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Narrative Filigree

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"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 Worldbuilding. 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. It's also a great way for a good author to hide Chekhov's Gun, as they can bury a seemingly-innocuous fact that becomes important later mixed up with any number of other little details that don't (and thus indirectly encouraging readers to start cultivating their gardens of Epileptic Trees).

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 an extreme number of internally-consistent details are present, then visit Developer's Foresight for examples.

Compare Establishing Character Moment, Cryptic Background Reference, Left Field Description, Random Events Plot, Garnishing the Story. Can result in Purple Prose when used carelessly and/or exaggerated. Also see Cow Tools for a visual Sister Trope. Story Breadcrumbs is an inversion/opposite tropes, where plot details small enough to normally count as filigree actually relate crucial plot points.


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    Comic Books 
  • Cerebus the Aardvark has four consecutive pages of one issue 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.
  • Any comic written by Brian Michael Bendis can be full of this, particularly in the form of character dialogue loaded with stuttering and other verbal tics meant to make conversations feel more realistic.
  • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye switches wildly between this and Chekhov's Armory; you’re never quite sure whether a Cryptic Background Reference or character detail is going to come up in a big way later or is just there to add a little worldbuilding and flavor.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 Warhammer40k 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.
  • A number of the Fanon Wiki pages for Code Geass: Colorless Memories are these, as they contain details that while irrelevant to the main plot, add details to certain characters, Knightmare Frames and also hint to possible developments, with elements of Unreliable Narrator in places as well. This was inspired by The World of Ice & Fire from George R. R. Martin, whom work blackmambauk, the writer of most of the wiki pages, is a big fan of.
  • I Am NOT Going Through Puberty Again! does this quite a bit, often going on long tangents about political and economic history or character motivations. Since it's a Crack Fic, most of them are used as the set up for jokes.
  • Project Bluefield: The Zeros' journal entries tend to include the sort of details that don't necessarily "advance the plot".
  • Superman of 2499: The Great Confrontation is set in the 25th century. In order to make the future setting more believable, the fanfic writer comes up with his own futuristic slang.
  • Heroes and Villains: The flow of the story seems like it is going to start allowing this with the addition of Doctor Horrible. On his way to the HQ with Elsa, he talks about the Hyperloop. The narrator gets in on it too sometimes, starting the next segment of the story with a filigree lead-in.
  • The setting of Kara of Rokyn is a planet settled by an alien culture. The narration often goes out of its way in order to describe architecture, technology and cultural quirks.
  • The Greatest There Was or Ever Will Be: Lengthy paragraphs are devoted to the author fleshing out his interpretation of the Pokemon World, which often wildly diverges from canon.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Many scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, to the point where the middle section is practically nothing else. Well, until HAL 9000 starts trying to kill everybody.
  • Birdemic has a lot of driving around in it. A lot of boring, pointless conversations, too. The bit with Nathalie's mother discussing her old job and current retirement springs to mind.
  • If Umberto Eco is to be believed, this is very common in pornographic films.
  • In WarGames, the parents of Matthew Broderick's character are having dinner where the father butters his bread and then uses it to butter his corn-on-the-cob, which, he finds out, his wife didn't cook "to preserve the vitamins." He begs her to cook the corn and use pills for getting more vitamins in their diet. Nothing else is said about this scene, not even by them later.
  • By its nature, The Big Lebowski is filled with details that don't impact the story. To name one, we learn that Knox Harrington is a somewhat eccentric video artist and good friend of Maude's and she has another friend named Sandra who only speaks Spanish, but we only learn these things because the former happened to be visiting and the latter happened to telephone when The Dude stopped by Maude's home/art studio to relay some information. Neither has any effect on the plot in this or any other scene; that's just what was going on at her place that day.
  • This trope was pretty much what amazed people about Reservoir Dogs. It's a heist film, but the first five minutes is all the principals sitting down to breakfast, conversing about pop music and tipping.
    • This actually forms a Signature Style for Tarantino, with notable examples including the aversion of Nobody Poops in Pulp Fiction (three times!), Jungle Julia's irrelevant relationship with the offscreen Christian Simonson in Death Proof, and Mr. Orange's joke/anecdote in Reservoir Dogs, shown onscreen and constituting five or ten minutes of runtime in an otherwise notably breezily-paced picture.
  • Also forms a Signature Style for Kevin Smith whose best-known picture, Clerks, is about 5% plot and 95% chat. A particularly famous digression has to do with the ethics of blowing up ''Death Star II''.
  • Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain practically runs on this. Not only is Amélie's conception noted to have occurred at the same time as three completely irrelevant eventsnote , but almost every character (and the occasional animal) is noted to have likes and dislikes, regardless of whether they're important or not.
    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.
  • Nymphomaniac is really all about this, according to the director.
  • In X-Men: Days of Future Past, the tour guide in the Pentagon explains that the building has twice the number of bathrooms that would be actually needed, because it was built when racial segregation was still in effect. Even though that has passed, it would cost too much to remove them. No, this info does not become useful for the plot later, it is just trivia. Of course, it does add something to the theme of the film.
  • The film It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books by Richard Linklater is a whole film composed of narrative filigree.

  • This trope was common in Victorian literature and Charles Dickens may be the patron saint. Dickens's novels are very Slice of Life and, even when they do have a central driving story, are filled with random asides. Great Expectations has a couple of driving plot elements—who is Pip's mysterious benefactor, and what will come of his romantic longing for Estella? But the story is filled with asides and character work. The plot stops dead for a whole chapter in which Pip goes to see his old friend Mr. Wopsle giving a terrible performances as Hamlet.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's whole career was this, and 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: 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.
    • Tolkien himself said that his primary inspiration was linguistic. He had created several Elvish languages for fun, and decided he wanted to build a world with a history to explain how they had evolved and interacted.
  • 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 Hitchhiker's 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!
  • Matilda: At the very beginning of the book, the narrator spells out several examples of the scathing teachers' reports he would write about children doted on by proud parents, eventually finishing with "But enough of that. We have to get on."
  • 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.
  • Lampshaded by the Lemony Narrator in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
    • On the first page: "The servants' names were Ivy, Margaret and Betty, but they do not come into this story much."
    • Later, this is averted when describing Edmund's journey on the sledge with the White Witch: "this lasted longer than I could describe, even if I wrote pages and pages about it."
  • 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.
      • Likewise with the policeman who finds the truck stolen by George Stark, and the landlady who discovers the gruesome scene of Frederick Clawson's murder. In the former case we get a detailed picture of the cop's little idiosyncrasies (like the things he usually says when he's talking to himself), and in the latter we get enough of the landlady's life history to explain why she isn't feeling sympathetic toward Clawson until she finds him dead.
    • 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.
    • The Dark Tower: The narrative will sometimes jump into a one-off character and provide you with the character's entire backstory. One such moment is in The Drawing of the Three, when we get the whole life story of a man whose function in the story is selling Roland some ammunition.
  • 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. Notably, the titular narrator starts the tale with the story of his conception, but he gradually gets so sidetracked chronicling the circumstances surrounding it that he first gets around to the story of his birth well into Volume 3.
  • 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.
    Kurt Vonnegut: 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 Worldbuilding, 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.
  • 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.
  • The Wheel of Time series is filled with this. Pages-long descriptions of dresses that are then packed into a bag and lost forever shortly thereafter. Detailed listings of everything in a room a character walks through once. It does serve as cover for a Chekhov's Gun occasionally.
  • So-called "maximalist" writers such as Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace are known for their lengthy novels that are filled with characters, digression and excessive detail. The plots are often so layered it's sometimes hard to tell which one is actually the main story and thus how relevant each element is to it. The eschewing of the Law of Conservation of Detail is part of the reason for their fame as "difficult" authors.
  • Much of The Millennium Trilogy is taken up with the minutiae of Blomkvist and Salander's day-to-day lives and sketches of comparatively minor characters. Perhaps the best example of this comes in the third book, where we get a detailed history of a hospital orderly whose only role in the entire series is that Blomkvist bribes him to sneak a PDA into Salander's hospital room.
  • Victor Hugo, full stop. A very large part of the opening of Les Misérables describes the long and detailed life of a relatively minor character (albeit one who is vital to the story in the long run). Then there are the dissertations on argot and the sewer systems of Paris. It could perhaps be said that his stories were entirely about the country of France, and any actual plot found its way in there by accident.
  • Paul Auster's City Of Glass goes into excruciating detail at the oddest times, even opening with a long moment-by-moment description of the protagonist's night. None of the details turn out to be important, although the fact that words are being "wasted" will become significant at the end.
