time developing it. Romantic subplots are like relationships themselves. They're fluid, fragile things that take time and care to make work. You shouldn't have to shoehorn in drama to force romantic tension or an obstacle for them to overcome. You shouldn't have to force them to act out of character to further a plot. It's cheap, and it shows.

You need to spend some time making us genuinely care about this couple and why we should give a shit if they succeed or fail. And if there is romantic tension or relationship drama, that too needs to be a natural extension of their established characters and we need to see how two people could fall in love but have differences due to natural differences in personality or beliefs. And despite what a lot of writers think, it's okay to let them be happy in a relationship sometimes. Everything doesn't have to be honky dorey all the time because that shit's just not how it really works, but they don't have to be at odds every time you see them to make romance interesting. Sometimes the obstacle to overcome is external and you can show them working through it together, demonstrating why they work as a couple. Or you can just let them enjoy each other's company for a bit. It's balance like that that makes these relationships feel real.

The people want romance. They just don't want cheap romance, which is what most shows try to feed us. It's like the narrative difference between third rate shaved beef and a cut of expertly cooked prime rib.

Ultimately, the most important rule for writing romance is alas also the most frequently broken. As you said, romance should never override character. I align with Bradbury'a philosophy in that you should let your characters guide the story, not lead them through it. If you make their romantic interactions a natural extension of their characters, you'll develop an engaging, interesting and relatable couple whom we care about watching. We'll cheer when they succeed and it'll feel like a gut punch when they fail, because most of us will see shades of ourselves in them.

But if you force them when it makes no sense solely for the sake of romance, you'll find your characters resist as readily and forcefully as two real individuals would when thrust together against their wills, and your writing will suffer for it.
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