"Here is Philomène, an air hostess. Amélie keeps her cat while she is away. Philomène likes the sound of the cat's bowl on the tiles. The cat likes overhearing children's stories."
Most works follow The Law of Conservation of Detail
. If you see something, chances are it's important — either for the plot, or for establishing character or setting.
However, some works thumb their noses at the Law and decide that, more than anything, they want to engage in World Building
. They want to show realistic diction
. People may actually have to drive around for a bit to find a parking spot
. They may actually have to go to the bathroom
(and not due to a Potty Emergency
, either). There may be offhand conversations that have nothing to do with the plot
In short, these are works full of details that are pretty but not required for the story — filigree, in fact. It's where the actual narrative is full of things that aren't really plot. Of course, a lot of things that aren't plot-relevant will still tell you something about the characters
Slice of Life
stories often fall into this, but not always — some of them are a set of vignettes, with each capsule story adhering to the Law individually. Many sitcoms
also apply, because jokes (at least those that aren't Brick Jokes
, Overly Preprepared Gags
, or Chekhov's Guns
) tend to be one-offs.
Because many video games don't have linear narratives, this trope does not categorically apply to many of them. Only the story contained in cutscenes
and dialogues of the more heavily plot-based (and linear) games would qualify. Sandbox-style games
, while sometimes possessing central, driving storylines, are arguably defined by the huge quantity of narrative filigree contained in them, so mentioning this trope in the context of such games is almost superfluous. If details have been added for the sake of creating a realistic, unrestrictive game environment, then the Dev Team Has Thought of Everything
Compare Establishing Character Moment
, Cryptic Background Reference
, Left Field Description
, Random Events Plot
, Garnishing the Story
open/close all folders
- Cerebus the Aardvark makes frequent use of this trope.
- Four consecutive pages of one issue are devoted to the title character getting out of bed and urinating. A reader famously wrote cartoonist Dave Sim, demanding a pro-rated refund for that portion of the issue.
- In another issue or two, Cerebus is portrayed with cold symptoms. This isn't a plot point; nor do he or other characters even mention it. He just happens to have come down with a cold.
- Brandon Graham's comics can go off on small tangents to give details about of the setting or background characters. The plot will also spend time with the main characters eating and even taking a leak.
- Ultimate Spider-Man. Really, any comic written by Brian Michael Bendis can be full of this, particularly in the form of dialogue loaded with stuttering and other verbal tics most writers would bypass in the name of getting to the bloody point.
- Nights In The Big City, a Kim Possible fanfiction, builds an alternate universe where details casually thrown out just to give the world texture include mentions of minor canon characters in different roles, that Robert E. Lee was the 13th President, the cars run on ethanol, the space program hasn't gone further than the Moon, and that the Pope is female and so is God. These don't have any relevance to the story, they just give a better impression of a whole world beyond the frame.
- Part of the reason Shinji And Warhammer 40 K is such a Door Stopper. Intricate attention is frequently given to insignificant details, with even the prologue, which is long enough to be its own separate story, full of things that are never mentioned again (and a few things that are very important later, so the reader still needs to pay attention).
- The Total Drama story, Legacy has a good deal of filigree in the first and last chapters, which have a "slice of life" feel. The first chapter goes into considerable detail about the condition of the camp to create an autumnal mood, and the final scene deals at some length with the dramatically pivotal subject of what Heather and Duncan had for lunch.
- Numerous ancillary scenes in The Legend of Total Drama Island have far more detail than is strictly necessary to advance the story.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- The Thursday Next books are full of jokes, parodies, and satire as part of their Alternate History that has little to do with the plot and are simply bits of fun.
- The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy has all kinds of asides and Guide entries that are only marginally, if at all, connected to the thread of the story.
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell! Susanna Clarke quotes and often criticises from an academic point of view nearly half hundred books, some periodics and some essays and several folktales, all of them fictional. And even expands the information given away by the characters in casual conversation in really long 185 footnotes (one of them is over 5 freakin' pages long), some of them even referring to other footnotes!
- The Discworld series's amusing digressions and attempts to be realistic about how people act and interact (even when it slows down the plot) where most fantasy series wouldn't, are some of its major selling points.
- A constant in the works of Jack Vance. World building is an objective in and of itself. In Lyonesse we learn the exact layout of Suldrun's garden, the names of the plants, how it looks at several times and day and times of year. For the grand plot it would suffice to simply confine Suldrun to her garden. Vance will build up a history, a religion, a race, a river or a plain, never necessarily needing it to advance the core story.
- The Spider-Man novels by Adam-Troy Castro feature massive amounts of worldbuilding and tiny details, often by cutaways to the everyday life of people in metahuman-infested New York. In Revenge of the Sinister Six, there's a constant stream of news reporting on Spider-Man's efforts to prevent mass slaughter by the eponymous villains, including commercials for 'Supervillain Insurance'.
- Stephen King tends toward this in his novels.
- The Stand (especially the unabridged version) not only tries to give almost everyone the depth of backstory you'd normally reserve for the main character, but also dedicates a huge amount of space to characters and events that are, at most, tangentially connected to the main plot. This includes a large section given over to introducing characters just to show how they died as an indirect effect of the plague. Of course, we're talking about a single book that's about as long as The Lord of the Rings. In the prologue to the unabridged version, he says he felt the original abridged version failed because it was specifically lacking this trope.
"It's like a Cadillac, but with the paint stripped off and the chrome sanded down to dull metal. It goes somewhere, but it ain't, you know, boss!"
- Early in The Dark Half, we are treated to a full chapter dedicated to the life of the man who discovers the empty grave that sets the plot in motion. The man literally serves no other purpose and is never mentioned again.