  • In the novella A Taste of Honey, the Technobabble Adónane, Perfecta and Femysade engage in upon their first meeting, as well as Femysade later on does herself, as well as various things Aqib mentions about the Menagerie or the Sovereign House don't really serve to move the plot forwards, but do a great deal of Worldbuilding on the side.
  • The Overstory uses this a lot, in particular to describe the trees that surround the characters in detail. One part has a character falling from an airplane into a tree that saves him, with the narrative stopping to discuss the whole life of that tree starting from when it was a seed.
  • John Irving's novels are full of extensive details that aren't directly related to the plot, largely because the author just loves writing them.
  • Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants" does not gloss over a single line of dialogue. Where another story might have said "They ordered drinks" and moved on, this one recounts every word spoken, with precisely the same level of detail used for the "important" part of the conversation.
  • Roald Dahl often names extremely obscure characters, while some principal characters are not named:
    • In The Swan in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a succession of three unimportant characters are mentioned by their full names. Soon after this, the mother of a principal character Peter Watson is merely referred to as "Mrs Watson".
      Three different people reported seeing a great white swan circling over the village that morning: a school teacher called Emily Mead, a man who was replacing some tiles on the roof of the chemist's shop whose name was William Eyles, and a boy called John Underwood who was flying his model aeroplane in a nearby field.
    • In James and the Giant Peach, a young woman called Daisy Entwistle has the skin of her nose taken off by the peach rolling past.
    • In The Twits, a man who comes to read the gas meter is named as Fred.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 has a series of sketches about a director whose films consist of nothing but this, such as The Man Who Has a Cough and It's Just a Cough and He's Fine, a 19th century period piece skewering the Incurable Cough of Death.
    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.
  • Pushing Daisies, whilst only occasionally delving into moments irrelevant to the current plotline, invokes this several times per episode through a nigh-omniscient, eccentric narrator specifying time difference between events right down to years, months, weeks, days, hours and seconds.
  • Out of this World (1962): "Little Lost Robot": This play adds a number of tiny character details missing from the original story, details that had been missing due to Dr Asimov's Beige Prose. The most prominent is the addition of "oxygenated roses", which prompts Dr Calvin to flirt with General Kallner, because they both grow roses.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is sometimes given as a tip for Game Masters. By adding in superfluous description of things in a scene, it becomes less immediately obvious to the players what (if any) objects are relevant, while also making the world seem more alive. The description need not be particularly verbose, but the key is that the same level of detail is applied to everything in the room. Of course, whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on the type of game you're running (and how observant your players are).

  • Street Scene immerses the audience in the everyday life of the urban setting suggested by its title. There are several points in the play where a couple of minor characters, usually unnamed, cross the stage conversing with each other about something not relevant to anything else in the play.
  • The Mikado explains this trope in-universe:
    Pooh-Bah: Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

    Video Games 
  • Deadly Premonition is a Survival Horror/adventure game with a murder investigation plot and a heavy Twin Peaks influence. Like Twin Peaks, it features a vast number of side characters, all of whom have their own lives, which will continue with or without the player's interference.
  • The first half of the police station level in Max Payne 2 is dedicated to this. You can continue on with the story at any time, but you are encouraged to wander around the station, dicking around with people, breaking a room refreshener, listening to your colleagues bantering and a criminal trying to explain how his wife and her friend killed themselves and framed him for it.
    • The original Max Payne, like many games, had an action button. Unlike in most games, it was rarely necessary, and instead allowed the player just to mess with things: bashing out the game's theme (poorly) on a grand piano, spinning the wheel of a ship, playing a quick fill on a drum set, et cetera.
    • The various watchable television shows in both games also count: Address Unknown (a Twin Peaks parody), Lords and Ladies (a Soap Opera set in the world of the British aristocracy), and Dick Justice (a blaxploitation retelling of the first game's story), among others.
  • Resident Evil – Code: Veronica - way more objects modeled than mattered. A number of rooms were just crammed with well done object models with no game function: furniture, victrolas, mannequins, vending machines, books, and so on.
  • Primal: The Count's chateau has an armor museum, a library, and a chapel. All exquisitely done, but with no function whatsoever.
  • Pokémon: The Pokédex counts. Each Pokémon has a short description you can read once you catch it, which changes in almost every game and has practically no impact on the game. Frequently they even fall under Gameplay and Story Segregation (such as with how Slowpoke evolves).
  • Bethesda's flagship series, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, have Narrative Filigree in abundance. To note:
    • The games that Bethesda produced after coding the Radiant engine have a lot more of this than their older works (or older works in series that they took over). This is because the engine allows 'actors' to determine the optimal (according to their own judgment) methods for achieving goals, which removes the need to script each and every action and allows the developers to work with a larger number of actors and goals.
    • The Elder Scrolls:
      • Standard for the series starting with the 3D Leap in Morrowind. There are exorbitant amounts of items, books, NPC conversations, and just general world details that have nothing to do with any quest or plot, but are simply there to flesh out the rich world of the game.
      • The addition of NPC schedules starting with Oblivion (and continued in Skyrim) adds more of this trope to the game world. NPCs now perform jobs unrelated to services offered to the player, such as farming and chopping wood. They eat meals, go to the bar, go to church, and even cheat on their spouses. Unless you specifically follow them around, you may never even notice these things specifically, but these actions do help the world feel much more alive.
    • Fallout:
      • Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas have tons of items, some of them with no apparent purpose. However, most of them can at least be picked up and used for something, even if that something is the Rock-It Launcher (a gun that fires almost anything that lands under the "Misc" category in your inventory).
      • Fallout 4 subverts the trope. There are still copious amounts of "Junk" items present in the game world which, on their own, do little more than flesh out the game world. However, the new Settlement and Crafting systems allow for Junk items to be repurposed for their raw materials.
  • Part of what Beyond Good & Evil was praised for was its narrative filigree, as the creators worked to make a solid "world" instead of simply a setting. Thus, there are animal species, posters and billboards for events and services, fake commercials, and NPCs with their own little history that don't directly contribute to the main plot, but give some depth to the planet of Hillys.
  • BioShock: nearly every wall covered in posters for in-game shows or products and audio diaries from people going about their normal, non-plot-related lives.
  • The Neverhood has the absolutely massive Hall of Records, which takes up about 40 in-game screens of tiny text and around 100 pages of flat printing. It describes the lives and worlds of the seven sons of Quater, precisely one of which, Hoborg, is at all relevant to the plot. (Two, sort of, if you count Willie's father, Ottoborg, but Willie's origins aren't relevant to the plot.) The Ynts and Skullmonkeys also become important in the sequel, but for the most part, it's just a lot of worldbuilding coupled with some truly bizarre fables — such as the one about the talking burger box.
  • Heavy Rain, particularly in the earlier chapters, lets the characters take lots of little mundane actions — drinking coffee, using the bathroom, playing games, generally fiddling with stuff that serves no actual purpose. In the developer's previous game, Fahrenheit, such activities did have an effect on gameplay (they raised the characters' Sanity Meters), but in Heavy Rain they're just... there.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky: The trilogy, and the overall Trails Series, are packed to bursting with detail. In the main plot alone, several supporting characters take up small, relatively unimportant positions that could have easily been filled in by more plot-important characters, but instead we get several details about their lives. While going across the world map, the party will have to stop at border checkpoints and fill out paperwork to pass by the security, and these soldiers have names, friendships, and details of their own. In fact, the NPC cast numbers in the hundreds, 99.9% of the time with names, personalities, rivalries, and their own little subplots that don't just avert Welcome to Corneria, it smashes it into pieces and grounds them to dust. You can go back and talk to minor characters and with every update to the plot, no matter how small, there will be new dialogue for everyone. The main characters don't just stand and accept the information passively either, they'll engage in occasionally quite lengthy conversation that more often than not, has nothing to do with the plot at hand and will be resolved without any help from the player. Even treasure chests avert stock phrases, (at least in English versions thanks to duplicate text files) there's unique, pithy jokes that lampshade the usual player habits. It's this attention to detail that balloons the scripts into the hundreds of thousands in word count, and that's just in the kingdom of Liberl; one small country across an entire continent that would be a few sidequests and a town in nearly any other JRPG.
  • Wii RPG Opoona is a game that actually sells itself on its narrative filigree: It bills itself as a "Lifestyle RPG," and half the focus of the game is learning about the culture of the alien planet on which you've landed. Things such as the planet's art history, pop culture, fashions, industry, and ecology are all nonessential and "secondary" to the main plot, but they are there to be explored by the curious.
  • Baldur's Gate is utterly filled with readable books, and not just the same two or three, there are dozens. There are also plenty of empty containers and vast, vast, amounts of wilderness to just wander through, with Tales of the Sword Coast adding even more. The story itself didn't need half of it and most players will never even see more than about 60-70% of the entire map. Baldur's Gate II is pretty linear by comparison.