- Toward the climax of The Shining, when the novel starts to take on its true gripping nature, King does much the same with the policeman who pulls the chef over.
- In a couple of his books, such as The Regulators and Under the Dome, King will introduce a character, explain that they are just about to die, and then proceed to unload a ton of backstory about the character.
- Tristram Shandy spends so much time on narrative filigree and digressions that it forgets to have an actual plot. The entire book consists of digressions within digressions within digressions, and so on.
- Breakfast of Champions has extensive narrative filigree, from describing the different sci-fi stories Kilgore Trout has written, to bizarre and inconsequential interrelationships between characters, to the penis lengths and circumferences of each male character.
Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.
- The Catcher in the Rye falls into this sometimes when Holden Caulfield wanders off on little tangents about things that don't directly relate to what's going on at the moment.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: It's difficult to have a series with an intended length of seven books, each of which is twice the length of an average Door Stopper, without falling prey to this a little. Each of the prologues goes to great length to bring to life a character who will inevitably die at the end of the chapter. There's also a fair amount of World Building, Food Porn, Scenery Porn, Regular Porn, and characterizing side characters. Outside of this sort of description, though, Martin does a pretty respectable job of making all events and conversations important.
- J. R. R. Tolkien may as well be the patron saint of his trope, if not the Ur Example in modern literature, as almost every fantasy series since has followed his example.
- The Lord of the Rings is loaded with poems and discourses on genealogy and history that don't really have much to do with the main plot other than to provide background and context, and mainly serve to flesh out the world of Middle-Earth. The prologue does nothing but describe in detail the history and culture of Hobbits and the Shire, and can be skipped over without leaving the reader confused in the slightest. The Appendices are filled with timelines, dates of birth and death of all the Kings of Númenor, Gondor, Arnor, Rohan, and Chieftains of the Dúnedain, a small lesson in the Elven languages, descriptions of the writing systems, and a brief story of the romance between Aragorn and Arwen that wasn't part of the main narrative (this section was mined by Jackson for the film adaptations to flesh out their characters).
- The Silmarillion takes this Up to Eleven. Since it's essentially a history of the Elder Days, the entire book is basically Literary Filigree. Though there is a central plot (the conflict between the Elves and Morgoth over the Silmarils) the book is essentially a series of self-contained tales that are only loosely connected to each other. The book also functions as back story for The Lord of the Rings, fleshing out and expanding on tales and events referenced in the previous work.
- Scores of other Literary Filigree works to The Lord of the Rings have since been published, including: The Unfinished Tales, The Book of Lost Tales, the History of Middle-Earth series, and The Children of Húrin. The latter is a further expansion on one of the stories in The Silmarillion, while the others are collections of stories or notes used in writing the different works, some expanding on concepts that Tolkien only glossed over in the final published versions, or providing early or alternate versions that were ultimately abandoned.
- Gaunt's Ghosts, Eisenhorn, Ravenor, and indeed near every book written by Dan Abnett devotes much attention to histories, locations, technology, vehicles, animals and people, most of which has no relevance to what is happening. It also adds greatly to the Anyone Can Die climate, as there is no way whatsoever of telling whether the recently introduced character - complete with appearance, brief backstory and glimpse of their personality - will be killed unceremoniously in the next few pages or become a major character that lasts for several books.
- The Night Circus is largely filigree, to the point where one review called it a "cabinet of curiosities," meaning a bunch of pretty things with no story. But they are really pretty things.
- LARP: The Battle For Verona will give every single person who speaks a name and career description, even if they're never mentioned again. While it's probably meant to emphasise that everyone involved in the story is essentially just an ordinary person, not a soldier, it often ends up just disrupting the flow and gets confusing when they're mentioned by name again despite the reader having quickly forgotten about them.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has lots of this. Consider the lengthy in-story poems/songs for the Oompa-Loompas that drive the various aesops home. Many chapters are largely given over to discussions, descriptions, or even just lists of Willy Wonka's many wondrous inventions and rooms in the factory that have no direct bearing on the plot. In the sequel, when Mr. Wonka explains to Charlie that a full tour of the factory takes three weeks, one can believe it! Some of the filigree inventions are upgraded to plot-affecting ones in adaptations — the Fizzy Lifting Drinks and Everlasting Gobstoppers in the 1971 film, for instance.
- How often is the Doctor of Doctor Who going to mention something completely incidental which has no purpose to the plot? A lot.
- That Mitchell and Webb Look
- The show has a series of sketches about a director whose films consist of nothing but this.
Interviewer: That was a clip from your latest film, Sometimes Fires Go Out, which has been described as "unrelentingly real", "a devastatingly faithful rendition of how life is", and "dull, dull, unbearably dull". Those quotes, oddly, all from the same review.
- The film The Man Who Has a Cough and It's Just a Cough and He's Fine is a 19th century period piece, skewering the Incurable Cough of Death.
- Pushing Daisies, whilst only occasionally delving into moments irrelevant to the current plotline, invokes this several times per episode through a nigh-omnipotent, eccentric narrator specifying time difference between events right down to years, months, weeks, days, hours and seconds.
- Discussed, parodied, and turned up to eleven by Unwinders Tall Comics, on this page. In the in-story mystery novel The Gun and the Grapes, author Greg Kirkpatrick describes everything in excruciating detail, to deliberately obscure the relevant clues under mountains of irrelevant ones.
- The Phase novels of the Whateley Universe. There's tons of world building and characterization, but man, can the author go on about stuff that's not relevant to the plot. Like a detailed description of the awesome dinner the chefs prepared for Ayla, or Ayla's schoolwork.