  • The majority of Psychonauts characters, including the asylum patients and all but one or two of the camp kids, are utterly irrelevant to the plot, but exploring and discovering their quirks is half the fun of the game. Spying on the Soap Opera-level love lives of ten-year-olds is way more fun than it should be.
  • Hitman: Absolution, which advertises itself as having "a living, breathing world", contains numerous irrelevant sequences with both enemies and civilians that can be observed. For example, "Terminus Hotel" (READ: part of one level) contains: a failing shoe salesman flirting with a maid; a woman arguing with her unemployed partner (who is having a midlife/existential crisis); a territorial landlady bickering with security; a woman arguing with "an asshole" over the phone; two guards discussing an absent colleague; and two electricians discussing a friend who was struck by lightning and who can now light bulbs by touching them...
    ''Life is a wonderful thing. Full of hopes and fears. Comedy and tragedy. Thousands of lives intermingle. An intricate web of relations and situations. Desires and regrets. Plans. Allegiances. Watching from the shadows, 47 learns the most intimate of secrets.
  • The Deus Ex games have this in spades, especially the first one. There are all kinds of NPCs the player can talk to, newspaper articles and books they can read, and areas they can explore that have nothing at all to do with the main plot. All these details do a pretty decent job of building a future world full of complex politics, social unrest, and soda machine conspiracies.
    • Also applies for sequel Deus Ex: Human Revolution, as when players visit foreign countries, they will sometimes find foreign emails that can be translated for humorous conversations and easter eggs.
  • The Mother series revels in this. It's quite rare to find a character or object that actually contributes to the plot, most of the time just telling jokes, reacting to things that go on, referencing pop culture or simply saying they like croquette rolls.
  • Battleblock Theater invokes this often through the rather eccentric narrator, who has a habit of going off on tangents into details that are totally unnecessary (albeit funny and confusing):
    "But how did things get so bad? At one time this theater was a nice place, with flowers in every vase, and smiles on everyone's mouth— faces. Can you believe it? I wouldn't believe it! I mean, if you told me that, I'd more than likely call you a liar and walk away. And, um... go someplace to get ice-cream to replenish the innocence you blackened with your filthy deceits! I like strawberry.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Gossip Stones in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are this. Some of them share facts that are a bit relevant to the plot (one says that Princess Zelda is a tomboy, hinting at her identity as Sheik), but most are just neat background info.
    • Same thing with the stone tablets scattered across Zora's Domain in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While several deal with the history of Princess Mipha's role as a Champion, which is more relevant to the main plot, the rest deal with less important background details such as why Zora Armor is used in marriage proposals, how King Dorephan got his forehead scar, etc.
  • In Star Ocean: The Second Story, especially at inns (and a bit at castles), there's a bunch of rooms with simply nothing or no one to interact with, just copy-and-paste furniture. A very few of them have one or two NPCs, but who don't say anything useful.
  • Shenmue took this to a whole new level, with plenty of areas, businesses, and rooms to explore, side activities to partake in, and unique NPCs that each have their own schedule and routine for the day (e.g. Noticed the same guy working at both the convenience store and at the harbor? It's not because the devs got lazy; that guy is a college student working two jobs to make ends meet). None of this was necessary to make progress, but it helped to establish the setting as a larger world that protagonist Ryo happens to be a part of, rather than having the setting tailored around him and his quest.
  • There are canonically 249 employees in Prey (2017)'s main setting of Talos I. Each employee can be tracked and located in-game via the security stations. A significant number of them also have explorable offices and bedrooms, to say nothing of the huge amounts of emails, notes and audio files detailing their personal lives, from their latest D&D game to their growing doubts about management. How many employees are significant to the game's main story? About five.
  • Almost none of the NPCs in any of the Xenoblade Chronicles games are consequential to the plot, but an enormous amount of work went into giving them unique dialogue that updates over the course of the game's story.
    • The first game in particular has hundreds of NPCs, all of which can be spoken to, with every one of them having their own bespoke dialogue. Even random unnamed villagers will be given their own unique characterization, and as the game's story advances and their dialogue updates, these characterizations will remain internally-consistent, or even evolve into miniature stories of their own. NPCs may even move to another town, and if they're unnamed, the only way the player would recognize them is if they had become familiar with their speech patterns.

    Web Comics 
  • Discussed, parodied, and exaggerated by Unwinder's 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.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation